On Saturday, at about 1 p.m., my personal odometer will roll into 55.
May 8 is my birthday. The double nickel means I will be solidly parked in middle age. It means I have another 11 or 12 years before retirement. And it means stubborn aches and pains, like the one my left knee and in the small of my back, are going to be more frequent visitors.
I owe all this good life to my mother, Kathleen Kane Wilkin, who brought me into the world on a rainy Mothers’ Day in 1955, and father, Harold J. Wilkin, who have helped me get this far. And it feels like far, as Jeremiah Johnson said at the movies in 1973.
That’s the first of four pop culture references. As one age number passes and another rolls in, I consider words of wisdom from Butch Cassidy, Frank Sinatra and the Wizard of Oz.
Cassidy first, as played by Paul Newman in the famous “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” from 1970. It’s from one of the first scenes, as Butch is trying to ease the Kid out of a tense card game that’s about to turn violent. Butch isn’t sure if Sundance will be able to outdraw his antagonist.
“Look, I’m over the hill, but it can happen to you,” he says. “Every day you get older. Now that’s a law!”
Sinatra was a little more melancholy about the aging process. Growing older is the big theme in two of Frank’s most famous songs, “It Was a Very Good Year” and “September of My Years.” I like the latter piece better, for my melancholy moods: “One day you turn around, and it’s summer,” Frank sings. “Next day you turn around, and it’s fall. And the springs and the winters of a lifetime, whatever happened to them all?”
Yeah, whatever happened to them? And Frank was only 50 when the “September of My Years” album came out in 1965! Almost makes you want to drive into the cemetery with a case of beer, a lawn chair and a few books and just wait for the end.
I don’t think I’ll ever be that passive, but I’ve got to be in the August ... maybe the late August ... of my years. I think you have to meet the advances of time with bravado and gusto, and remember what the Wizard said when he was in a tight spot: “You are talking to a man who has laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, chuckled at catastrophe....” What’s a little thing like age, when you’ve got that kind of confidence working for you?
I’ve interviewed people for a living for 32 years now, and always wonder why some people hate to disclose their ages. “Why do you need that?” they’ll ask. “Well, we want to let people know your current stage in life,” I’ll say. For a 75-year-old bicyclist who rides 50 miles a day, for instance, it’s kind of interesting to toss that fact into the story.
I’ve never minded tossing that fact around. This year, I’m 55. Next May, I’m 56. It’s like my father, 89-year-old H.J., always says: “The baby born today is two days old tomorrow.”
Recently, I’ve been thinking about people who left life too early. This week, discovered some of the Internet posts of Eva Markvoort, the young Vancouver woman who chronicled her battles with cystic fibrosis. She was only 25 when she passed away in March. Gosh, only 25 years! It makes me feel like a crumb to expect the 85 years I figure I’ve got coming.
My old friend Tim Layden once posed a question in the guise of a drinking topic ... or was it a drinking topic posed in the guise of a philosophical discussion ... “What would be the first day you’d accept for your date of death?” We all know the day is coming. As I will be content, happy even, to celebrate 85 years on Earth, my day of reckoning can come on May 9, 2040 — the day after my 85th birthday.
Doing the math, that’s just another 30 years. Man, that doesn’t really seem that far off! Some of the younger reporters at the old Gazette won’t even be retired yet! And I could be gone, ashes to ashes, dust to dust!
To stick to Mr. Layden’s rules, I will accept May 8, 2040 and 85 ... but hope I really get May 9, 2045 and 90. I’m willing to go into overtime.
I’ve had relatives and friends who didn’t get all the time owed to them ... and feel lucky I’m cruising into middle age with few health problems and just one or two physical annoyances. Thicker in some places, yeah, thinner in others. But still around.
For Saturday, weather permitting, some friends and I will visit the Tulip Festival in Albany. We’ll people watch and beer watch. We’ll go to a small party afterward.
I’ll be glad to be 55, glad to be out in the sun ... or rain ... glad to still be part of the world at large.