A Word To The Wise – Aging exposed by a safe and credenza

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In any circle of friends each member tends to have one or two arenas in which they are the go-to person.
For example, somebody is going to be good with car repair, another may have expertise in plumbing and there is usually someone with skill in household renovation. The list of specialties that a friend group can collect is wide. Painting, cooking, sewing, party planning, financial advice – your friends are amazing and generally so are their skills.
Well, I am here to tell you that I can’t do diddly. Can’t fix ceiling fan, shingle a roof or repair a leaky faucet. Unless you want help writing a letter to your congressman, my skills don’t translate over into legitimate type of favors.
But there has always been one situation in which I was always useful – moving day. When friends move, I often got a call because I have always owned a truck and I can lift heavy things. And while generally strong of back, I am also pretty cautious which is sometimes rare in the moving game. There are some strong guys who like to hoist and then hurry. I have a buddy who calls these types “grab and grunt” guys. This is the type of man who picks up a side of a washing machine with a loud, throaty groan and then moves urgently up two levels of stairs, knocking off a handrail and ensuring the friend with drywall skills is the next phone call. Being strong enough to lift some heavy things without a blast of urgency allow you to be a little more calculated in maneuvering the angles.
But, time it seems, has seen fit to rob me of my only friend-group value. I can still help with a terse letter to a landlord, but age has put a slow leak in my ability to move furniture.
I was helping a friend move some items last weekend and it was just like old times. I got hold of a couch. Pow! Up the stairs and out the door. A mattress was next. Awkward but no problem.
But then came an old-timey safe. It was a little bigger than a microwave but with the density to survive a bomb blast. The first dolly we put under it had inflated tires which pushed flat under its substantial poundage. We got another dolly that had solid wheel and hit the stairs. I took the lead. I moved up three steps, squatted down to grab the dolly handle and heaved. The dolly wheels slowly rolled up and over the first step. Then came the second step, the third and the fou…..nope. On the fourth step, the dolly wheels rolled just to the crest of the step and it went back down to step number three. I gave it another go, but my worst fear was realized, I needed backup. We had to get a second guy to push on the safe from below to get it up the remaining steps.
I took some guff about needing to hit the gym, but I brushed it off. After all, that safe was designed to hold profits of the spice trade, strong enough to survive a stampede of oxen and made of metals that probably don’t even exist any more. The safe was a gentle blow to my ego, but I still workout religiously and remain convinced that anything that has been moved into a house, I can help get out.
And last Sunday proved, that I can still help empty a house…eventually. With my fifth decade on the horizon, some strength remains in this body, but the stamina is lacking.
The next thing to be moved was a large wooden credenza. It was too long to fit on a dolly and was clearly a two-person job. It was heavy, but not even in the ballpark of the Civil War safe. I went up the stairs with my end first and this would be my undoing. Now mind you, my thighs and grip were already fading, but at least with the safe I was pulling the dolly handle at about waist level. But this credenza needed a deep squat to get under and then trying to come up the stairs required me to lean over with my back basically at a 90 degree angle, while trying to back up the stairs. What was also missing was the step, rest, step, rest pattern of the safe and dolly maneuver. On the credenza, we tried to go all the way up with me leaning over like I was bowing for the queen.
About halfway up I was done. I could hear my own heart. Not feel it beating- I could hear the throbbing in my ears. When the wavy edges came around my field of vision I knew it was time to abort. I had to put my end down on a step, which was worrisome for the guy still holding the other end. He was down there supporting the full weight while old man river was five steps up practicing Lamaze breathing and waiting for the spots in front of my eyes to fade.
I rejoined the fight but the fatigue had eroded that carefulness I mentioned earlier. Through sweat and fog of labor, I banged a wall and then forgot to be mindful of a door on the credenza that did not securely latch. It flapped open at a most inopportune time.
Eventually the credenza got up the stairs but no further. I set it down again just above the stairs before eventually getting it out of the house. At this point I really took note of my diminished abilities. I was wiped out. In years past a few heavy objects would leave me winded, but I could get my breathing back in line pretty quickly. But now my stamina was sapped and my heart rate was inching back down.
I used to pride myself on trying to find the heaviest objects during any move, but after the credenza I found myself seeking out couch cushions and wall hangings.
At 48, I’m not oblivious to what age is doing to my body. It’s easy to notice the aches, pains, popping, cracking and lost range of motion. Even in the gym, I don’t handle the amount of weight I used to, but I still push enough to make me stronger than most people. But getting physically drained last Sunday really got to me. This was a life task that I had always been able to do. Helping with a move had been my moment – the chore I was built for. But I just didn’t have it any more. Like an aging ball player trying to hang on during the twilight of his career, I had a front row seat for an experiment that proved I was past my prime.
But with age comes wisdom, so here is what I learned. 1 – Always be the second man up the stairs. 2 – avoid old safes. 3 – more cardio at the gym.
-Chad Williamson is the managing editor at the Journal-Tribune.



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