Sunday, February 7, 2010

One and a Half Miles

It is the middle of November 1972. My Father and I leave this home on South 7th Street in Boonville Indiana for our thrice weekly mile and a half jog.  Well, it is a mile and a half of walking and jogging for me. When I cannot go with him he runs for three miles. You can take the man out of the Rangers but the Ranger never leaves the man. He loves to run, loved leading PT as a Drill Instructor. On a trip to see my Mom's family in Louisville he and I drove to Fort Knox to see one of his old friends, a Major who had flown helicopters with him. He pulled off the road to watch some soldiers do drills with what looked like half of a telephone pole. He watched them in silence. I could feel the weight of the heavy beam in his memories as we sat together on the bench seat of our 68 Chevy Biscayne. He was very pleased in their efforts. "That's the way it's done Son. That's how you learn to work together and trust each other."
The first 150 yards are always easy down the gentle slope of the street. Just where it levels off the the vacant lot where all the local boys play football. This is not touch football. The teenagers rule the field. Injuries to the smaller kids are always accompanied by insults, and laughter. But if you play without fear you get your own shots in. Without fear the game is worth playing. We go Fifty yards more yards and we pass over the railroad tracks, the finish line for our bike races. Eight and nine year olds racing hell bent for leather towards heavy machinery. Our parents knew about this, and thought little if anything of it. It was the time when in small towns mothers would hold the door open and state without equivocation "You are going outside to play"  The only safety guideline we had to honor; " Be home before dark!"
The tracks are where I always slowed to a walk. "Walking is as good for you as running as long as you walk like you have somewhere to go" My Father always said. It was a way to make me feel better, as well as the truth, but I noticed he would always run.  A misty rain had began to fall, cooling me down, and I kept jogging. "Two counts" he said as we reached the bottom of a short but steep hill. It was a breath control trick he had taught me. You exhale in rhythmic puffs in tempo with your strides. Never more than four counts. If you were struggling on two counts it is time to ease the pace or walk. The shot of oxygenation helps and we keep going past the crest, down the rest of seventh street, take right were the streets Ts and start down the long hill that leads to City Lake.  By the time we reach the lake I am puffing on four counts again.
I spent countless days of my childhood at this park. The swimming area was where I learned to blow bubbles in the water, to dog paddle, the backstroke and the Australian crawl. The right to go to the high dive was earned by swimming the width of the pool and back without stopping under the watchful eye of the superintendent and the life guards. My first jump from the 15 foot height was a disaster that knocked the wind out of me. But by the next Summer I was could manage a reasonably good swan dive and if I entered just right I could touch the muddy bottom.
We jog past the swimming area down the steep hill to Third Street and turned left following the levee that is the western border of the park. My Father asks me questions about chess strategy. He knows what I am trying to do. We are at the half way mark and coming to another hill. If I can talk I can keep going, if not we will walk. We pass the hill and turn left on Lake Shore. On the left is the spot I caught my first fish. I was using my Gramps' cane pole with a red and white bobber and a worm from Nanny's garden. Gramps and my Father chuckled when I declared the four inch blue gill to be "a keeper" My Grandfather took the fish off the hook and lowered it back into the lake."We'll let him grow grow a little more cowboy" One of the tough things about being a kid is triumph and despair so closely follow one another.
The rain grows heavier as we continued down the winding lane to the road  on the eastern border. I had read in one of my Outdoor Life Magazines that "Lunker Largemouth Lurk Beneath Lily Pads"  This side of the lake is very shallow and covered by water lilies with enormous maroon and white flowers. I will spend many hours here and never catch anything. It is here I learn the bond between silence and beauty.
"Can you keep going?" My Father asks. When I say "Yes" things change. Before there where two sets of footfalls. Now there is one. His breathing  syncs to mine.  It feels like I am half of a powerful machine. I am drawing not just from my father's strength but his instincts. There are none of the normal small stumbles in my strides. I am running with confidence and purpose. We are doing this together. We glide past the railroad tracks and up the hill towards home. The last half mile is passed without a word between us, but we have never been so completely connected. His hand clasps my shoulder and squeezes at the base of my neck."Good work Son"
Now that I am a Father myself there are many times I stumble. There are many times I feel I do not know the way forward, but as my confidence grows and I overcome my fears I can feel the connection.  My Father is beside me; step for step and breath for breath.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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