It has long been my habit to go for a walk with my Dad after a meal when we visit my parents, walks being something he has been doing for many years to help manage his diabetes. I grew to look forward to it as our father/daughter time. Over the years I came to realize that when walking Dad would often talk far more freely than in conversations at home. Our walks became the time when I learned the most about him, what he cares about, what he might be worried about, and stories about the things he did growing up and as a young man. It is a time that I treasure.
These days our conversations have shifted, we frequently have the same conversation over and over but each repetition is like a brand new conversation for Dad and I still treasure this time with him. Our walking conversations this summer often start out like this. “This is how fast I walk these days. I don’t go any faster than this. I don’t know if I’ll even be walking next year. I don’t know if I’ll even be here.”
“See that garden the new neighbor made with her kids. I don’t know why she planted it so close to her driveway. It’s growing good though. See the tomatoes.” As we walk across the bridge, “that is such a beautiful river. It’s even more beautiful when there is no breeze then it’s just like a mirror.” Or he might tell me about the huge snapping turtle he saw once or how when he was a young man the paper company used to float logs down the river and pull them out right near where the bridge is and put them in a huge pile that would later get loaded on a conveyer that would carry them to the “barker drum” to tumble the bark off, the first step in the paper making process. Sometimes he talks about the town baseball team he played on or the hard times visiting his Dad’s house in the summer when he was a kid. Frequently he’ll tell me how much he loves my mother.
When we get to the other side of the bridge and turn south along the river these days Dad says, “I usually walk on this side of the road because it’s flatter than the sidewalk on the other side. I guess we’ll have to walk on the other side today ‘cause there’s not room for both of us.” And I say, “We can walk on this side, Dad. I’ll walk in the grass.” And he’ll say, “I never walk in the grass, it’s too rough for my balance.” Then we continue along, Dad walking on the edge of the street and me walking on the grass.
And we’ll talk about the geese in the river side park, the ducks in the river, the new roof on the house next to the old fire station, the black dogs that always bark, the new take out restaurant opened by a man whose father used to have a restaurant, and “it was good food”. Then we cross the street and sit in the small park on the granite bench. Dad will say, “I sit on that stone where it is really smooth. That’s my spot.”
While Dad rests he’ll often tell me stories about the factories and businesses that used to be around that area back when the town was booming. The Ware Knitters where they used to make t-shirts (where his step-Mom worked), the paper company’s research building where they developed different kinds of products (where our neighbor Elsie used to work) and the bar that used to be right on the other side of the granite wall (where his father went on payday). Once rested, we head home back on the sidewalk side of the road. “Have you ever seen sidewalks as bad as these? I usually walk on the edge of the street where it’s smoother.”
This week I went up to my folks house since Mom had another spell of not feeling well. Dad and I took our usual walk after dinner and when we got across the bridge he said. “I guess we’ll have to walk on the other side of the road on the side walk. I usually walk on this side in the road where it’s flat. And I said, “We can walk on this side, Dad. I’ll walk in the grass.”
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
― Philip Pullman
“Thus I rediscovered what writers have always known (and have told us again and again): books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”
― Umberto Eco, PostScript to the Name of the Rose