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Remembering Jack LaLanne

Now Jack LaLanne is among the heavenly angels, surely charming even them.

Me, my mam-maw, a couple of dining room chairs—and Jack LaLanne on the television egging us on to get in shape.

Before his show came on, Mam-maw sat in her housecoat folding clothes or sewing. I sprawled out on the floor with my coloring books. When I wasn’t at her house, Mam-maw kept all my puzzles and books and my plastic Freddy Flintstone in the big wood cabinet my uncle Huet built for her. I liked to sit right in front of it with the doors wide open while I smelled the fresh pine and got lost in my “work.” In the background I heard, “Like sands through the hour glass, these are the days of our lives,” which I couldn’t for the life of me make sense of. Mam-maw mostly made disapproving remarks about what people did in her “stories,” as she called the soaps she watched, but sometimes she bust out laughing at their high jinx too.

“Okay,” she’d say suddenly. “Time for Jack LaLanne!” We dragged our chairs in front of the TV and got ready. With Jack LaLanne in his signature jumpsuit, there were three of us in the room. We stretched. We bent at the waist. We did leg lifts. We rolled our arms, forward and back. Then we rolled our ankles, one at a time. We did whatever Jack LaLanne instructed and felt proud. When Jack LaLanne asked a question, Mam-maw answered him. Even then I wasn’t too young to know she was talking to a television set, but I could see why: it almost seemed like Jack LaLanne heard her! At the end of his show he sometimes gave us a treat. Fingertip pushups or a word of advice. “If God didn’t make it, man shouldn’t eat it,” Mam-maw liked to quote. Then we’d turn off the TV, have some lunch and start on dinner so it would be ready when Gramps got home from work.

Now Jack LaLanne is among the heavenly angels, surely charming even them. And I like to imagine my favorite member of his lofty new audience up there in her housecoat with her dining room chair following his instructions to a tee.

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