Wear Cleats or Die

A perfect gift for your Medicare birthday

Illustration by Brad Fitzpatrick

When she was little, our daughter nicknamed her dad the Fairy Lightfoot. Not a small man, he demonstrated remarkable balance. He could scamper over the roof, nailing shingles as he went. He could step from the dock into a boat creating barely a ripple. He could cross a brook on slippery rocks without wetting a toe. At 70, maybe he can still do those things. Maybe not. Last summer when the roof needed replacing, we hired the job out.

Years ago, my grandmother said of the eldercare facility where she lived, “It’d be better if they’d stopped falling down.” Having celebrated my Medicare birthday, I know what she meant. Martha misses the bottom stair with her arms full of laundry and ends up with a broken ankle. Penny, riding her bike, hits a pot hole and wakes up in the ambulance with cracked ribs and a face peel. Monty tumbles from his tree stand and is impaled on a spruce, which, luckily, missed the important bits.

Of course, these mishaps could happen to anyone at any age. But they seem to be happening more often to my peers. The older I get, the more I worry about bones.

As a kid, I took ski lessons. Learned the snowplow and stem christie. Rode a chairlift to the top of Ragged Mountain. Slid, slipped, rolled and skidded down, then trotted into the lodge for hot chocolate that scalded my tongue, my only injury. I never really took to skiing. The boots weighed a ton. My toes froze. Other kids skied faster, soon out of sight. It was lonely on the mountain.

But how I loved to slide. I’d hop on a saucer and spin down Littlefields’ hill, oblivious to obstacles (like rocks), confident the universe was looking out for me. Confident in my rubber bones.

A bunch of us would pile onto a toboggan and shove off on a crust so thick and sharp it could slice a kid. We didn’t think what might happen if we veered into the trees. We were unconcerned about the puckerbrush and barbed wire at the bottom, or the traffic we’d slide into if the puckerbrush and barbed wire didn’t stop us.

Recently, I drove past a sign at a ski area that said “Free Tubing.”

Fun! I thought and almost said to the Fairy Lightfoot, “Let’s tube!” But before the words were out of my mouth, I pictured myself thrown from the tube, crumpled, bone sticking out through the skin.

Tubing’s for kids, I thought sadly, meaning people who have not celebrated their Medicare birthday.

Years ago, my mother stood on her front step looking at fresh snow. Next thing you know, black ice has melted under her soles, she’s down, and her wrist is broken.

Last winter, I stood on a trail at Northwood Meadows State Park having just said to the Fairy Lightfoot: “It’s slick under the snow.” Next thing I know, the back of my skull thunks the frozen ground. Am I dead? I wondered.

Five Outdoor Survival Tips for Persons of a Certain Age in New Hampshire in Winter:

#1 Your bones don’t bend like they used to. Choose activities accordingly.

#2 Take small steps.

#3 Hiking poles = handy.

#4 Wear cleats.

#5 Stay upright!

That said, many ski resorts offer free passes to seniors. I know several rosy-cheeked septuagenarians who ski daily without incident. If you’ve been an Alpine skier for decades, carry on. If, on the other hand, you’ve never skied before, consider cross-country or, my favorite, snowshoeing. The cleats are built in.

Finally, a cautionary tale:

This last Christmas Sally Struthers, of “All in the Family” fame, played Miss Hannigan in “Annie” at the Portsmouth Music Hall — until she slipped on a snowy walkway and broke her leg.

She did not stay upright.

And, though newspaper accounts did not specify, I’m guessing she was cleatless.

Categories: Humor
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