I remember a summer evening in 1994 when I awakened in a cold sweat. The nightmare that brought me from a sound sleep was a single thought: “Oh my! In five years I’ll be 50 years old!” Fifty; half a century! How did this happen? I’m getting old! Despite the dream, the occurrence of my fiftieth birthday five years later didn’t bother me much. Family and business duties kept me far too busy to worry about my age. After all, life was good. At the age of fifty, impending thoughts of my mortality were buried far back in my mind.
Today (Sunday March 8, 2009) I turn 60 years old and I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit that this birthday has bothered me. It has been a time of reflection and thanks to my wife, a time when family and a few friends will gather in Winona to help me “celebrate” my birthday. I’m thinking that it will to be a lot more fun for them than for me.
Last night as I walked up the stairway to the bedroom I looked at the family photos on the wall. I normally take those photos for granted, but last night I took a long look. My contemplations are as follows:
My Children: There are the photos of my two children, as little kids. I’m proud of both of them. They were so cute. In spite of the fact that by almost anyone’s standards I spent a lot of time with them, I now wish that I had spent even more time. I think every parent feels this way.
My Mother: On the side table is a photo of my mother when she was about 20 years old. She’s been gone for many years now, but she motivated me to become a risk-taker. Her father was an entrepreneur who once owned over 300 grocery stores in Pennsylvania. He went broke during the depression and my mom went from being a rich kid to a poor kid in an instant. After that, she never put much stock in money or material things, knowing that it could all vanish in an instant.
My Father: God bless his soul, at 87 years old he lives down in North Carolina with his wonderful wife, Mary Lou. He still gets out and walks at least a mile a day. His dad lived to age 98. His dad’s dad lived to be 99. I think my Father will be around for quite a few more years. He’s got the one attribute shared by all men who live well into their 90’s; he’s skinny!
My Wife: What can I possibly say? I won the lottery when it came to marriage. My wife is beautiful, but she is also honest, decent, fair-minded, and a great role model. Back in 1970 she fell for a broke, bushy-haired college student. He mounted his grandmother’s diamond in a new setting for her engagement ring. In December of 1971 she married him, spending $600 for her entire wedding, including her wedding dress. For their honeymoon the couple drove from Rockford, IL to Raymond, Colorado in a beaten-down 1961 Chevrolet. Because he couldn’t afford a mechanic, the groom caught a cold in the blowing snow while replacing the front wheel bearings in the parking lot of a car dealership in North Platte, Nebraska. She spent the next three days nursing him back to health in an isolated cabin on South Saint Vrain River in the mountains of Colorado.
My Grandson: On December 1, 2007 my grandson, Marek, was born to my Son, Tad and his wife, Lisa. When Marek was born I remembered the words of a friend and mentor, Chet Adkins as he related his own feelings about being a Grandpa. Chet said, “Don, when you raise your children it is a challenge. When you have a grandchild, you learn the meaning of life.” As I live the remainder of my life, I pray that I’ll have a lot of time with Marek. I want to walk with him beneath the EL tracks in Chicago and along the sidewalks in his south Minneapolis neighborhood. I want to take him fishing at Lake Winona and swim with him at North Beach, beneath the shadows of great skyscrapers. I want to take him to watch the Twins play at Target Field in the glorious summer sun. He must enjoy with me the cool summer breeze that caresses the outfield ivy, wafts across the pitcher’s mound and sweeps majestically up through the ancient steel superstructure of Wrigley field.
On this, the day of my sixtieth birthday, I have nothing to complain about….absolutely nothing. I’m blessed with good health and a great family. I have received blessings far in excess of my righteousness. My melancholy this day lies simply in the realization that this can’t last forever. So, suck it up, Salyards. It’s time to put on the smile and go to the party!