A valuable inheritance

When I think about my dear departed Grandfather I can almost hear him coming down the hall, his slippers slapping against the hardwood floor and making quite a racket in their small house in Illinois. He’d suck his dentures in and say, “ho, ho, ho” a lot, in a sighing sort of way. I thought he was roguish and charming, a real character with sparkling blue eyes and a fascinating life that included getting tossed in a paddywagon in Harvard Square when he was a student there in the ’20s — my mother would whisper loudly that he shouldn’t tell us that story, but he did anyway.

Other than remembering his choice of expletives (“Oh for crap’s sake” made us giggle) and the Ogden Nash poems and limericks he recited for us, I’ll always remember his connection to his YMCA. He took us a few times when we visited, including my first experience in an indoor pool (to the girl I “bombed” when I jumped off the diving board prematurely in 1973, I apologize — I still feel awful about it!). And the Y was the scene of a great ass-kicking he delivered to my teenaged brother on a handball court, when Grandpa was around 70.

I didn't get my grandfather's sparkling blue eyes but the YMCA gene was definitely passed to me

I didn’t get my grandfather’s sparkling blue eyes but the YMCA gene was definitely passed to me

He used to tell us he “set out to beat old age” when he was about 55. Frequent trips to the Y were part of that plan, and it impressed me. He didn’t beat old age, but surely lived longer and healthier as a result of his workouts (this article shows he was way ahead of his time). Now I’m an avid YMCA fan and frequent visitor. My kids learned to swim at a Y, and when I’m in desperate need of a shower away from home there’s always a Y around with decent facilities — oops, except if you’re in northern New Hampshire, I checked). Membership is reciprocal anywhere in New England, that’s a perk you don’t get at most posh clubs.

My “home” YMCA is really a community center, completely unlike the snooty tennis and swim club I used to belong to, a breath of fresh air. They host after-school sports and the place is always full of kids mixing with adults and mostly behaving themselves. The weight room is pretty balanced with older folks (hey, that’s not me yet!), young male muscle heads and a surprising number of young female lifters.  The pool is an oasis for me, even when busier than the Southeast Expressway with lane sharing aplenty alongside the Q-tipped Aqua Zumba class. I should be careful, some day that will be my favorite class, I’m sure.

it"s as busy as the expressway but I love the pool

it”s as busy as the expressway but I love the pool

Winter is coming on, bringing its unpredictable weather and early darkness that makes me look indoors for a workout. The Y has a spinning and weight-lifting class perfect for a little midday ass whupping. The instructor could use some more imagination in her music track (I mean, every class uses the 1984 cornball classic from Dead or Alive, You Spin Me Right Round) but ouch, she’s got the quad-burning sequence of simulated hills and sprints nailed. We spin 15 minutes, get off the bikes and lift, then spin some more, repeating the sequence. After an hour I feel like I’ve definitely been to the gym, and that’s the whole point. My goal this winter is to be in shape enough to actually go to that class twice a week; right now all I can handle is one, it’s that good.

When I leave this world my kids won’t inherit much, definitely nothing worth fighting over, but I hope they get this gene that was passed to me via my grandfather. Because I’m finally at the age where I’ve realized my health is the most valuable thing I have.


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