Some Respect is Requested
Old People and the Opioid Problem

A TGB READER STORY: The Stairs

By Ann Burack-Weiss

This loft had stairs! We could come Down the stairs for breakfast in the morning! We could go Up the stairs to bed at night!

We had each grown up in cramped apartments on the outskirts of a major city. Roy’s apartment in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in The Bronx where he slept in a kitchen alcove supposed to hold a dinette set.

Mine in Brighton, Massachusetts, where a rarely played baby grand piano - wedged tightly into the cell-sized foyer - forced a sideways slide into the small adjacent rooms.

Growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, neither of us had even been inside a house with stairs. All we knew of them was from outside (windows on top of each other spoke of rooms upon rooms) and from books and movies.

So although we had since been guests in a variety of two-story houses, and knew that stairs could be mounted and descended in misery as well as in joy, to have stairs of one’s very own still seemed exotic and wonderful.

Decades passed and we never gave another thought to the stairs. We passed from one floor to another as unthinkingly as we walked room to room on level ground. It never occurred to us to count the stairs (there are 19) or to notice their unusual height or to even touch the bannister, a long flat piece of wood that made an attractive wall decoration.

Roy climbed the stairs for the last time on the evening of March 12, 2010. He came down on a stretcher six hours later, borne by two men sent by the funeral home, his body covered by a white cloth.

Stairs began to appear in my dreams. Stairs covered in pale green carpet like ours, stairs of bare wood. Some flights extending endlessly to the sky, others collapsing upon themselves like an accordion.

I began to fall. Bone bruises, pelvic fractures. Assaulted knees and hips responded with arthritic pain. A hip replacement and rehabilitation. Each episode requiring an altered relationship with the stairs.

I now approach the stairs as a military campaign, standard operating procedures in place with sufficient latitude for unforeseen changes of circumstance.

Things to be carried up or down are placed, at debarkation points awaiting the next floor-to-floor maneuver. Empty coffee cups and crumby plates that belong downstairs at the top, just purchased toiletries and books that belong upstairs at the bottom.

Sometimes a canvas carrying bag, to sling over my good shoulder lies alongside, sometimes a fanny pack or back pack to free my hands.

I have deliberately slid down the stairs backside first and crawled up on hands and knees. I have walked up one step at a time, intent as a toddler trying out a new skill. I have reached for the bannister as for the hand of a caregiver - grasp it a few feet above me to pull up, hang on at hip length to go down.

But then will come a lovely day – sometimes weeks, months of lovely daysb– when I can walk up and down almost as easily as I ever did. And it feels again like the time when 19 steps were as nothing, Roy would be waiting for me on the landing, and stairs were still magic.

* * *

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Reader's stories are welcome. If you have not published here or not recently, please read submission instructions. Only one story per email.]



Comments

Oh, my. What a beautiful piece of writing. This was so evocative for me of my own childhood home. It also spoke to me of elders in my family who have also encountered difficulties with stairways, and gave me some insight from their perspective. Thank you for writing it.

Well, wow. That is just beautifully, beautifully written

Most delightful, Ann. Loved the "military campaign" reference.

With three girls in a childhood home, our stairs were so encumbered with stuff that needed to go up to the bedrooms that it looked like we needed to add on another room, items were left until the bottom three steps were so full Mother got involved. (The General).

A compelling read. Thank you so much for sharing it since there is no way it could be fiction. And your comparison to 'a military campaign" is perfect, an analogy I will likely steal from you because I had not found the right words to use. Thank you.

I deliberately bought this little ranch style house to avoid having stairs, although the way they build here, there are still three steps to get into the house. You remind me of the stairs we had when I was growing up. Two flights of stairs with a landing in the middle led up to the second floor. So many great memories of those stairs. Sliding down them on sheets of cardboard. Sliding down the banister. Descending into the glare of my dad's floodlights as he shot 16 mm movies of us on Christmas mornings. They were the heart of the house; right in the middle. On that landing there was a door that opened to another flight of stairs going down into the "back hall" and the kitchen. So many wonderful memories of that house.

Very good, and so appropiate. We have reached the stage of parcel delivery to the top or down to the base. I'm sure the next stage lies ahead of us and I am trying to prepare. I very much enjoyed the story! B

A wonderful story on stairs and the aging dilemma, as well as deeply touching. Thank you! I re-nogiated my relationship with my 14 stairs this summer prior to and after spinal surgery. I am now very familiar with the ass-bumping approach to descent, shouldering a tote bag with my thermos of tea in it to ascend, and sending the laundry basket down by itself, hoping it doesn't spill out all the contents at the bottom. After surgery, the handrail and my left arm did more work pulling me upstairs than my left leg. But as of today, I can walk up and down again like an almost normal person. Thank God for those little periods of grace. May your future stair adventures be calm and easy ones.

Exquisite! Each word with the next. Thank you for this.

When my daughter was an infant we rented a house with a flight of steep stairs. I was carrying her down, tripped and fell down the entire flight. I instinctively protected her resulting in me bumping my way down on my posterior.

From that day onward I have avoided stairs whenever possible.

What a wonderfully written story! It made me think of our situation.

