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Column: A fall can teach vivid lesson about aging

I'm pretty sure I've tripped and fallen a few times in my life, but I can only remember a couple (perhaps the result of my latest tumble).

The first was during a family vacation a half century ago, when my dad wanted to introduce us to the family of a colleague in a town where we'd stopped to spend the night.

Mom dressed my sister and me in our Sunday best, and dad proudly ushered his girls into his friend's home — mom, sister, then me.

As I made my entrance, the toe of my patent leather Mary Jane caught on a scatter rug in the entry hall, and I stumbled, flailed and finally sprawled in the middle of their living room.

I was only 8 years old and still pretty close to the ground, so nothing was injured but my pride. All I can remember is sitting up and giggling semi-hysterically for a long, long time.

The trip and fall 10 days ago wasn't quite as funny. I was strolling down my driveway with a scooper full of oak tree wool (those fuzzy things that are covering everything right now) when the toe of my Easy Spirits caught on an errant paver.

This time, there was no flailing, stumbling or arm-waving. I fell face-forward, straight as a tree felled by Paul Bunyan in a secluded backwoods. One moment, bolt upright. Next moment, flat on face. No time to brace myself, no time to prepare, no time to tuck and roll.

Up. Down.

Until then, I'd been pretty cavalier about my activities. I'd shinny up my 6-rung ladder to clean the gutters, clamber onto my roof to pick figs or sweep off leaves, teeter on the lip of the door frame of my car to wash and wax the top and balance on the seat of a bedroom rocking chair to retrieve or put away items in the top of the closet.

But, as a bump the size of half a boiled egg bloomed on my forehead, my hands swelled and ached and my knees turned blue, green, purple and red, I suddenly became as cautious as a born-and-bred Southern girl navigating an icy Wisconsin road in a pickup with failing brakes.

Once-friendly area rugs started looking as dangerous as the edge of the Grand Canyon. An electrical extension cord that has long wormed its way across my dining room floor suddenly looked as threatening as an anaconda snake. The threshold of my walk-in shower began to look like Mount Everest.

I was no longer amused when my cat Snickers would decide to play "Weave Around Her Legs" as I walked through the house.

For the first time ever, I began heeding the advice of friends and family to keep a phone nearby when I take a bath or do any work outdoors.

I've let the rain gutters fill with leaves and don't even care.

I look at the floor as I walk, avoid carrying anything that blocks sight of my feet and keep my hand on the handrail when I go up or down stairs.

I've started attaching the safety stop string to my lapel when I'm on my home treadmill, stopped reading The Week Magazine as I keep up with that revolving belt and sand-papered the soles of my new leather shoes.

I think this all means that I'm finally facing my own vulnerability, perhaps even my own mortality.

Another birthday is no longer a joke about wrinkles and sketchy memory. "Over the hill" has taken on new meaning, a little piece of shorthand that says I'm going down the other side … of what?

I think it's just about here that I should talk about stopping and smelling the roses and valuing friendships and all that other stuff.

But here it is, 10 days later, and my legs and head ache, I still have a greenish bruise the size of an avocado on my forehead, and my knees and legs still look like a Florida sunset following a summer rain.

On the other hand, nothing is broken, and despite my initial terror that I'd be another Sonny Bono, Michael Kennedy or Natasha Richardson, who all succumbed to seemingly minor head bumps, I can quote my favorite song from Stephen Sondheim's most wonderful musical, Follies:

"I've run the gamut, from A to Z

Three cheers and dammit, C'est la vie

I got through all of last year, and I'm here...

I'm still here!"

Column: A fall can teach vivid lesson about aging 04/16/10 [Last modified: Friday, April 16, 2010 5:51pm]
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