I was in the grocery store with a full cart when my second toe curved over the top of my big toe, as if to give it a hug. I rolled my foot, stomped it and leaned down to give it a massage but the spasm would not release. I abandoned my cart and limp-hopped out of the store.
My grandmother used to get leg cramps. I distinctly remember watching her hop around the kitchen on one leg, her teeth bared in a snarl. "Pay me no mind," she'd say, bent over in pain, ever stalwart. "I get these spasms in my sleep!" My grandmother did not believe in giving in to physical discomfort. She walked around for months with a sore foot, only to discover a thumbtack sticking through the sole of her high heeled pump, pointed up. That generation produced a hardy stock.
My mother has foot spasms too. While watching the Academy Awards together at my house this past year, she shrieked spontaneously during one of the musical numbers. I thought she simply disliked the dance sequence. But then she kicked off her shoe with some velocity, an act of surprising behavior for a proper house guest like my mother, and grabbed her foot in both hands, wrestling the appendage like a Swamp Man with an alligator. For the remainder of that hour, she hobbled around the room gimping and grunting, trying to work the cramp out.
But they're much older than me.
My sister is two years older; I asked her about muscle spasms. "Once," she said, "I was driving the car when my thumb bent across my palm. It was so painful, I had to pull over." Unfortunately, she'd driven up onto a grassy median and came to a stop under a sign that read: Do Not Cross Median and directly in front of a State Trooper. She got a ticket but that's mainly because she told the Trooper he looked "like a garden gnome" in his wide-legged jodhpurs and cowboy hat. "I was in agony," she wailed in her own defense. "I didn't know what I was saying!"
But again. She's older. Seems to me, there are fewer and fewer days when I wake without a pesky new symptom. A frozen shoulder, stiff lower back, weak ankle... every day there is a new surprise. "Pay no attention," my mother recently advised. "Just keep pushing forward."
I know how to do that. I do it every day with my geriatric car. In winter, it won't start without a lot of cajoling. In summer, the battery continually runs dry. It demands one particular brand of gas, guzzles oil as if it's free and screams when I brake too fast. But I am able to ignore all those minor symptoms with surprising patience. Maybe, that's because I learned early.
At 16, I was driving in my mother's old station wagon with her in the passenger seat stomping on the imaginary brake when black smoke began to billow out from under the dash. "Keep going," my mother commanded, rolling down her window. "Just keep moving forward until we're not moving any more." It is great advice. I have adopted it as my personal philosophy. I keep moving forward, despite all the little malfunctions. That is not to say that I am cavalier about my physical self. Not so! I adhere to a regular maintenance schedule for my body, just as I do for my car. And, like the car, as I get older, the list of required services gets longer with every check-up. I have more than 120 thousand miles on my car and more than 50 years on my body - we are wearing out together.
As I limped out of the grocery store that day, I tried to remind myself: I am a direct descendent of a hardy stock. My role models were not slowed by muscle spasms. They walked on broken toes and worked around arthritic fingers. This was just another minor glitch in the machinery. Pay no attention, I coached myself.
I turned the key in the ignition and prayed to the god of engines: please get me home. The engine clicked and then lurched, spastic. Finally, it turned over.
Once home, I made an appointment for a massage, the aging human equivalent of an oil and filter change. I figure, it's part of the overall maintenance package.