As my son, grandson and I climbed down the stairs of Battery A, I could feel the warmth of a hot summer’s day leave us behind, and the coolness of two hundred years of hand placed, sub-level stone wrap itself around us. It had been roughly seventeen years since I had been to Fort Knox, with my son Matt, his cousin Sarah, and Gyver, a Fresh Air boy from The Bronx. It had been what seemed like a life time since I had placed my hands along the coolness of the darkened stairwell that led down to an artillery battery. I had all of the memories stored deep in the video vaults of my mind, as I banged away on the stone steps with my white cane. As I slowly moved down the dark stairwell, I was flooded with electric charges that raced through my aged, billy goat body, causing my heart to race, my palms to sweat, and my anxietty levels to go through the roof. I had finished up with my mobility lessons two months prior to the field trip to the state park, and I had no idea that I was embarking on one of the most difficult mobility lessons of my life. I had no idea that I would have to pull out all of the tools that I had learned over the past two years. I had no idea that I would have to rely on being able to maneuver through and around all of the obstacles that were testing me, and giving me the options of leaving, and never coming back. It was one of the best, and hardest days I have ever lived.
As we arrived at the bottom of the battery stairs, and realized that there was no way out, except back up the stairs, I knew I was in for a long, grueling day with my cane, and a whole lot of stairs and stone. I knew that I would be put to the test, and somehow, it all seemed ok. I really didn’t mind. I really had no problem with a head jam packed with uncertainty. I didn’t have a problem with the crowded halls, the uneven stone steps, the spiral staircases, none of it. It all seemed ok with me, and I was smack dab in the middle of it all. Me, my cane, my son, my grandson, and a head full of hours of orientation and mobility lessons that were coming into the forefront, one at a time.
We climbed back up the long, dark stairwell of BatteryA, and started walking along a stone path, that led to the Battery B stairwell.
“Oh, how lovely!” I thought, as I started smacking my way down the stairwell. I could hear the excitement in Jack’s voice as we again, travelled down into the coolness of the battery. I smiled as I swept back and forth along the wet, stone steps of the stairwell. I smiled as I ran my hands along the cool, wet stone of the stairwell walls. Their coolness felt good as the day was very hot and muggy. I wanted to crawl between the cracks and take a nap, but I was urged on by my grandson’s exuberance. I stood on the floor of the battery, just barely able to see the dim daylight shining in through the gun turets. I was caught up in the thought of what it must have been like for the soldiers of the fort, two hundred years before. How different it must have been for them way back then. How different it must have been indeed. I could hear my son Matt, and Jack, running around the enclosed stone chambers of the lowly room, playing hide and seek. All of my anxieties, or worries, or fears of the unknown didn’t matter. They didn’t seem to have any place in the day’s events. All that mattered was what a wonderful day I was having, and how much it meant to have the chance to spend it with the two most important men in my life.
“Let’s go Nunno! Come on!” I could hear Jack hollering to me as he started back up the long stairwell, back up to the heavied air of a hot, sticky, summer day. Again, I started smacking and sweeping my way up the stairs, feeling it get hotter with every step. I wanted to turn around and go back down to the coolness of the battery floor, but I also knew that neither of them would have anything to do with that! I was on a mission. We’ were on a mission, and it would be completed, no matter what.
Earlier, we had been over to the observation tower of the new Penobscot Narrows bridge. That, in and of itself, was a mobility lesson and a half. From the top of the elevator, on the forty first floor, we had to go up two flights of steps to get to the actual observation deck at the top. The steel stairs were wrapped around the outside walls of the tower, and I really had to take my time with it all. Matt told me that the views were spectacular. I could picture them in my mind, and that seemed to be good enough for me. I knew the area, and could view the scenes in my mind, pulling out all of the scattered scraps of video I had been saving up. Thank God I have a lot of room up there. Smile.
Well, there we were, stepping back out into the sunlight from the battery stairwell, just in time for the firing of the cannon. There were park employees dressed up as militia, with one of them explaining a bit about the gun, and what purpose it served. the “Ready, Fire!” order was given, and the shock wave concussion of the firing cannon went through me, like a knife through butter on a day similar to that same hot summer’s day. I jumped, and shouted, and screamed like a mad man, then I laughed as they readied another blast from the cannon. I could hear Jack laughing, and all of the other people surrounding the area were noisily chattering about how loud the cannon was.
“Ready, fire!” Another concussion wave of awe inspiring cannon blast flew through me just as easily as the first one had. Matt had managed to capture the second blast on his camera, which the video of is on my facebook page. It was loud. It was incredibly loud, and as the echo from the blast came back from the opposite river bank, all I could say was, “Wow!”
The fort was never attacked, and it’s probably a good thing, because I would pity anyone who had the false notion that anything could ever survive a fort full of those cannons. My god! What an awesome display of power!
Well, we soon found the entrance of the fort, and although I told Matt to go ahead in without me, which he declined, I found myself winding in, around, and through the narrow halls and stairwells of the fort. I could still vaguely remember the layout of the fort in my mind. I could remember the two spiral stairwells on each front corner of the fort. I could remember the grassy rooftop that surrounded and wrapped around the rear of the fort. I could remember the rear hallways that needed a flashlight to maneuver through. I could remember the dungeons and barracks rooms, and the officers quarters. I could remember it all, and as we went through it all, I remembered it all again. Many times, I could hear my grandson’s voice hollering, “Come on Nunno! This way!” So many times, he would come back to me, and grab my free hand, so that he could lead me into the darkened abyss. I cringed as I smiled uncontrollably. I was laughing while I was pleading to get through the next turn, or up the next set of stone stairs, or around the next uneven corner of the back tunnels. It was all magnificently scary, and unbelievably electrifying. I felt more scared and alive than I had felt in some time.
My son kept asking me if I was ok. He said a few times that he would try to slow down so I could take my time more with my surprise mobility lesson. That usually lasted about thirty seconds, then, there we were, back to the pace of a six year old boy. Every time I heard Jack shout out, “Cool!” or, “Wow!” I smiled and chuckled to myself. It’s as if I was seeing the fort again, through his eyes, and I was loving every bit of it, except for the few times that I had the tootsie rolls scared out of me. Just a couple times though. Smile.
I must tell you again, this was one of the most difficult, and rewarding mobility lessons I have ever been on. I kept picturing my mobility instructor, Rosemary, behind me as I wobbled through the caverns and stairwells of the fort. I kept hearing her words of wisdom, just fifteen feet behind me. I kept wondering if she would have been as pleased with the days developements as I was. Thanks Sarge.
My son Matt did tell me that there were quite a few times that people would see us coming and see my cane smacking away, and they would make room for us to get through. I would like to personally thank you all for helping me to have a fantastic day, and if I stepped on anyone’s toes, I apologize fully, and hope you are getting used to walking abnormally for as long as it took for the flat toe to pop back to life.
Fort Knox, thanks for staying exactly where you are. Thanks for guiding me through your magestic beauty and echoed dignity. I will always remember you just as you were, oh so many years ago.
Thanks Jack for helping your dusty old Grampa through all of those twists and turns. You are such a big help.
Thanks matt for a wonderful day, and I hope we can do it again real soon. Having a day full of you two guys is the best mobility lesson I can ever hope to have, ever!
Now then, as I smack and sweep my way through to another sunny day, where’s the next fort at? Let me at it, I tell ya!