I am now 64. Time for my annual column of reflection.
I woke up Tuesday morning to the words of my wife Ginny saying, “Happy birthday.” My response was underwhelming: “Oh rats. That’s right. It’s my birthday.”
I later explained to a friend. “My birthday is annoying. Either your normal day is interrupted by a barrage of texts, emails, calls and messages or nobody cares, which is even more annoying. So either way, it’s annoying.”
Thank goodness I didn’t get any presents other than a bottle of wine. My closet is already full of clothes from decades of Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries, Valentine Days, Father’s Days and the like. There’s no more room! If it’s not immediately consumable, I don’t want it.
I knew Ginny would not feel right unless she did something, so I asked her to make this endive salad dish she used to make that I like. She likes to cook anyway.
I ran into her at Corner Market, flustered. “I’ve been to four grocery stores. I can’t find any endive!” Once again, foiled in my effort to make my birthday a non-event.
As it turns out, we found an endive substitute and had a nice late-night dinner with friends and family, nine in all, a good size. As usual around our dinner table the conversation flowed rapidly. If you don’t learn to interrupt, you may never say a word.
My life-long friend Bob Crisler insisted that I play “When I’m 64” on my guitar. It’s a Beatles song released in 1967. I was nine years old. I remember listening to it at age nine and wondering what it must be like to be 64. And now I am.
Frustratingly, I couldn’t find my hand-written version of the song, scribbled 40 years ago, converting the chords to the appropriate singing key for my voice. But I did find it in an old Beatles songbook.
When I get older, losing my hair
many years from now.
Will you still be sending me a Valentine?
Birthday greetings? Bottle of wine?
If I'd been out till quarter to three,
would you lock the door?
Will you still need me?
Will you still feed me?
When I'm sixty-four.
As it turns out, I’m not losing my hair. In fact, it’s as thick as when I was in high school with barely any gray. (And no, despite accusations of many acquaintances, I do not dye it. I am not nearly that vain.) I would have rather been lucky with money than hair, but that’s life.
I am handy at mending a fuse. And we do dig the weeds in the garden, so the song’s other verses were accurate on those two points. However, I have yet to see Ginny knit me a sweater by the fireside and we as yet have no grandchildren.
As the wine flowed, there were more songs on the guitar. Bob insisted, being summer, that we play Bruce Springsteen’s “Racing in the Streets” for the umpteenth time. It’s one of his favorites. He loves sad guitar ballads. Living in Jackson, I can definitely relate to racing in the streets.
I met her on the strip three years ago
In a Camaro with this dude from L.A.
I blew that Camaro off my back
And drove that little girl away
But now there's wrinkles
around my baby's eyes
And she cries herself to sleep at night
When I come home the house is dark
She sighs, "baby did you
make it all right"
She sits on the porch
of her daddy's house
But all her pretty dreams are torn
She stares off alone into the night
With the eyes of one who hates for just being born
For all the shut down strangers
and hot rod angels
Rumbling through this promised land
Tonight my baby and me,
we're gonna ride to the sea
And wash these sins off our hands
On a whim, I played an old Carl Perkins song that I hadn’t played in ages called Go Cat Go:
Oh sometimes it ain't easy boy,
to roll out bed.
And shake the cobwebs
a-hangin' from your head.
But you were born
to be in the human race.
And if you don't start movin',
you're gonna finish in last place.
You gotta go-go-go, you gotta go-cat-go,
you gotta go go go cat go.
Hey, that sun is up
and you can not lay around.
Get off your butt,
you can't do it sittin' down.
Don't say you can't,
can't never did a thing.
If you believe you can
and you can do anything.
It will always be something,
no matter who you are.
Poor man has his worries,
just like the movie star.
Throw down your trouble,
you get light on your feet.
Just listen to the music boy,
and move with the beat.
Watch your step
and stay off your brother's toes.
If your brother needs your help,
help him carry his heavy load.
And when this thing is over,
someone greater than you and I
will award each winner with eternal life.
The next morning, the alarm rang and I opened my eyes. The first thing I said, as always, was “Thank you God for a good night’s sleep.” Then I lay there realizing that my whole life had pretty much been summed up in a Carl Perkins rockabilly ditty. That’s humbling.
Hours later I got a text from an old college roommate informing me that one of our fellow roommates had died of cancer. We had lost touch over the years. I am now coming to that time of life when your contemporaries start dying.
It’s impossible for the human mind to comprehend death. Trying to do so triggers the survival instinct, the most powerful human emotion, and can cause panic. I’ve learned to not even go there.
Having strong faith helps in this regard, a reward for getting up every Sunday and going to church and studying scripture. It’s worth every minute and more. If death is nothing than life would be nothing but we know that life is something so death can’t be nothing. For me, it’s that simple. I love my family on earth but I deeply miss my mother and father and others.
My father was 65 when he died suddenly from a heart attack. I may have one more day or 40 years. Who knows? So every morning, I’m still rolling out of bed.