One evening near my fifteenth birthday, I was summoned to stand before the Kitchen Tribunal. My mother was there; recently widowed, understandably shell-shocked, and exhausted by the demands of a fragile household and three needy teenagers. Also in attendance were my two older brothers, their adolescent snickering temporarily pushed aside by the weight and severity of the matter at hand, which was this: A few days earlier, an acquaintance of theirs (several years older, a bit snarky, and appropriately enough, named Dick) had driven past me as I crossed the Market Street Bridge, then reported to my big brothers that their little sister walked like she wanted it. The family was solemn and disapproving; the kitchen smelled of fried egg sandwiches and scandal.
Well, I was affronted! I was mortified! I was. . .intrigued. So after clearing my good name with Mom and the brothers, I retreated to ponder this new development. I turned it over in my mind: She walked like she wanted it. Those words couldn’t possibly apply to me, a self-described wallflower and slow starter who hadn’t yet learned how to flirt. I mean, I certainly knew what IT was, but I wasn’t sure I wanted IT anytime soon. To be honest, IT was a little scary. Besides, exactly how did I walk like I wanted it? What was happening back there that I didn’t know about?
Therefore, I turned to my cultural icons for clues. The men on Gilligan’s Island (even the Professor!) were dumbstruck each time Ginger walked by, but I’d have described my walk as more . . . Mary Ann-ish. And there weren’t enough Underalls in the world to make my back porch swing like Ann-Margret’s. But in the privacy of my room, I had to admit I kind of liked knowing something about the way I walked caused Dick to take notice. Is this what made Aerosmith’s Walk This Way such a dirty song?
Until that moment, the only womanly walk I’d ever analyzed was my mother’s. Her long legs moved with quick, purposeful strides. “Keep up, Lisa!” she’d insist as we rushed from store to store each Saturday morning, trying to get our shopping done before some deadline (Yes, I grew up in a world with downtown stores but no Amazon.com.).
Mom also instructed me on how to walk like a lady. “Move your legs from the hips, not from the knees, Lisa.” And because I tended toward pigeon-toes: “Point your shoes forward, Lisa. Don’t let your toes turn in when you walk.” I assure you, Mom was not being critical; back in the day, it was a mother’s duty to teach her daughter the finer points of being a woman. How ironic that the very walk my mom worked to cultivate in me would one day attract the attention of boys like Dick.
I never managed to duplicate my mother’s walk, though. At 4′ 11″ inches tall, I just don’t have the equipment to cover ground in the same fashion. Now 79, Mom still out distances me step by step.
But as I made my way through the mall recently, I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being stalked by my Great Aunt Lois (May she rest in peace.). Great Aunt Lois was smart and generous, a veteran school teacher with a no-nonsense attitude, a woman esteemed by the family at large during my formative years. Great Aunt Lois’s walk, however, was nothing like my mother’s.
The Grand Dame was short, stout, and plagued by arthritis. She waddled stiff-legged from here to there with knees and hips that moved like rusty gears. I imagined her carrying an oil can in that oversized handbag on her arm. And whoever was caught climbing a flight of stairs behind Great Aunt Lois had better not be in a hurry; coaxing those creaky joints to rotate in such a manner was a process that simply could not be rushed.
And so it was Great Aunt Lois’s walk that followed me past each store window— in the form of my own reflection. Nowadays, I walk like I want some ibuprofin and a nice, long, soak. And since he’s a grandpa now, I’m pretty sure Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler walks this way, as well.
And such, friends, is the walk of life.