Thinking about Walking

I was tempted to title this post “Yes, I Am Still Alive!” A more accurate title would be “Feeling Guilty about Not Walking.” A run of very cold weather (really! below freezing—honest! with wind chill out the gazoo) and general busyness (lots of “formations” and other time commitments that have run me off my feet) have conspired to prevent me (or at least deter me) from walking for the past couple of weeks. I’ve been out for a walk only five times so far this month (most of those early in the month when the highs were in the 70s).

When my husband deems it too cold to run, he climbs stairs. Not for me, thanks, but I do sometimes find other worthwhile projects to qualify as “exercise.” Yesterday’s project (which had been on my To Do list for several days) was to clear out my part of our shared closet. Although this did entail weeding out the clothes and shoes that, viewed with unflinching realism, I knew I would never wear again, my primary object was to clear out some cartons and plastic milk crates of assorted material on the shelves and floor.

For example, I knew that a large part of the contents of one of the milk crates, which had been gathering dust since my daughter was in school (that is, for nearly fifteen years), was a collection of Latin textbooks. They had been sent by their publishers to the school for evaluation; since the school doesn’t offer Latin, someone at the school, knowing I was a former Latin teacher, offered them to me. Since I no longer have any expectation of ever teaching again, not to mention that I still have the textbooks I taught out of, it seemed like a no-brainer to get rid of these books. Alas! when I mentioned it to my husband, he said, “I’ve been running across so many Latin phrases lately that I’ve been thinking I ought to brush up on my Latin.” By “brush up” he meant “learn for the first time,” since he’d never studied the subject. Anyway, he agreed to put them in one of his bookcases, so they’re out of my way.

The rest of the contents of the milk crates primarily related to dollhouse miniatures (my daughter has a very elaborate dollhouse that I furnished). Those were also relatively easy to deal with. One of the boxes was labeled “Antique Clothing,” and I opened it with anticipation and viewed the contents with pleasure and relief. When my father died, most of the contents of his house were sold in an estate sale. We happened to be bringing boxes down from the attic one day when the woman who was organizing the sale came by. When she saw the boxes of old clothes, she pounced, saying she had a customer for them who happened to be in town, and she would be able to sell them right away. They got away from me a little faster than I really wanted, and I wished later that I’d been firmer about holding onto them till I could assess them.

So now I was glad to see that I still had some of the lace-trimmed petticoats that had belonged to my great-grandmother, as well as one complete striped chambray (two-piece) dress. Among the other odds and ends in the box (a lace fan with mother-of-pearl sticks, a lace-trimmed black mask) were several lace shawls and mantillas my great-grandfather had sent my great-grandmother from “Porto Rico” when he was posted there during the Spanish-American War.

Another box, very heavy, seemed likely to contain books, and I rather thought perhaps it was the box of children’s books I am saving for my grandchild(ren). In fact I found it contained my collection of ancient fashion magazines, some dating back to the 1860s. Though I have stowed it away again for the nonce, I do want to peruse the contents again at leisure (and I will have a few things to add to it).

The greatest surprise, though, was a box that I had vaguely thought contained the notes and drafts of my master’s thesis (no telling where those actually are). Instead, it proved to be a treasure trove of memorabilia. The first things I pulled out were mine—miscellaneous snapshots (summer camp, a visit to Mount Vernon), undated (ca. 1956) literature from some IBM exhibit somewhere (“I AM AN IBM 305 RAMAC”), several programs from our church’s sesquicentennial celebration, newspaper and magazine clippings about the Challenger disaster—but most of the contents seem to have been souvenirs my grandmother had saved: a printed biography of her father, a Class Bulletin of the Class of 1884 (his class) at the United States Military Academy (West Point), a box of ornate and sentimental valentines from the turn of the (twentieth) century, handwritten and typed drafts of her autobiography.

Also in the box were an adorable baby book Grandmother had kept for me (one of several devoted to my adorable self) and an album of pictures of adorable me, bound between wooden covers adorned with the word “SNAPS” and a pinecone design carved (or perhaps burned) into the wood and hand-colored. It is a toss-up whether my mother or I was the most photographed baby who ever lived, but there are certainly enough photograph albums to make it difficult to decide.

All of these items are fascinating, to be sure, but none of them is much different in nature or quality from the mounds of other memorabilia I’ve accumulated elsewhere (even the photos are widely duplicated). But the box does contain several pièces de résistance that I don’t recall ever seeing before. One of these is The Ladies Birthday Almanac for the year 1944 (my birth year) published by Black-Draught (“for All the Family”) and Cardui (“for Women”). This newsprint booklet is a congeries of astrological projections, weather predictions, and actual factual information, such as the phases of the moon and times for sunrise and sunset, moonrise and moonset. And of course on every other page an advertisement for Black-Draught or Cardui.

Another remarkable find is Our Patriotic President: His Life in Pictures, with Famous Words & Maxims, Anecdotes, and Biography (copyright 1904). The “patriotic president” in question was Teddy Roosevelt; the Publisher’s Preface explains:

Few of our former Presidential candidates have ever engaged the attention of the country so much as Theodore Roosevelt. Although he has been in the people’s eye for more than twenty years, the American public, magnetically attracted by his patriotic and picturesque personality, is solicitous of still closer acquaintance with our popular President’s affairs; his past, present and future; his principles and opinions; his home life and recreations. But in our days of strenuous life and nervous temperament few people have the time and patience to wade through ponderous volumes, dull documents of state and bulky biographies. We even want the information about our Presidents in tabloids. To fill this want this book has been carefully compiled with a view to give at a glance, “all about Theodore Roosevelt.”

The “days of strenuous life and nervous temperament” could be a description of our own impatient Google-spoiled times!

Even more intriguing is the “Souvenir Program of the G.A.R. Encampment, Boston, August 15 to 20, including The Charles River Carnival, August 17th, 1904” (Price, Ten Cents). The G.A.R. (for non-USians) is the Grand Army of the Republic, a fraternal organization of veterans of the Union Army in the Civil War, formed in 1866. The encampment was a sort of reunion or convention of these veterans, held annually in various places around the country. This one in Boston was the thirty-eighth annual encampment. At that time, G.A.R. membership was 247,340 (down from a high in 1890 of 409,489). An official program of the thirty-sixth encampment (in Washington, D.C.) can be seen at the Library of Congress Web site.

There is no clue to how my grandmother came by this document. Her father’s family was from Massachusetts, and in August 1904 she had just moved to live with an aunt in Springfield; perhaps this encampment (or the Seventh Grand Charles River Carnival) was such an attraction that they attended, or perhaps they happened on it on their way from Fort DuPont, Delaware, her father’s previous post. In any case, the program is a priceless relic and probably holds more interest than anything I would see on my walks.

I won’t be walking tomorrow; we’ll be leaving for church before it is warm enough to consider walking farther than the car and spending the afternoon, I hope, at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile for a concert by the Mobile Symphony Orchestra. I may be able to walk Monday but will certainly not walk Tuesday. Unfortunately, I will not be glued to the television along with the rest of the country, as I have a conflict. But I will continue to think about walking!

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