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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Wear and Tear

My younger readers may not be able to identify with this, but those with more, um, life experience may be able to identify.

From time to time lately, I find myself wondering what in the world happened to my legs. When I was younger they were beautifully shaped and wondrously strong. I could walk all over the place, even in crummy but cute shoes with no support, and leap out of bed the next day eager for more. I could squat down for ages to converse with small children, and kneel and crawl around with the best of them. Heck, I could climb up numerous flights of stairs - nay, run up numerous flights of stairs if I wished - without my legs giving it a second thought. It was wonderful. 

Nowadays my legs aren't the lovely stems that my Gram said were so nicely shaped. The knees bulge in places that they never used to years ago. That's not the worst of it - just a moment of kneeling is agonizing. And squatting? Please! And the grinding these knees make going up and down stairs can often be heard by someone who is walking next to me. I find myself doing the one-step-at-a-time slow shuffle, something that I used to think was reserved for people who could be commonly referred to as elderly or perhaps toddlers still learning how to walk, when I go down a set of stairs. If not, the grinding will make it extremely difficult for me to walk tomorrow.

"What have I done to make my legs so bad?" I wondered. It's not like I played any sports in school (talk about someone being non-athletic!) and was dealing with repeated football or soccer or cross-country injuries. So I let my mind wander and it remembered, and it told me what I needed to know.

I remembered being a skinny girl of seven or eight years of age and Alice taking her daughters and Liz and I out to what was called The Farm, but was more like a ranch. There were a few horses, a pony, some fields of hay and alfalfa, and numerous Charolais cattle. On these occasions, five or six years before Alice and Bill had a home built on their 100-plus acres, we girls were a free work crew. Actually, we were allowed to work for sandwiches and a spot to pee behind the haystack.

Did I mention that I was scrawny? Years later, Alice's sister Jackie told me that when she first saw me I reminded her of the photos she would see of starving children, accompanied by requests for humanitarian aid. But I was expected to work, and work hard. It gave me some time to not be under Alice's thumb, unless I shirked my duties. We would do all sorts of work around the corrals and barns, hopping over the wooden fences or getting torn up trying to crawl through the barbed wire around all of the other areas and fields. I seldom came back from these excursions without getting my skin torn by barbs or picking up splinters from the wooden fences. Of course, I never mentioned these to Alice - if I had, the bandaging would be accompanied by her berating me for a fool for getting cut up. Once I got a splinter in the palm of my hand that was as large around as a wooden kitchen matchstick. I left it alone until it festered and my hand opened up, releasing the offending stowaway.

One of the hardest things was carrying around bales of hay. We would climb up the stacked bales to get one down from the top, or near the top, and carry them to another location. Bales of that size can weigh around 40 pounds, and I might have weighed 50 dripping wet and wrapped in heavy winter clothing and boots. I struggled along, balancing the bales on my thighs. Any discomfort I experienced was nothing compared to a potential beating for being a useless, lazy girl.

After I moved to Gram's, the trips to the country (sounds so very nice, doesn't it?) dwindled in frequency. Bill and Alice had a young family that lived on the place and took care of the work we had previously done. Before long, Alice dumped a dog at Gram's, one of the most aggravating dogs I have ever known. Naturally he lived to be nearly 20 years old. Alice's son Dave and his roomies had found the dog roaming on the streets of Boulder near the CU campus. They brought him home to the house they shared and, probably through benign neglect, taught him the worst of manners. 

Clyde (as in Bonnie and) would drink out of the toilets, steal food off the counters and table, and pee and poop in the house rather than outside. As I have read can be the case with black labs (he was a mix) he was afraid of the dark. He was also terrified of loud noises like thunder and fireworks, as well as getting wet. He could jump over a 6-foot fence with ease, and liked to fly over fences at any opportunity. He believed himself to be a fighter, and would try to tangle with the male dog next door. Hoss could kick his tail and slash him up without even trying.

In order to protect the dog, we had to chain him when we put him outside for, well, you know. I want to stress that he was not left chained in the yard all day, it was usually a maximum of about 5 minutes. It was one of my tasks to take him down to the chain that was looped around one of the sturdy poles that held up the clothesline. Clyde could run around without the heavy chain tangling up, and would bark when he was, as Gram would say, finished doing his business. 

That crazy dog was strong. He knew where we were headed and would try to get away from me. And when fireworks happened or rain sprinkled, I had to virtually drag him with my slight frame. If he saw a dog or cat when he was going out or coming in, he'd take off, sometimes dragging me along. I remember once when he started off and I ended up on the wet grass in my favorite brown and tan suede saddle shoes. They had a smooth molded bottom, so when we hit the grass, I slid and fell, narrowly missing hitting my head on the metal basement window well. Gram was so scared and angry that when she tried to kick the dog in anger, he fled down the stairs to the basement. Every so often, he was not stupid. 

Doing this for years made my hands and arms strong, but I think it also took a toll on my still-young but already abused knees. As the years passed and lupus became a part of my life, gout and inflammation also took their toll. A fractured tibia, with which I climbed to my third-floor apartment and back down again the next day (and which wasn't x-rayed until about three weeks later because nobody even thought of a break because after all, I was walking) added to the damage. Throw in some phlebitis and the family tendency I inherited to hypercoagulabilty (a fancy term for a tendency to get blood clots) and I guess it's not such a surprise I have challenges after all. 

I have come to realize that although my small problems with my legs may be inconvenient, I am pretty lucky after all. I still have two legs, and they are at least moderately strong. I can still walk a lot, but not without the carefree, pain-free ease of my youth. And, like Clyde, I may talk a good game, but I am not going to be kicking anyone's backside. I'm non-violent, after all. And I'm really not sure that I could lift either leg that high!


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