By Harriet P. Gross
For more than 30 years, the two women have been out walking together in the early morning. While sharing this exercise, they’ve come to share their lives as well.
Miriam’s been living on Carta Valley in North Dallas for 35 years; Gretl’s been across the block on the same street for 40.
Both of them love walking, so after a while, it just seemed natural to do it together.
In three decades, they’ve worn their own paths around the neighborhood, greeting the same people every day, picking up the occasional coin, sometimes having breakfast afterward at Cindi’s Deli.
But mostly, they talk.
“We’re as different as day and night,” says Miriam. She hails from a devoutly Jewish, Yiddish-speaking Canadian family; Gretl is a German-born churchgoer who married an American soldier.
“Our neighbors used to say, ‘How can you two be friends?’ But we’re two human beings,” she continues. Sometimes while the pair walks, they’re talking in their own brand of mixed German and Yiddish. “With the words in common, we understand each other,” Miriam says.
Having established a connection with others who also regularly walk routes that intersect theirs, each has to explain the other’s absence when she must walk alone.
Solos have been necessary because much has happened over 30 years: Children have grown up, married and given birth to grandchildren. Miriam’s husband has retired; Gretl’s has passed away. Miriam has had breast cancer — twice; Gretl overcame a brain tumor and other serious surgeries. Through it all, the two have celebrated with, and consoled, each other.
Always, when walks as a duo have been curtailed, either by happy family occasions or medical misadventures, the routine has been resumed as soon as possible afterward. But for however long such breaks have lasted, each of the women has been on the front line of caring for the other.
Five years ago, Miriam fell down some stairs, broke her arm, and was in a cast for three months. Since it was summer, too hot for her to walk outside, Gretl drove them every day to the Galleria, where the two could continue exercising together in air-conditioned comfort.
When one is away from home, the other looks after whatever is necessary for the absentee’s peace of mind. The visible support may entail just watering flowers, but it’s always more than physical.
“Walking people become psychiatrists for one another,” according to Miriam. “Gretl knows things about me that no one else knows. So when my sister died, Gretl was the first one my son called. When Gretl had surgery, I was the one who checked in regularly with her doctor. That’s the kind of relationship we have. We’ve had her to our house for Shabbos, and she’s had us to hers for Thanksgiving. We are very different, yet so very close. We’re always here for each other.”
Of course Gretl has supported Miriam’s special cause by walking with her in the Komen Race for the Cure over many years. Now that Miriam — a former senior department staffer at the Dallas JCC — leads some recreational programs in Florida, sponsored by a northern Jewish Community Center for snowbird seniors, Gretl comes with her, just to help out.
Those women who began regular exercising together as they hovered around their personal mid-centuries are now undisputed seniors themselves: Gretl is 81 years old; Miriam is 78. But their walking remains young and strong.
Today, they cover more than three 17-minute miles during each of their one hour, early morning outings. They’ve varied their route just a bit overall these years, but remain constant, familiar faces to other walkers on Meandering Way, Brentfield, Campbell, and around the lake at Loch Maree.
The beat of the feet goes on!