I’ve taken up walking. Lots of walking.
For the past couple of months I’ve walked from home “to town” at least once a weekend. Sometimes I walk to the grocery store, the drug store or to the library.
I wear a pedometer clipped to my waist band — a gift from one of my sons — that keeps track of how many steps I take. A robotic voice (I call her “Scary”) breaks the silence of my walk to announce when I’ve made it another thousand steps. Yesterday she screeched, “Six-thousand,” as I stood in a check-out line, causing a few heads to turn. “Scary” startles me back to reality for a second, then I forget about her and keep walking.
Walk through Crescent City early on a Saturday or Sunday and you can hear your footsteps, your breath. The quiet affords me the opportunity to think. Lately, thoughts of my mortality chase my shadow. Getting older. Getting closer. Inevitable, isn’t it?
I walk and think how lucky I am. Sure my left knee hurts and my feet get a little cranky, but I’m still walking. I think about my girlfriends fighting cancer, the cancer that took our mothers, the heart disease that killed my dad at 69, and I keep walking. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t apprehensive. Another birthday’s right around the corner.
One of my favorite actresses, Cloris Leachman, just celebrated her 87th birthday. Eighty-seven! I loved her character Phyllis Lindstrom on the Mary Tyler Moore Show. Mary tossed her hat into the air to the tune of “You’re gonna make it after all” for the last time on March 19, 1977. I was 26 years old and pregnant with my twins.
Willie Nelson turned 80 on April 30. When I sit at the piano, the first song I play (and attempt to sing) is usually, “You Were Always On My Mind.” The song was first recorded in 1972 by Brenda Lee (remember her?) but Willie’s version is the one that brings tears to my eyes. He won a Grammy for it in 1983. I was 32 and my third son was an infant.
Last Friday was Pete Seeger’s 94th birthday. Regrettably I’ve never seen him in person, but Pete’s been around so long he seems like family. Many of his songs are anthems of my generation. Songs like “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”, “If I Had a Hammer,” and “Turn, Turn, Turn.” My favorite is the old gospel tune Pete edited and popularized, “We Shall Overcome.” Joan Baez does an inspirational version and so does Bruce Springsteen, but classic Pete Seeger singing, “Deep in my heart, I do believe ...” That moves my soul.
When I heard about these birthdays I felt good. Maybe 60 is the new middle age! I know I would appreciate the time because there’s still so much to do. I have a 3-year-old granddaughter to teach some stories and songs to, and another granddaughter on the way in a few weeks. She will need to learn them, too.
I keep walking because I know we don’t get out of this life alive. Take Richie Havens. I met him briefly in March 2001, when I was only 50. Known for being the musician who opened Woodstock, Havens has been a favorite of mine since his “Mixed Bag” album came out in 1967 (I was 17). I think his most memorable performance was a duet with Peter Yarrow singing “The Great Mandala.” It’s been aired on PBS several times but you can watch it on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozX0KazFoDk.
Richie Havens was taller than I had imagined and had huge hands. It took a deep knee bend for him to get down to my height, which he seemed very comfortable doing. He had a beautiful smile and when I shook his hand I noticed he wore rings on nearly every finger. We had our photo taken together and he signed his book, “They Can’t Hide Us Anymore” for me. He wrote, “To Michele, a friend forever, Richie Havens.”
I lost my forever friend on Earth Day. He was only 72.
I keep walking.
(P.S. Happy Birthday Jackie and Kookie — born on the same day — let’s take a walk together soon.)