This leg was once able to swing effortlessly up on a ballet barre. Or over my head while I balanced on the other one. Along with its partner, this leg could clear the back, not just the seat, of a chair set in the middle of the ballet studio for giant leaps, a somewhat useless skill for a female dancer. And when my father in his increasing impoverishment was quick to accept my half-hearted offer to quit ballet, I went on to other pursuits. Then this leg and its twin were able to reach over my curved back so the feet could touch the back of my head during a cheerleading jump. It could do the splits. And in college, this leg danced with a tall Norwegian man whose skill, and mine, caused others to step back, relinquish the dance floor and watch in admiration.
This leg walked in grade school and high school and college graduation ceremonies and into job interviews, and when I began working on newspapers, it took me out on assignments and then rested under the desk while I wrote my stories. Once, when I’d climbed to the roof of an old mansion designed as a castle, the rest of me froze at the top and had to be coaxed down by the photographer accompanying me. He held onto my legs and guided my feet down the iron bars imbedded into the castle walls.
This leg supported feet in pointed-toe shoes with spike heels whose metal core caused crescent-shaped indentations in people’s linoleum floors so that hosts began requesting women leave their shoes at the door.
This leg walked down an aisle and carried babies. It helped children learn to walk and ride bicycles and drive a stick shift. It walked alongside a long succession of big dogs on walks up and down hills, and it climbed innumerable ladders in many rooms of many houses that we owned so I could paint many walls. This leg dug holes for planting plants in many gardens, and followed behind wheelbarrows hauling gravel for paths and topsoil. We were hard workers, this leg and I.
And now, in my eighth decade, this leg is rebelling. When I try to get it to accept its share of my weight, it registers its agony. “Maybe arthritis,” the doctor says. One of the forms he has me fill out contains lists of activities and asks if I do them: vacuuming? Of course I vacuum. Why doesn’t it also ask rug shampooing? Or window washing? Or, for that matter, sightseeing or trawling through art museums? How about tromping around the ruins of Rome and Pompeii.? This leg and I have been through a lot.
Now, I struggle with crutches and curse my awkwardness.
The newspaper had a story about an 80-year-old woman who slipped on the ice in her horse corral, lashed her legs together to stabilize the hip that broke in three places and dragged herself through ice and mud the 40 yards back to her house. It took her four hours, and once she got inside the first call she made, before 911, was to her daughter 30 miles away, telling her she needed to come to feed the horses.
I want to be that woman. I want to be like all those impressive old women I read about, women in their 80s and 90s who keep going in spite of the accumulating years. Women who stare down old age and dare it to get in the way of what they want to accomplish. Who refuse to accept the stereotypes of old age. Who would not own a rocking chair if you paid them…
Damn! When will that pain pill start to kick in?