At the young age of sixteen, having a vivacious firm and agile body, I spent most of my free time dancing and performing for gymnastics in school. Our group had been in so many competitions together that our routines began to be very routine. Like a fine-tuned set of gears, we didn’t even have to count our moves out. It was as though we were each connected to the other by means of an invisible wire electronically directed and perfected for every movement. A chain reaction that brought the performance to a perfect ending. Award after award lead most of us to believe that someday we would be in the Olympics and from there, gain stardom. We were the best in our state.
As the years passed, one by one, members of our refined and perfected group would, for one reason or another, fall out of the group. Betty became an unwed mother at seventeen. It seems that is when it all began to come apart at the seams, much like the frayed edging on an old gunny sack. By graduation, there were only two of the original twelve that still did back-bends, splits, and cartwheels. No longer was there a group. The dream of being in the Olympics now was no more than a fleeting memory.
It has been thirty-eight years since my graduation ceremony. The closest I come to gymnastics now is the dance steps I do while trying to maneuver my legs, one at a time, into my car, off a slick icy curbside during the winter. I have helped to discover many new dance steps non-voluntarily. They just came out of nowhere, so to speak. I raise one leg aiming it for my open doorway and when my other leg starts slipping and sliding around, I am forced into mind-blowing dance moves. Some painful, some not so painful. These new moves are often enjoyed by onlookers who laugh and hoot at my agility. At my age, it is a sight to behold—of this I am sure.
Oddly enough, the mind will, all too often, visualize us doing things in the same way we once could. I can still very clearly see every movement needed on my part, to perform certain award winning gymnastic performances. I do not miss a beat. Timing perfect, my mind replays it as though I were still eighteen. This visual convinces my body that it is truth.
I listened from my dining room as my three grandchildren giggles and yelped while playing a game of Leap Frog in the backyard. Walking toward the window to take a peek, I reflected on my cousins, brothers, and myself playing much the same games in our backyards so many years ago. A smile adorned my face at the memory. What fun there was in our backyard. If not a game of Leap Frog, there was always a good game of Annie Annie Over or Badminton. All the games we played were triggers for belly-rolling laughter. It always seemed that in the midst of a game, someone would do something that tickled the senses of the others and one laugh could quickly become so contagious that all players would end up on the ground in full belly, tear welding laughter. The pictures in my mind made me laugh aloud.
I returned to my favorite chair and began to daydream. I could hear the roaring and claps of the crowd as they applauded our performance that last time. Oh what a feeling that was. “Surely, I can still do that!” I said. “I mean, what in the heck has age got to do with it? It is all about what you know you can do.” The words came flowing out as I raced to the back door. Out I went. “Kids, come here!” I exclaimed. Leading them to believe I had ice-cream cones or something for them. I could tell by the looks of anticipation as one by one they ran toward me. I have something fun to show you!
Senility is described as a noun that came to be in 1791, long before my birth. Webster’s defines it as: the quality or state of being senile; specifically: the physical and mental infirmity of old age. Now I am sorry to say it, but I totally disagree with old Webster. As long as we believe and we think we can, then by gosh we can. Why else would our minds play the steps out so vividly for us?
One by one, the children lined up in a row, and all at once dropped to the ground in Indian Style, to watch as I instructed. I explained what different types of gymnastic routines there were. At least of those I could remember. “I’ll start with a real easy one for you kids. How many of you can do a cartwheel?” I asked all knowingly. Not one child raised their hand. I did get bombarded with a series of crossed brows and cocked heads and words like “Doowaa what?” (Whatever “Doowah” means). “Just watch and I will show you!” I exclaimed with full confidence of my own ability.
The warm up is a very important part that should prelude any exercise or sport. To not warm up is just asking for trouble. To make my point, I did a few stretches as I explained each for their benefit. Being a teacher of children, one must be thorough in detail. Because of the ages of my grandchildren, I made a point of explaining short and sweet so not to lose their attention. To be quite honest, one would think that the warm ups would have been an indication that this was not the time, place nor the person to be teaching Cartwheels to children. But who wants to lose face in front of their grandchildren? Not me. No … not me. The children began chanting, “Queen of the cartwheel! Queen of the cartwheel!”
With a wave of my arms high over my head and a jig forward in motion laced with a little leap (of faith), I found myself in a forward motion with no brakes! There were suddenly parts of my body meeting parts of my body that had never met before. There was a wave of movement that overcame my body; in my mind it resembled the aftershocks of one heck of an earthquake. Now rolled up in a heap before God and all, I found myself attempting to focus. I was seeing double the children and twice as much yard! I vaguely could make out the laughter. In that laughter there was one tone that was not familiar to my ears. Not a child nor my husband but a deep male sounding laughter.
I froze for a moment to take inventory of my being. Still dazed, I managed to sit up and was now coming to full senses. John the neighbor was hanging out of his kitchen window laughing to the point of no return. Turning toward my grandchildren all I could see were bodies rocking and rolling in belly-breaking purple faced laughter. “Grandma, that was the coolest thing I ever saw you do!” My oldest grandchild’s voice came flooding through. “Awe, was it?” I managed to squeak out, still attempting to catch my breath. “Yeah!, can you do it again?” “What did you call that?” another child asked. “I think a cartwheel.” I said, not really knowing what it was they witnessed.
“Need some help getting up?” John yelled from his window. The sentence broken with laughter. “No, I do not!” I retorted back. I am just fine. In fact, I was not sure I could even get up, but I knew help would be home real soon. I sat for a few minutes wiggling feet, arms, fingers, and legs. Nothing appeared to be broken so with the help of three adorable grandchildren, I managed to get back up on my feet and walked ever so cautiously into my house, having instructed the children to try it themselves.
To this day, I am not quite sure what it was that I did. I do know it was not the cartwheel I envisioned in my mind from years past. I did watch in horror as each of my grandchildren, one by one attempted to mimic my body movements and each rolled into laughter. To see them laugh is good enough for me.
Though I came through this unscathed, except for my pride, I am very annoyed that my good neighbor did not have the sense to start the camcorder; we could have been $10,000 richer for sure. Having successfully survived, I have come to one conclusion and that is this: Though once a Cheerleader and gymnast, “The queen of the cartwheel” has retired.