CORNBREAD AND BUTTERMILK: Dreading the approach of the wheelchair
My daughter is suggesting that I take along a motorized wheelchair when I go to Columbia to join 10,000 or so fellow conventiongoers in the arena where the Gamecocks play basketball.
I may do so to humor her, but I donít really think I need one. I have a sturdy wooden cane that lets me keep my balance without the fear that I might run down a wayward tot or crash into another senior citizen.
Listening to your children is one of the difficult choices you have to make when youíre past your mid-seventies and are only two or three years away from becoming an octogenarian.
I remember a couple of years ago when we were debating whether to buy a Smart Car so one of us could make short hops to the grocery store or drugstore while the other was using the family car.
Now the debate is over the appropriate time for me to stop driving altogether. Our kids worry and scold when we decide to take a drive to Graniteville, less than 110 miles away, to visit our folks. My daughter and her husband insist that we allow them to drive us the 140 miles to Columbia, weíre frankly grateful for the offer.
Each time I forget where I left my glasses or my hearing aids or my car keys, we wonder whether itís a sign of emerging Alzheimerís. My family doctor assures me that I pass the Alzheimerís quiz with flying colors. A nurse practitioner recently told me I showed very, very tentative signs of Parkinsonís disease. My family doctor again reassured me that Iím OK in that department.
Still, I can see old age closing in on me like a prison door.
When I lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, I enjoyed backpacking up the steep slopes to the Appalachian Trail or climbing to the top of Flattop Mountain at Peaks of Otter on the Blue Ridge Parkway for glorious views of the Valley of Virginia.
I remember spelunking with my daughterís junior-high class, when I squeezed, stretched and climbed into and out of the bowels of Marshallís Cave, an undeveloped cavern in Virginiaís Allegheny Mountains.
On a more exotic note, I remember when I was 44 and I climbed Gellart Hill in Budapest for a close-up look at the statue erected by the Soviet Union to remind Hungarians of their ďliberationĒ from Nazi Germany. The day was blistering hot, but I was rewarded with a breathtaking view of the Danube River and the city that straddles it.
I remember, when I was two years short of 60, walking in a chilly downpour along the route from Montgomery to Selma, Ala., to cover the 30th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery civil-rights march. I walked about 24 miles in two days, which wasnít bad for an out-of-shape desk jockey.
And I remember, at age 65, climbing a rickety Jacobís ladder from the deck of a pilot boat to the deck of a World War II-vintage landing ship to join the crew of men, mostly older than I, who had sailed it in midwinter from the Mediterranean island of Crete to Mobile Bay.
I wonít do that any more.
My first foreglimpse of the future came one day just prior to the turn of the century as I was walking up the two flights of stairs to my office in Mobile. I felt one knee give, just slightly.
I continued my practice of walking upstairs to my office and up and down from the fourth level of the parking building in which I stored my vehicle each day. I purchased a wooden walking stick made from a Sassafras trunk and a piece of sycamore wood, but rarely used it.
As time passed, my legs grew weaker, and my doctor saw no sure way of reversing the deterioration. I realized that the cane was much more than an ornament. I now use it as a third leg, to provide balance when I walk, and as something to hold on to when I rise from a sitting position.
Iím still slightly self-conscious about using it, but it has its rewards. Pretty girls and pretty-old women alike smile warmly as we meet in the grocery aisles. Young men open doors for me. One gentleman even volunteered to take my empty shopping cart to the storage area for me after I had loaded my groceries into the car.
But itís the loss of driving privileges I dread most.
I still drive myself around town on solo errands, and occasionally take Ďer out on the Interstate. But I know my reflexes are slower and my vision is less acute, and I try to exercise extra caution. My arthritic neck refuses to turn for a full view to the rear when Iím backing up, but I have a backup camera, and my side-view and rear-view mirrors serve me well. I have lousy night vision, so I try to do my driving during daylight hours. And when the two of us are out together, Miss Peggy drives.
I no longer will climb a ladder to replace a light bulb or the batteries in the smoke detectors. We have plenty of children and grandchildren to take care of that for us, in addition to some helpful younger neighbors.
Iím fortunate to have supportive family and friends to catch me when I fall into the quicksand of senility.
But Iím not there yet.
I still write this column every week and am about 500,000 words deep in writing a novel, which may or may not see the light of publication.
But itís something I can do without venturing into traffic. Though my short-term retention is touch-and-go, the long-term lobe of my brain is flush with memories, and Iím still adding to them.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson. Readers may email him at WadesDixieco@AOL.com or visit his website at www.wadesdixieco.com.