We have stairs that go up to a loft where my husband's art studio resides. It's the only way I could convince him to move to this home from our previous home of 30 years where all the bedrooms and bathrooms were on the 2nd floor.

Now that he is in deteriorating condition and mostly uses a wheelchair, the stairs to his studio are becoming an issue, but he slowly climbs up mid-morning to work on whatever he's painting at the moment and stays up there for hours on end.

I'm forever grateful that we made this choice as I don't know what he'd do with his time if he couldn't paint. When he can no longer go up and down the stairs will be a sad day.

Thank you for your story!

When my husband and I moved into this house, the stairs to the bedrooms reminded me of the TV show "Father Knows Best" - middle class niceness. When my husband died in 2014, I waited at the bottom of the stairs for his body to be brought down. Like you.

So far, I can do stairs fine but I worry. We do the best we can.

Nice thoughts about stairs and about how they can be welcome and later become obstacles to be tackled somewhat like climbing a mountain.

Thank you, Ann. Great story--great writing! We made our peace, reluctantly, with stairs 6 years ago by moving to an older, single-story manufactured home. We loved our former townhouse (which had 2 floors as well as steps between the garage and front entrance. However, the handwriting was on the wall as my spouse began to develop balance issues at 84, which I'm beginning to understand at 82.

On a practical level it was the right move, but not one we desired. We looked at other properties, but housing in our area has become essentially unaffordable for people who aren't earning high tech salaries, let alone retirees from the nonprofit sector like us.

Wonderful story. When my late husband and I bought our home, we were wowed by the space. We noted the wonderful 1st floor bedroom suite with a "oh that's nice". Fast forward to now and I'm grateful for one floor living, I only go upstairs now and then to flush the toilet :-)

I read this gorgeous piece over and over as if rereading could extend its length not because there was anything missing from it. Quite the contrary. It was perfect. A whole life , a marriage , the ups and downs of life and aging through the quotidian staircase.


I read all the wonderful heartfelt comments.

And then I had my own staircase memories. I couldn’t believe my luck when as a young woman I signed the contract on a duplex apartment, sight unseen ! I was fleeing an apartment in the West Village because of the inconsiderate upstairs neighbor who wore cleats on his boots and regularly woke me up every night at 3 am as he stride cross his uncarpeted floors. The bedroom in this duplex was reversed, meaning it was in the basement, so only my soundless living room would be on top of me. I was thrilled. My favorite place to talk on the phone was the top step, and I would twirl the long extension cord as if it were an endless curl. It was also thanks to this staircase that I learned what “seeing stars” meant. One snowy Sunday I waxed the floors then stepped outside to throw out the trash and when I came in, I skidded on the top step and didn’t land until 14 steps later, fracturing my coccyx . But there was also this. After a prolonged period of months of seduction with the man who would become my husband, our first assignation occurred on these steps, each item of clothing stripped as we rolled and descended, intertwined .

It’s nice to remember this from where I’m now sitting, at the end of my P/T session enjoying the exquisite relief of the ice pack so tightly wrapped it’s hitting all the trigger points of my torn, abraded, degraded rotator cuff.

Thanks for the memories everyone. Brava to you Annie. Magnificent !

Gorgeous, I agree with everyone's thoughts. Not a wrong word. Thanks

Wonderful story! As we prepare to retire , we are shopping for a single-story house. But maybe we don't really need one if we can have such a lovely relationship with stairs!

Wonderful story. Thanks to my right knee, I can relate!

As a child growing up in a California ranch house, I thought houses of more than one story were old-fashioned and romantic, and didn’t understand my mother’s disdain for them. (She had grown up in one.) Now, I need single-story living.

Thanks for a very evocative story.

In the big, actually huge old brick farmhouse, I grew up with, there were two stairs to the second floor, and another set of stairs to the attic. As a family of six kids there was much chasing around and around those stairways..... both of which had landings before they continued on their upwards way. What a joy to grow up in that house and now it is a weekend home --- if those walls could talk. And what a wonderful house.

I live in a 5-story retirement community with two elevators. I use the stairs now as part of my exercise program but I hold onto the bannister just in case... And I take the elevator if I'm carrying bulky or heavy items. It's very nice having a choice. There is only one other resident who uses the stairs. I'm trying not to be a snob about it because somewhere down the road I might not be able to do it safely. Thank you for a well-written story.

As a small town, Minnesota-born girl, I too, have memories of stairs.

For one thing, I felt compelled to "sneak out" and get the car for a little joyriding after midnight. But the stairs creaked in the old house! So, I would carefully put my weight slowly in the very middle of each step, and that worked!

Once down, I would slip out the back door, and down to the garage which was away from the house. Then I would drive the two miles across town to my best friend's house, and throw pebbles at her window. When she came down, we would drive away, (feeling very adventuresome,) go for a spin in the countryside, maybe around the lake at the edge of town. We never were found out, and it made us feel bold and daring! (I don't know what we would have done if the only night cop in that little town were to have stopped us... much less had we had an accident!)

Not many years later I descended those stairs in my wedding gown!

And now, having suffered an inept surgery to repair my broken hip, I am able to climb the stairs at my daughter's home, v-e-r-y slowly and carefully, by holding onto the railing on either side, to the waiting walker at the top!

Only children can be very determined!

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