We’ve taken to walking around town in the mornings, and for no particular reason I started to wonder what my dad, gone 50 years now, might have said had he lived to see such a thing.
No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I got this image of an old Chevy pickup chugging up River Street toward us. The squeal of worn brake shoes would pierce the quiet morning, the driver’s side window would roll down and a thick forearm would cover the sill as my dad leaned toward us.
“Out of gas?’’ I could almost hear him asking. “Car break down?’’
“Nope,’’ I saw myself responding. “Just out for some exercise.’’
“Say what now?’’ I imagined my dad saying. “You’re walking to get exercise? You could be driving, or you could be sitting at home reading, but you’re out here walking for exercise? Well, OK, then. Listen, I have to be getting to the farm. There’s a bin full of oats to be scooped into the truck and hauled to the elevator.’’
That imagined exchange started me thinking how different things are these days for people who want to stay physically active. During the worst weeks of the COVID-19 shutdown in this country, people were pining for gyms and city parks and bike trails and soccer fields and so on. A number of people found ways to link up on social media and exercise together. They did online yoga classes and online free weights sessions and online cycling and several other things.
I have a niece in the Twin Cities who started some exercises online. It looked like a lot of stretching and bending and twisting to me, but I noted that several people said in the comments section when each class ended that it had been great for them. Being an old reporter, I have a fairly strong suspicious streak, and I wondered a bit whether those people actually did the exercises or just wrote a glowing review when class ended.
I’ve never much cared for organized fitness classes. You could say — and Nancy probably has said — that I don’t much care for organization in any situation. When I worked for the state a few years ago, some helpful soul invaded my cubicle and organized my desk while I was out of town. It took me days of pawing through all of that neatness to find the stuff I needed.
(That last bit about the clean desk is off the topic, but you get the idea of how I am with organization.)
The thing is, my dad would never have understood why someone would need to go out of their way to find exercise. From the time he was a young lad to the day he entered the hospital with cancer, his life was physical activity. Nobody called it exercise. They called it stacking hay and shoveling corn, branding calves and fixing fence. When a guy does that sort of thing from sunrise to sunset, he really doesn’t need to seek out an additional way to exercise. Free weights and rowing machines have little luster.
In his day, and in my younger days on the farm, people walked, sure. Tires went flat. Tractors ran out of gas. Combines broke down. When those things happened, the phone was two miles away, hooked to the wall of the kitchen. A guy could wait all day for help, or he could walk home. It wasn’t like walking for exercise or physical fitness. It didn’t involve a fancy set of walking sneakers. It was just hoofing it. It kept people in shape, I suppose, but it didn’t put them in a mindset to rise an hour earlier in the morning to get three or four miles in.
Back in Pierre, Nancy went to the YMCA to walk and take yoga classes in the mornings. I rode the bike trails in the afternoons — from time to time. These days we walk together. It’s a far cry from the fitness program I learned on the farm, but it gives me an odd sense of accomplishment — never mind what my dad would have had to say.