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Texas | Columns | "Wandering"

Walking

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

Walking is more than exercise. It's an experience.

I can't think of a better way to observe surroundings and to meet people. You can't make those connections driving by, peering at a neighborhood through a car window. You have to get out and walk.

One of the first friends I made in Fredericksburg was an elderly walker with a German accent. Although a native of the Texas Hill Country, Edna never lost the language of her ancestors and, in fact, didn't know a word of English until she started to school.

She called me "Vanda," clinging to the German habit pronouncing "w" as "v."

By happenstance, we had become walking "freundin." We were walking one morning in different directions when I stopped to ask her about Cherry Road. Edna not only told me where the road led; she showed me. She directed me up Cherry Road toward an undeveloped countryside, cows and horses watching as we skipped along.

Then Edna led me down Cherry Road toward downtown.

We began meeting every morning to walk two miles or more.

Along every block we passed I picked her brain about the historic houses and the people who once lived there. Edna was a walking history book of Fredericksburg.

Though a native of Fredericksburg, she had spent most of her life as the wife of a rancher near Stonewall. Her late husband went to school with President Lyndon B. Johnson.

"He didn't like him," she confided. "Said he vas a smart aleck."

Edna took up for Lyndon, though, praising him for bringing electricity to the Stonewall area.

Alone after her husband died, she decided to sell the ranch and relocate to Fredericksburg.

Moving away from the ranch didn't cure her depression, though. She remained in deep mourning over her husband's death until her doctor suggested anti-depressant pills. Or, he said, he could prescribe "walking every day." The endorphins kick in when you're walking, he said, explaining how one's mental outlook improves along with physical health.

Edna chose to "take a walk" rather than "take a pill" and never regretted it.

When we started walking together, she was pushing 90 and I pushing 60, huffing and puffing, out of breath. I could have been 30-something and Edna still would have out-paced me.

But when it came to having fun with exercise, age didn't matter. We acted like daring teen-agers, stealing dates from a tree in a front yard, picking grapes from an arbor and collecting pecans everywhere. Returning home, we must have looked like we'd been to a farmer's market.

Edna wasn't scared of anything - not even a herd of wild turkeys that would appear at random crossing Cherry Road. (The gobblers freaked me out.)

When she offered advice, I took it. For example, she recommended buying the flavorful tomatoes that Sheriff Jung grew and sold on the honor system in the driveway of his home. No one was there to take the money. After weighing the tomatoes, customers left cash in a container.

A believer in making schedules, Edna excelled in time management. Two days a week she worked in the kitchen at a popular eatery called The Red Barn, and she devoted every Monday to push-mowing her lawn. She set aside every Thursday to attend to business matters, pay bills, etc.

I went to two of her birthday parties - her 90th and her 100th -- and on each occasion she rarely sat down, acting more like a hostess than honoree.

Toward the end, she finally had to give up her morning walks but remained alert until she died at age 103.

Alas, for health reasons, I've had to quit walking but I look back fondly on those days when Edna and "Vanda" walked and talked, picking a few grapes and dates along the way.



© Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" July 16 , 2017 column

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