His world is pretty small since he started losing his cognitive abilities last year due to a rare symptom of an uncommon disease that had been undiagnosed for too many years. And now “thanks” to about 10 households that live along the north side of 36th Street between Pillsbury and Lake Calhoun, it’s even smaller.
In the more than three decades I’ve lived in south Minneapolis, I’ve hardly ever not been thankful for the people who live in this part of town, but this winter some of them have made my blood boil. And it’s because they don’t shovel their sidewalks.
Last year, my husband’s cognitive impairment got so bad that he had to leave his job as a scientific equipment trainer and go on disability. He had to stop driving and he pretty much became homebound unless someone accompanied him. It was quite a dramatic change for someone who traveled so much that I often remarked that Northwest/Delta treated him more like royalty than a mere Platinum.
Today, a year later, he can become confused and disoriented in new places so it’s best if he stays within familiar environments. But last spring we found that if he walked the exact same route every time, he could walk to Lake Calhoun and back for daily exercise. After a few months, he increased his distance to walking around the lake as well and by fall, he was doing two walks a day. The walks make him happy and they are one of the few things that he can do independently out in the world now. They opened up his shrinking world a bit … until the snow came and the people along 36th Street didn’t bother to shovel.
At first, it wasn’t too bad. He has good walking boots but as we got more accumulation it became more difficult for him to navigate the uneven and icy stretches of sidewalk. His illness also affects his coordination a bit and after a couple falls on unshoveled sidewalks, we decided he just couldn’t do the walks to the lake by himself anymore. Now he has to depend on me, or one of our kids, to drive him to the lake and back (and wait/run errands for an hour) so he can walk. Sadly, we rarely get him there two times a day even though it would make him happy.
Once, when I was exasperated about having to drive him, I asked him why he was so resistant to using the treadmill at the YMCA, which is less than a block from our house. He said, “My world is so small now because my brain doesn’t work like it used to. When I have to use the treadmill, it’s a reminder of how limited I am. When I walk outside, I’m just like everyone else who’s just being a hardy Minnesotan out on a walk.”
I never gave much thought to the importance of shoveling in all my years of doing it. In fact, I got a lot of quirky pleasure from doing it in a ball gown when Fairy Godmother occupied the big corner of 38th & Grand. And because I’ve always had a car, I never realized how much of an extra burden it is for people who have to, or want to, get around by foot in the snowy months.
At first, I though I would write a note to the owners/caretakers of each of the houses and apartment buildings that aren’t shoveled and then I considered just taking down all the addresses and calling 311 and reporting them and normally I would do one or both, but as the primary caregiver now in our family, I already have too much on my plate to do it; I’m tired.
I also “normally” like to write columns that are encouraging and appreciative of the people and things that fill our world here in this special corner of the Minneapolis but right now, I’m just disappointed and mad at the neighbors who don’t bother to do what they ought to. So I decided to just write this story instead; maybe they will read this and realize the impact their non-shoveling has on others and maybe they’ll start doing a better job with their sidewalks.
Or maybe Bill will just have to wait until spring to get a bit of his smaller world back.
Terre Thomas is a self-proclaimed fairy godmother. She has an online gift shop, FairyGodmotherOnline.com and holds Best of Fairy Godmother weekends at Sacred Rearrangements once a month. She and her family live in the Lyndale neighborhood. She can be reached at [email protected]