By Teresa Swartz Roberts
Blog 37. Copyright 2020
I had placed my walker between the car and the garage while I reached into the hatchback for one of the big, juicy watermelons that blessed this summer and early fall. Once I had the melon in my hands, I was going to gently put it in the hammock-style seat of my walker and roll it inside the house. But that’s not what I did. I took an awkward step to avoid twisting my back and also to avoid stepping on the uneven threshold that marks the edge where the driveway and garage meet.
I knew the watermelon was in trouble, but I was in more danger. So I tossed the watermelon onto the seat. It bounced. I sat down hard in the garage, missing the uneven threshold and doing my best to bounce, too.
The watermelon seemed to pause a moment in front of my walker before it started rolling. Down the driveway. Onto the sidewalk. Into the street. Across the street.
I thought, “Please don’t let it take out a kid on a bike or the neighbor’s cat!”
I cringed and watched as the watermelon came to rest against the curb across the street. I struggled to my feet and took a quick inventory. Nothing broken, scraped, or punctured. On me, anyway. I really had just twirled and sat down, not fallen.
Looking around to see who might be recording my adventure on a cellphone, I used my walker to walk down our slightly slanted driveway. I looked both ways before crossing the street, and I made it to the watermelon. I picked it up from the gutter and inspected it. While the melon might be tenderized inside, its skin was unbroken.
I picked up the watermelon, coaching my body on which muscles to use, placed it in the seat of my walker, and rolled it into the house. I had two things to celebrate.
In the year since I started using my fancy walker, I have grown to depend on it. When I asked my Parkinson’s specialist whether it was okay to become dependent on the walker, I was told that using it to keep me safe and moving seemed to be a great idea.
I started to forgive myself for needing the walker and realize just how much independence it returned to me. I can unload the dishwasher and carry a stack of plates on the walker to the cabinet. I can transfer a hot pot of chili to the kitchen table. I can pull a load of laundry out of the dryer and roll my basket to where I sit and fold. And I usually can bring in a load of groceries from the car without incident.
People who love me have noticed the tango I do with the walker, sometimes walking backward or to the side, sometimes, yes, dragging a foot. Seeing me with the walker prompted my brother to exclaim, “You haven’t given up!” No, I haven’t, and the walker doesn’t have to mean that I have. Some folks have literally called what I do (sometimes on purpose, sometimes not) “dancing.” My Honey says I scare him with how much I “twirl around” with the walker.
So, first, I am thankful for using a walker. Second, I am thankful for the simple pleasure of watermelon.
My family loves watermelon. When The Boy was little, his grandmother lived with us, and there’s nothing she enjoyed more than surprising him with watermelon she had bought with her own money. Grandma Roberts had lived her life poor, and watermelon was something you grew in the garden or did without if you lived in town. The Boy thanked her with gurgles and a pink chin and a gooey pat until he was old enough to say thank you.
When she looked at The Boy, she sometimes saw her own son, My Honey, who loved watermelon even more. His father’s brother, Uncle Jonah—or Uncle Jonie—loved his little nephew and brought him watermelon every time he visited. That is, all but one time. It was a snowy winter in 1960s West Virginia, and there was no watermelon to be found. The way Grandma told it, Jonie was devastated to think that he might disappoint little Frankie.
Watermelon reminds me of family reunions and summer celebrations. My brothers and I would try to spit the seeds a long way. The boys always seemed to be better at spitting than I was. The watermelons I buy now that I live in Georgia, where the Watermelon Capital of the World is located, are seedless. This year has been a rough one. But I was able to rejoice with every wonderful watermelon we tasted this year. Each time we cut into one, we figured the streak would be over. And it probably is now. We are not going to buy any more, I figure, until spring. But for this summer, the watermelons—and my walker—made every day Independence Day.