It may not have been a giant leap for mankind, but the first step I took with my walker this past week was more than a small step for this walking-challenged biped.

It may not have been a giant leap for mankind, but the first step I took with my walker this past week was more than a small step for this walking-challenged biped.

After two months in a wheelchair, I was given the nod to take that first step by Dave, the surgeon who earlier had screwed a metal plate onto my broken fibula. He kindly refrained from commenting what a doofus I had been to slip on the kitchen floor in the first place, snapping the bone like a bread stick.

Maureen had bought the walker for the day I would take my first step. She kindly avoided pointing out the warning sticker which cautions — I swear this is true — that "Walkers may not be suitable for mentally confused people."

Perhaps that's why she tried to ignore me when I stepped up to the walker, firmly grabbed the supports, squinted at her with a steely look and growled, "Walker — Texas ranger."

Actually, she laughed the first time. OK, so it's a lame joke, pun intended.

It's the mental confusion thing. My imagination tends to go wild when I'm idle. And lord knows I've had plenty of time on my hands.

The first couple of weeks were busily spent staring at my navel and picking belly-button lint. But that was exhausting. So lately I've been watching two gray squirrels scurry about in a broadleaf maple tree outside the window of my home office.

The squirrels run along a limb to the top rail on the garden fence en route to stealing from the bird feeders hanging from a nearby pear tree. After sitting on their haunches for a moment and filling their cheeks with seeds, they race back along the fence and up the maple.

They periodically pause in mid-thievery to peer down at me peering up at them. I know you shouldn't anthropomorphize animals by ascribing human behavior to them but they look at me like, well, I'm a little nuts.

Here they are busy stocking up for winter while I've been sitting on my fat hams. I haven't put the garden to bed for the winter. I haven't picked the apples from the trees. I haven't cut the winter firewood from the North 40.

But thoughtful readers have buoyed my spirits inresponse to a column I wrote about my bone-breaking experience. The letters and e-mails touched my heart.

Mae in Medford wrote that, although we've never met, "I feel you, Maureen and Waldo are like family to me." Waldo is our pooch.

And a retired local mill worker sent an ink well that came from a dilapidated antique desk he had acquired. A talented woodworker, he made a little stand for it, figuring the ink well would inspire me to write since I aspire to write.

"How many letters were written on its weathered boards?" he wondered in an attached note. "It might have even come from an editor of the Mail Tribune."

I'm not sure whether the latter is damning praise, but the beautiful piece is inspiring me on my desk as I write, Harry.

Of course, my gallows humor in the column did attract folks with their own black humor.

Laird called to say he was sorry to read about the temporary loss of my good leg, referring to the fact my other leg has been bunged up since a car accident in 1971.

"Maybe it'll even out your lurch," he offered, hopefully tongue in cheek.

Then there was the great e-mail from a fellow living in Longview, Wash. He is the twin brother of a friend of mine who lives in Jacksonville. The local brother had forwarded the column to him.

"Since you have been comforted by so much black humor I thought I would add one more," explained the Longview twin.

"I felt for you," he noted. "I broke my leg and several arms over the years. I also have plates and screws. I run a crematory now and I love to burn people like you because I find so many treasures in the cremains like screws, plates, etc. that I have to remove before I grind them up."

I expect to chuckle over that one for the rest of my life, Lloyd. But don't expect access to my metallic parts for many more years.

Incidentally, I need to apologize for a little black humor I've been telling about Maureen. It's categorically untrue that she has been chaining me to the wall before heading to work each morning, leaving the dog's food dish just beyond my reach.

Anyone who knows her knows she is a kind, wonderful person who wouldn't hurt a squirrel.

Indeed, she always puts the dog dish right where I can reach it.

Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at pfattig@mailtribune.com.