I have big calves.
I’m not being self-deprecating or indulging in a moment of low self-esteem. They’re big, and I’m reminded of it every time I try to tug on skinny jeans or almost bust a zipper pulling on a pair of knee-high boots.
The natural response, I guess, would be to dislike them. And I won’t lie, I’ve cast an admiring glance or two at thin-legged ladies. But, I’m proud of my calves.
My body is a gift from people whose names and faces and stories I will never know. Somehow, all the things that they were have come together into one big compilation – and that’s me.
My Great-Grandfather Isadore carried himself around on calves like these. And he gave his genetic gift to my Grandma Nettie who passed them down to my Father who in turn gave them to me.
Some of my earliest memories are of my Dad’s legs. Granted, I wasn’t very tall, so I didn’t have much of a choice about whether I wanted I wanted to look at them or not. But his legs were always the foundation of how I viewed him: powerful, strong.
When I was small, I had to take three steps for every one of his. After Gator games, in the rush to get back to the car, he would lead the way while my Mom brought up the rear. No one had legs like him. I knew if I just kept watching them, kept following, I wouldn’t get lost in the crowd. I just locked eyes on the back of those calves, and I watched each sure, confident step as I tried to keep to up.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about our legs.
This summer, I had reunions in the Catskills for two sides of my family. I love being with my relatives. Whether it’s my immediate family or the 2nd and 3rd cousins who I rarely see, I feel like we have a special bond. And in my Dad’s family, at least, half of us are also united by “the calves.” Being together, gave us the opportunity to compare who had the best set, and to talk about the people who are no longer with us who had them too.
People like my Grandma.
After more than a decade of living with Alzheimer’s, I lost my Grandma Nettie in May.
It sounds awful, but her passing was a relief. When you love someone who doesn’t know who you are – who doesn’t remember who they are – it tears at you day-by-day. Until one morning, you wake up, and you realize you can barely remember who they used to be before this disease started taking them away.
But now that she’s gone, I find myself thinking about her all the time. I’ll think about her while I do the dishes, while I walk, and while I try to go about all the ordinary tasks of my life.
She was a bulldog – a tough, take no crap from anyone kind of woman. She raised three kids, went to college in her 40’s, and somehow managed to deal with my Grandpa Irving. I never thought of her as a soft or particularly comforting person. She never ever let me win any games, and she made me cry more than once, but she was a wonderful grandma.
She also had great legs.
From what I’ve heard, she loved the big calves that she inherited from her father. When she was younger, she used to wear things just to show them off. And in my memories of her from before the Alzheimer’s, she was constantly on her feet, never great at being still.
Grandma Nettie was my “outdoor” grandma. Always active. Always on the go. Always making time to play sports multiple days a week. She played until forgot the rules, and she kept moving until she sat down one day and forgot how to stand up.
Growing up, I thought that I took after my Grandma Sylvia. In contrast to Grandma Nettie, she was my “indoor” grandma. Between her fingers, she could make a sewing machine come to life. She was gifted at arts and crafts and word games, and all the quiet things that I gravitate toward when I have free time. She was also kind of stationary, and I was once that way too.
But something happened to me when I got into my 20’s. I started walking. Short distances, at first, and then, longer and longer and longer. The further I went, the more intense I became, and the more I started to realize, maybe there was some of my Grandma Nettie in me too.
When I don’t walk, I feel it. Deep in my calf muscles, there’s this sensation that I need to move, move, move. More than any other part of my body, I’m aware of my calves all the time.
I recognize the symptoms. I’ve looked it up. I’m 90% sure that I have a mild form of Restless Leg Syndrome, but I don’t think I need a cure. I just stand up. I give into that desperate need to move, and I walk.
When I got back from the Catskills, I felt that nagging urge to move, move, move.
At the beginning of the summer, I moved to a new side of DC, and I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to take a five-mile walk around some of the trails close to my new home.
I walked to the Tregaron Conservancy and explored the different paths around the Washington International School. Then, I moved to the new Klingle Valley Trail, planning to turn back after I was done – but it wasn’t enough.
One mile easily melting into two then four then ten.
As I walked, I could see my Grandma Nettie. I pictured her slightly bowed legs and her strong gait. I could still see her following me from room to room compulsively shutting the lights off behind me. I could almost hear her raspy laugh and see her easy smile.
When I was a teenager, I sometimes hid in my room to get some space from my Grandparents when they visited. As an adult, I sat next to my Grandmother, and I desperately wished for just a glimmer of recognition.
If I’d known how many years we’d have without her mind, maybe I would have been a little more generous with my time.
But now I’m left with just the memories. And walking. So, I walk, and walk, and walk, and walk…