This was the early 1980s, maybe even the late 1970s, so all the digital gadgets we now take for granted weren’t around yet. Instead, Grandad had one of those pedometers that looked like a vehicle’s odometer. It made a steady clicking noise with each step he took. And in those days, just after his retirement from a 35 year career spent making tires at a BF Goodrich plant, he was racking up the miles on that pedometer.
I was 10, maybe 12. It was that very special time in my life, so long ago, when my grandfather was still taller, stronger and faster than I was. So I tagged along behind, trying to keep up, as we went through the gate past the barn, cut through the pasture behind his house, crawled through the barbed-wire fence and finally found ourselves on the old railroad bed. It was the height of summer, everything was green or blue and the only thing either one of us really had to do was live and breathe.
Even in those days, 30 years ago, that railroad bed was long removed from its days of service. There were neither ties nor rails to be found; only the gravel bed was left, but it was wide, smooth and inviting. It cut a long path through the countryside just south of Miami, Oklahoma, and just east of my grandparents’ property. It was the perfect place to put that pedometer through its paces.
So Grandad did. He moved fast in those days, so I moved faster than I was used to, just to keep up. I remember that he sang or whistled or hummed, or did a combination of all three (I am certain those who knew him best can still hear that sound). The soundtrack for that walk was Grandad’s song, the click of the pedometer and the crunch of our feet in the gravel.
Why this memory suddenly came to me on a cold and dreary winter day, I don’t know. After all, I was sitting in an office, surrounded by four mustard-colored walls, with a space heater at my feet, work piled on my desk and the weight of adulthood pressing down on me, when a long ago walk came to mind. Seconds before I was completing a routine work assignment and then suddenly, out of the blue, that memory showed up. It was fresh and clean and warm and clear and the passage of time had given it great value; perfecting it in my memory.
I remembered how we would walk south, until the railroad bed met the dirt road. Then we would follow the road back west, eventually turning north on the paved road, for just a few yards, until we were back home again. Looking back now, I know it wasn’t much of a hike distance-wise. At the time though, I felt like we had proven ourselves worthy to travel with Lewis and Clark.
In the fall of 1994, probably 15 years or so after that summer walk, my grandparents moved away from that place. By then, Grandad was the veteran of two hip replacements and one open-heart surgery. As a result, it was now a cane, not a pedometer that accompanied him on walks, short as they may be.
Looking back, I cannot say that I learned anything profound on that walk, or the many others I took with him in those early days of my life. Sure, I picked blackberries and threw rocks and maybe even found an occasional artifact or two, capable of holding a 10-year old’s attention. But I don’t remember asking him any probing life questions, and I don’t remember him offering any deep insight. Sure, some of that came in my later years, but not on that day, not on that walk. Instead, it was just my Grandad and I, the sound of our walk, and so much summer freedom and time that we could afford to waste it in large amounts.
But as I look back today, I realize that, instead of wasting it, we have preserved it. .