Ninety Five and Counting

Well, to repeat a phrase I’ve used so many times over the past half-century: “That’s it then, another year staggering to its close; another birthday – the 95th posted – and the 96th a distant shimmer somewhere out there in the mists of time.

It’s been a long haul since my first plaintive cries shattered the post-peace and goodwill of Christmas 1923 on a bleak December 27th morning. My mother would later recall the event when showing me off to relatives and friends as “a nice lad, even if he did ruin my Christmas.”

It was a bright tale, always told with the warmth and love she had and openly demonstrated for all her children; a warmth and love I never really appreciated until I became a parent myself. The example she set alongside my always strong, taciturn, badly wounded WW1 veteran and father, served me well. Still will I hope as I head down another unknown stretch of road marked 2019.

Other than a calendar-marked starting date, the future “road map” is, as always, blank when it comes to details and destinations. I know only one thing for sure; like the stretches already travelled, there will be rough spots, some hills that will be tough to climb, some valleys of despair – and as many and hopefully more – of widespread summer-lit meadows warmed and made pleasant by the shared love of family and friends.

I have no more idea of how long the next leg of my journey will be than I had when I made what, I’m told, was a noisy entrance 95 years ago. I just hope I can head over the last hills with a minimum of fuss – and that I don’t ruin anyone’s Christmas with my departure.

I am often asked these days how much longer I intend to keep writing blogs. The question is usually asked with eyebrows in questioning rise as though publishing weekly thoughts and opinions at age 95 is, well, just let’s say – not talked about in mixed company.

My answer is an honest “I have no idea.” Right now, I enjoy the challenge of the self-imposed weekly deadline of my blog. It’s a stimulating mental exercise, good for me with the abiding hope that it occasionally brings some joy or spark of a challenge from readers.

With a bit of luck, I can publish a re-run of this piece a year from now. That would be on Sunday, December 29, two days after my 96th. That marker looks a long way down the road yet to travel from where I am today, but then so has each new year I’ve walked since I was old enough to wonder where life was taking me. It has always been a far distant and often nervous, unknown journey since 1923.

To help me walk the next leg of my current hike, my son Stephen (72 on January 1st) and his wife Susan gave me for my birthday a copy of Herman Wouk’s latest book. “It might,” they wrote on a greeting card, “provide a little inspiration.” Wouk’s list of accomplished writings is long and star-studded. Among the many and well remembered – The Winds of War, War and Remembrance; and his classic as a book, movie and stage play, The Caine Mutiny.

I haven’t yet started to read my birthday present, but I did sneak a look at the Author’s Note on the opening page of what I’m sure will be another epic. He quotes a few lines from The Wreck of Old 97, the old dramatic narrative poem about a train crashing as it roared “down the grade doing 90 miles an hour” and the finding of the driver “in the wreck with his hand on the throttle … scalded to death by the steam.”

He continues: “Gentle reader, that railroad folk tune is sure haunting your durable storyteller, aged 97. When I passed my ninetieth birthday milestone going hell-for-leather down the nonagenarian grade, I figured I had better cobble up what was left to write while I could … next thing I knew, four years had whistled by … (and) I had in hand thirty-odd work journals and a slim book of 40,000 words ….”

And thus came to birth Sailor and Fiddler – Reflections of a 100-year-old Author. The final paragraph of the author’s introductory note: “On Old 97, the air brakes failed …. hence the unhappy wreck. Lord grant that my air brakes hold while I get done all I can, roll into Spencer (Old 97s destination) on time and hand in my orders.”

I confess that those few paragraphs inspire me, as do two sons who have penned and had published award-winning articles and books, and four sons who think I have a life story worth telling and urge me to start writing.

I’m inspired but not enough. It takes time, energy and talent to write a book. At 95, time – never fully guaranteed – is measured with less certainty than ever; energy fades dramatically, and talent is impossible to quantify.

So, for now, I’ll puddle along with a weekly ramble in low gear, gently touching the brakes on the steep grades.

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