By Joe Rector

I’m moving into a clumsy stage of life. People have told me it would come, but I fooled myself into believing I could escape it. All my life, I’ve not been graceful or even close to being light on my feet, so thinking for even one second I could avoid loss of balance was foolish.

When Jim and I were toddlers, family and neighbors used the words “bless their hearts” when they looked at us. We were two boys with skinny limbs, round bellies, and oversized heads. Such awkward body builds were destined for falls and the pains that went with them. To protect us from ourselves, our parents put us in a play area in the front yard. It was encircled with chicken wire to make sure no escapes occurred.

When we grew up a little, our parents paroled us from the cage. We played for a while, but before long, one of us would trip and scrape a knee or thump the ground with enough force to leave a goose-egg bump.

As boys, we wanted desperately to be good athletes. Unfortunately, we turned out to be fat boys who couldn’t run fast or throw a ball to anyone or anything other than a rambling rose bush. A session of catch in the front yard always ended with our rolling around in the front yard and throwing punches.

My first encounter with ankle problems began in the front yard when I was in third grade. My left foot stepped on an uneven place and turned, and before I could get into the house, the joint area had swollen into a huge ball. For the next couple of days, I couldn’t walk, I missed school and had to stay with my grandparents, who didn’t seem at all glad to have me in the house.

In high school, I broke the same ankle as I carried dry footballs to the officials during a game. From that point on, my ankle turned unexpectedly. On one occasion I was walking to the mailbox after school and stepped on gravel that threw out my foot again. Over the years, I’ve had surgeries and now must wear a brace to stabilize the ankle.

I managed to injure my back in another stupid move. I was digging out oak stumps from our front yard. A friend of mine stopped by the house to tell me he’d received an assistant principal’s job. I’d been working for that kind of position for several years. When he left, I returned to a particularly stubborn stump. With a long pry bar, I grunted and strained until my back popped, dropped me to my knees, and left me writhing in pain. I also blew out discs in my neck during a weightlifting session at the gym. See what I mean about never having the poise and control to avoid injuries?

These days, I’m stiff as a poker when I first stand up or work outside. Getting down is a chore; getting back up is an impossibility. I often get my weight too forward and take a nosedive. A couple of summers ago I managed to do the same kind of thing and rammed a metal rod on a lawnmower in my leg behind my left knee. Getting up takes a couple of rocks sometimes because my weight isn’t distributed evenly.

It’s part of life, this stiffness and lack of balance. It also is infuriating and embarrassing. I should be thankful to be on this side of the grass, but I wish I could be nimble enough to keep from falling. Just the other day, I fell as I stepped between limbs that I was cutting with a chain saw. Yes, I’ve already said thank you for not falling on the saw and inflicting more pain on my old body. Let’s all hope a cane isn’t in the near future for I would certainly become an even angrier old codger than I am now.