Today, my 92-year-old mother moved out of the home where my sister, brother, and I grew up; the home where she and my father lived together for nearly 55 years. To put the momentousness of this event in context, let me quote my brother from a recent email: “In some way, the house was like the sixth member of our family.”
While I’ll miss the historic charm of my ancestral home (built-in beehive bread oven; wood-burning fireplaces; a front-door key the size and heft of a baby’s forearm), it’s more the surrounding roads and running routes that I find my mind drifting toward the past few weeks. Those rustic-suburban roads, deeply wooded with few houses, were the starting point of my running journey. They’re where I got my first taste at the exhilarating sensation of digging deep and finding out I am stronger than I thought.
In high school, I began to leave behind my bookish childhood and take some steps into the physical realm. After growing bored of doing the Jane Fonda workout album (yes, an actual album that required flipping over midway!) and “get a better butt” exercises from Mademoiselle magazine in the basement, I ventured outside to run. The most obvious route was a 3.7-mile loop around the nearby reservoir. Stepping beyond our home’s split-rail fence, I’d debate whether to head clockwise or counterclockwise—either way resulted in a steep climb in the final mile and many long rollers in the middle. (So many hills in Connecticut!)
The house is on a road called Trinity Pass, so-named because it cuts through three towns (+ two states), perched at the top of a hill cut out by glaciers eons ago. Massive boulders jut out of the leafy landscape, crossed by countless stone walls built centuries ago by colonists. But the history that’s most vivid to me is charging up that final hill as a college student, telling myself if I stayed “strong” “strong” “strong” (a longtime power-word for me!) all the way to the top, I’d make the best boat on the rowing team when I returned to campus after summer vacation. (Spoiler: I did.)
I fell into a lovely routine with my Dad in the mid-1990s: I’d run seven miles to the pool where he swam daily, then we’d ply laps side-by-side. He’d give me a head start before starting his drive to the rec center so we’d arrive at the pool around the same time, then I’d drive us home post-swim. The pool was near my elementary school; as I ran, my mind would often drift back to childhood memories, including coming in last in just about every field day event except for the wheelbarrow race.
Then, of course, there’s the outrageous-to-some move I pulled on a marathon training run in Connecticut that remains a vivid memory even to some of you: the time, when on an exceptionally hot and humid 13-miler, as I traipsed a route that was post-apocalyptic deserted (no sign of life anywhere!), I chugged water from a half-empty bottle I found by the side of the road. While I didn’t finish that run feeling strong, I proved I can be resourceful, too. (And a bit nasty—same for peeing-through-my-capris on some of those stone walls lining the bucolic backroads.)
Like my years growing up in an 1836 Greek Revival house in Connecticut, these runs made me the mother runner I am today. I’ll miss both the house—and my old stomping grounds.