Here’s to you, Walking Gladys.
When I was 12, my family moved from Lincoln, NE to a small town in north Iowa. It was an education-I’d never lived in such a tiny fishbowl before. Everyone knew everyone–and their business. In that town, we had a lady we all called “Walking Gladys”. She wore a lot of polyester, long black hair at an age where that seemed highly unlikely, and just walked about our tiny town all day every day.
I feel like every town has their version of Gladys-the person who’s known for X or Y. Even within the subcultures of a bigger city, we have the same thing. “There’s that guy we see doing that thing all the time”. But, the thing is, I think my Mom and I “got” Gladys. We came from a town of 200,000 to one of 600. There was not a lot to do. Mom was a lady in her mid thirties at that time, and thinking of that age I know I had a lot of restless energy in me. I can’t imagine all that AND nowhere anonymous to go. I had the gym. Mom had the section, the small town bar, or our own grocery store. There were no casual brushes with humanity, at least not in any anonymous sense. Whomever you ran into, you’d run into again and again for as long as you lived there. Being an only child in a place with a very limited friend pool who had been established from elementary school, I found little room for me to be me.
As we stretched and grew and fit into our place in town, we walked. We walked a lot. Bored? Want to kill an an hour? Let’s walk the section. You can bundle up and do a lot when the only alternative is limited cable and facing stock at a grocery store. And I started to get some jeers from the kids in town about being the new Walking Gladys. It freaked me out at the age when I was trying so hard to fit in, that I was standing out. I didn’t want to be like the “town freak”. I wanted to be nothing, just like everyone else. But you know what? I wasn’t. Nobody was.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve noticed that my answer to stress, anxiety, happiness, boredom, and unease is to walk. It’s no accident that my house sits on the public bike trail in town-I planned that. Walking calms me down. It sorts stuff out in a less subtle way than running does for me. It’s a gentle nudge to running’s push. And I’ve realized that maybe i AM a modern day Walking Gladys. Certainly I’ve run into countless people who have said “Oh, I saw you walking on XX street” or who I have a friendly rapport with from being seen countless times in the skywalk. It’s become a point of pride where it used to be a point of teenage shame.
I’d like to sit down with Gladys now. I’d like to find out what motivated her walks. Could she not sit still? Did she find it therapeutic? Was it just exercise? Did she know all us kids giggled about her? Did she care? Because, honestly, I really don’t. I’m OK with being the walking lady of Sheridan Blvd. It’s where I get my best thinking done. So here’s to you, Gladys. Thanks for having the courage to do what you wanted, no matter what people thought of you. I’m OK with following in your footsteps-all day, every day.