It’s a paradox, I know, but the days of my youth seems like a long time ago. I can barely remember grade school, junior high and high school. Yet, my college days seem like only yesterday. They say time flies, and it flies faster as you get older. Well, whoever "they" are, they are correct on this one. I remember that my childhood summers lasted an absolute eternity. They didn’t just seem to last forever, they did last forever. You could not imagine in June that September would ever come. Now, a summer is over in three months. Winters, however, do seem to last an eternity. Go figure.
My thoughts are disorganized. I look back on sixty years and I don’t know whether to reflect on the past, my good fortune, the changes in my health, the memories I have, or should I think about the future.
Sixty isn’t so old anymore, people live longer, more productive lives. And they have additional productive years. I’ve heard that in the Middle Ages, a 40 year old man was quite old and his life expectancy was measured in months. Yet, I can’t escape the fact that I’m not quite as agile as I was, my memory and hearing are fading, my balance is diminishing. My right knee is shot and I suppose knee replacement surgery is in the future. I can feel some arthritis in my hands and other damaged joints. I ask myself, what it will be like in ten and twenty years. Well, probably worse not better.
I can reflect on my incredible good fortune. I’m here, and despite the above paragraph, I’m in pretty good health. I had the good fortune to have had childhood asthma and a dislocated shoulder. Why is that good? Because otherwise I would have ended up in Vietnam. There is no guarantee I would have survived that debacle, that strange excuse for foreign policy. I suspect I would have been a poor to mediocre soldier and would have come home with disabilities if I had come home at all. Fortune was not so kind to some of my friends who suffered or died in Vietnam, died drunk on the highway coming home from the bar, or took their own lives.
I had the incredible good fortune to marry Nancy. Somehow I failed to impress, or I managed to escape the clutches of women who came before her. I will not discuss this any more except to say, if not for Nancy, I probably would writing this on skid row somewhere.
Wow. What a ride we’ve had. Had we gotten married at a different time in history we might have fallen into a trap somewhere along the line. We might have had a passel of kids (not that there is anything wrong with that) and found ourselves too tied down to make the changes we made in our lives. Someone said, maybe Samuel Clemens, that the only regrets they had in life were the things they didn’t do. We took that to heart and made changes in our lives. We changed occupations and careers, we changed houses and states, we exchanged a cabin for a house in France. We have lived in some beautiful places: on an island in Puget Sound with a high bank beach overlooking the Olympic Mountains; in a cabin in Montana that we built ourselves overlooking the north end of the Absorkas and the Yellowstone Valley; in various places in Yellowstone National Park where the nights were so dark and quiet we could hear only the wind and wolves and elk; and of course in Leran, a place we couldn’t have imagined just three years ago. That list doesn’t include Boulder, Bozeman, Livingston, Moab and Seattle which are gorgeous places to live.
And we’ve accumulated memories. I have worked some amazing jobs (and some dreary ones). I’ve been a sign painter, a graphic designer, a truck driver, a Park Ranger, and a clerk at a hardware store. Some of those jobs I did really well and enthusiastically, and some, well you know how it is. We’ve built a couple of houses from the ground up, remodeled others extensively, some beautifully and some very badly. We took some amazing trips into Paria Canyon, the Grand Canyon, various mountain lakes all over the west. We floated the Colorado, the Green, the Wenatchee, the Yellowstone, the Tongue. We’ve been to damn near every state. I’ve missed only Alaska, Delaware and Rhode Island. We traveled to Italy, France, England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, Mexico, Cuba, and Canada. We try to figure out how we can trade the house in Moab or Leran so that we can end up in Australia, New Zealand, San Francisco, Paris, London. Time is running out.
The people I’ve known, oh boy, what can I say. There are too many to mention and I’ve forgotten some for sure. Most are still with us but some have passed on. For the most part, its almost impossible for me to talk about those still trudging around on the planet, even though I know I should. My Mom and Dad I still think about very often and I wish that they had lived longer. I was barely an adult when my mother died and I probably had only a handful of adult conversations with her. She was someone who I regret I didn’t appreciate enough when she was around. My father died too early as well but we managed to get to the point of speaking to each other on equal terms instead of indignant father and sulking son. My brother-in-law Darrell also left us too early. He was always an inspiration with his wisdom, good humor, easy laugh and great generosity.
Before this begins to sound like a celebration of my life (maybe it’s too late) I need to examine a particular memory. When I was young we had a cleaning lady who came once a week. Alma Bowling was black and I think from Mississippi, and rode the bus to the stop near our house. She halfway raised my sisters and me. Alma would fix us lunch and she’d sit down and eat with us and we would talk. She scolded us for not putting our dishes in the sink, praised us for schoolwork we brought home, got us heading back to school on time, and wouldn’t let us eat lunch if we didn’t wash our hands. She was probably appalled that we didn’t say grace, but she never said anything to me. Once in a blue moon she would work for Mom at a party, serving and cleaning up, I think more because my mom knew she need the money than my mom needed the help. Every once in a while Alma would miss her bus and Mom would jump in the car and drive her home. We loved her like family and the last time I saw her at my sister Peggy’s wedding, she was a very old woman. A day jumps out in my memory. It must have been Spring Break at college because I was home in Denver. Perhaps it was April 4th or 5th, 1968. Martin Luther King had just been assassinated. Alma was devastated, and I think angry. I was confused. We talked about race relations and Rev. King for awhile and I was very uncomfortable having that conversation, and I don’t think I was ever more conscious of my race in my life. All I could do was shake my head. I remember muttering something like, "Why do they keep killing all the good people?" But we’ve come a long way. When I was quite young I remember my grandmother from Missouri could say out loud, at a reunion, "I got no problem with niggers as long as they stay in their place." We laughed behind her back because even then that was absurd. In a few weeks, I think we are going to elect our first black president. (More accurately, our first mixed race president.) I know my grandmother could not have imagined that. I think Alma could have.
So, Happy Sixtieth Birthday to me. May the world and especially our country continue to change for the better in the next sixty years.