Exterior photo of a gazebo.
Wooden picnic tables with benches are arranged in a circle, waiting for a checkers game, or maybe a craft class. Leaves have blown into corners, flower boxes are empty of soil; photo by Sheila Velazquez.

The Third Age: Walking the Walk

October 7, 2023

My kids encourage me to exercise to keep my blood pressure and weight down and my knees and hips strong. I have belonged to gyms, health clubs, and Ys all my life, but my current workout buddies are all online. My favorite YouTube channel is Senior Fitness with Meredith. Her routines are of different lengths and target specific issues and general fitness. They supplement my walks. My daughter bought me a Fitbit that records my steps, so I can easily see when I have or have not met my goals.

I have a regular walking route through the neighborhood. It equals about a mile. Sometimes I add a side street to extend it a bit. One of my side walks is around the elementary school. We have a beautiful school with grassy playing fields, sports and playground equipment, a huge parking lot — all the bells and whistles. People move here for the school. College staff and faculty who live and work here send their kids. It’s not perfect, but it is the kind of school I wish every kid in America could attend.

At the edge of the school property, there is a large gazebo. Wooden picnic tables with benches are arranged in a circle, waiting for a checkers game, or maybe a craft class. But I’ve never seen children, or anyone, using the space. Leaves have blown into corners, flower boxes are empty of soil.

During the school year, as I walk the perimeter of the property, I occasionally stop to watch a soccer match in progress. Cars are lined along the street, some with out-of-state plates. I assume they belong to families who came here in part for their kids. The old homes are lovely. Yards are filled with gardens, some vegetable surrounded by cedar fencing to keep the pesky deer out.

Close-up, rear view of a white pickup truck.
The “M” and the “A” removed, a statement of identity emerges; photo by Sheila Velázquez.

Some yards are open and filled with the last of the flowers hanging on for dear life. Homeowners have added various deterrents over the summer, including spinning CDs, balled-up foil, and fake owls. My gardening is limited to raised beds. The deer were very greedy this year, eating things they had never touched before. They have lost their fear of us and gained an appreciation of our gardening efforts. “See you next year,” I can almost hear them say.

Now, in autumn, the neighborhood is quiet — too quiet. Other walkers pass me on the sidewalk. No one moves away as we approach, or steps across the grass into the gutter to avoid close contact. That’s a relief. I don’t know most of them, except as walking compatriots. About half of the walkers are old, like me. They have old dogs. Some are Golden Retrievers. I met a new one the other day. Phoebe gave me a kiss when I asked her for one. I thanked her. Been awhile since I had been kissed, and truthfully, it was a sweet moment.

There are often construction crews painting or making repairs on the lovely old homes. One day I spied such a crew and admired their shiny new trucks, including a white Tacoma with the last two black letters on its tailgate missing. One of the guys saw me looking at it and said the owner loved tacos. The next day I walked by again, just as its handsome young owner was unloading the truck. I asked him if he bought that model just so he could remove the “m” and the “a.” He said, “No, it just sort of happened.” I asked if I could take a photo of the rear of the truck because it tickled me.

He said, “Sure, and would you like to see my taco tattoo?” He hiked up a pant leg, and sure enough, a taco was neatly reproduced on his calf. I didn’t have the nerve to ask if I could take a photo of that, too.

Sheila Velazquez

Sheila Velazquez is a writer and editor whose work has appeared in more than 100 print newspapers and magazines, including Grit, New Woman, the Hartford Courant, the New Haven Register, the San Antonio Express-News and Bay Area Parent. Her awards include two from the Society of Professional Journalists for a syndicated column. Sheila has contributed to online websites, including commondreams.org and dissidentvoice.org. She served as contributing editor of Organic Producer magazine and wrote biographical material for reference collections that include “Contemporary Authors,” the “Encyclopedia of International Biography” and “Notable Sports Figures.” Feel free to send her an e-mail.

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