My grandfather could walk down the stairs on his hands. My mother and aunts could do cartwheels on the front lawn, and my mother once walked across the high school gym floor on her hands. My mother reminds me of all this as we’re walking the Huckleberry. In her early eighties, she walks a stretch of the paved trail, a mile to the town library and back four or five times a week. She believes the walking keeps her fit, but she refuses to see a doctor; she hasn’t seen one in seven or eight years. She says she wants to wait and find a doctor when she moves to Roanoke, her hometown forty miles away. For years she’s talked about moving. She says she only lives in Blacksburg because my father wanted to live there, and now he’s left her where she doesn’t want to be. In fact, he left her there twenty-five years ago. The small, neglected house she lives in, where she’s lived for more than fifty years—where I grew up—is miles outside of town, on a rural road with few neighbors.
At other times, she admits she likes where she lives. No one to stick their nose in her business, she says, adding that if she won the lottery and was able to move, she’d probably keep her house, keep it and rent it out. I believe she’ll never leave the house until she dies or is forced into a nursing home. The latter is exactly what has happened to my father in the past year, and I believe my mother’s real reason for refusing to see a doctor is she’s afraid of what the doctor will say about her failing memory.
Despite my concerns about my mother’s forgetfulness—she gets lost driving around town and is having trouble keeping track of her bills—she seems healthy, probably due to a lifetime of physical activity. Standing at 4’10’’, she managed to excel playing basketball in high school, and later she was an active member of the Appalachian Trail Club. She worked hard in her vegetable garden until just a few years ago.