He would ask if I wanted to go. Yes. That winter I wanted to go. The year I turned eleven had been long and boring and lonely. Sitting in hospital waiting rooms. Lounging in the snack bar eating my fill of candy and chips. One soda after another. Waiting. Not allowed in. I would grab my shoes when he asked and head out the door. We would drive a few blocks and park. Walk to the access and climb down to the sand. His zipped jacket covered the violent looking vertical scar bordered by reddened dots in a trail. Like a railroad track bisecting his breastbone. The frightening gleam of the row of staples from a few months before was gone but they left behind...these tracks. They couldn't be seen but from time to time his hand would gravitate to the center of his chest gently brushing back and forth with his finger tips. An unconscious habit that continued the rest of his life. He walked before me in brand new running shoes. Something he had never owned before, gleaming white. The paunch recognizable my whole life gone and replaced by bone thinness, the face just beginning to lose it's pallor of the past months and return to a living shade of beige. The sharp edged cheekbones revealing a character alien to me with only a faint resemblance the full cheeks and rounded nose of the face I recognized. But when he rolled his sleeves, even on this twiggy canvas the faded hula girl etched on his forearm still gracefully raised her hip in the air, her grass skirt flying, pale flowers ringing the blurring edges of the blue black locks of bouncing hair. We would face south and begin, our feet crunching companionably on the coquina. Jeans swishing in unison. Sometimes the wind blew soft from the south. Quickly warming us until I removed my jacket, tying the sleeves around my waist. Flapping around my legs, spreading like a sail as we turned back, gently steering the return. Most days it came from the North and West. Misleading by the easy journey out. Bundled up it pushed us effortlessly forward, fast paced because we had no choice. Already I would be dreading the moment when we looked up to see the row of pylons that marked our miles as halfway. The return trip a tortuous fight against the wind roaring in our ears, freezing the lobes and the tip of my nose and tears running from my blinking eyes. Leaning forward in to the wind slowly we trudged our way back. The water too cold for swimming rolled to one side. Beautiful elegant homes on the other. Sometimes he would break the silence. "I like that house". I might nod to agree. Wait to pass the one I liked best. Wondering who was the fortunate family to fill it. Their view at the moment a father and his daughter walking on the beach. I would keep my head down watching shell fragments fly past beneath my eyes. Focusing between my sneakers in the event something caught my eye. A sharks tooth. A twirled brown sea snail shell like a fish eye staring back at me. Broken fragments of sand dollar. The riches of the deep shattered on this shore. Mostly coquina crackling, crunching, mixed with sand. He never broke his stride and if I spied a treasure I would bend and swoop to grab and double my steps to catch up, holding it up for him to see before shoving it deep in pockets to be forgotten until laundry day. We did not dawdle. We kept a brisk pace, maybe remarking the passing of a porpoise in the waves but not stopping to watch it's antics. White and gray seabirds swooped in escort demanding a handout in shrewish screeches but we marched purposefully over the gray sand hardened by the receding tide or struggled valiantly through collapsing ivory humps like the Coty loose face powder spilled on my mothers vanity. Our feet keeping a consistent beat. Our hearts doing the same.
We had a purpose.
My father was told to walk. Walk so that he would continue to walk this earth. So when I was eleven we walked together. We walked to make up for time we had lost. Months of recovery in the mid seventies. He walked me down the aisle nine years later. Walked to the kitchen with all ten grand babies at some point holding his hand to see what cookies he had hidden there. Walked beside my mother for 53 years total. He walked among us for 23 years after his heart attack and quadruple bypass surgery at the age of 52. He changed his lifestyle completely to make sure no more time was wasted or lost. He also started wearing a silver chain with an eagle pendant and bought a Camaro but that's a whole nother story ; )
February is American Heart Month
Visit the National Heart Association website to learn more.
You can take your risk assessment test here. Find out your score for a start.
I am 46 years old. My score was 17%. A 17% chance of dying from a heart attack within the next ten years. This puts me in the same age frame as my father. Would you be surprised if I tell you that my weight is exactly where it should be and that I have perfect blood pressure? There are many factors in the risk for heart disease. My father passed down some of his risk factors to me through genetics. He also passed down what he learned to help combat it. Even with all I learned from my dad I haven't been careful enough. So, to my family this Valentines Day I give the promise to try harder. Step away from the chip bag ma'am. If you're good you can have a low salt Triscuit with .02 ounces of reduced fat skim milk cheddar. But that's ok.
As Moms we tend to put ourselves last. Taking care of yourself, Taking care of your heart, Is taking care of your family. Heart disease is the number one killer of women but my message is for everyone. Wives, mothers, husbands, fathers, sisters and brothers.
This Valentines day don't just give your family your heart. Give them a healthy one.
Give them the gift of a long walk with you beside them.
Have a Happy and Healthy Valentines Day!
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