Seventy-three? How did that happen? Not too long ago, I would have said that 73 is really old. And to many, I suppose it is. I don’t think I look 73. Oh, I do look in the mirror from time to time, and see reflections of my father. I remember him well in his 70s. He had suffered his first heart attack by then, and though he did not look real old, still, he had aged a good bit. I look away and from the mirror, and he is a vision of a much younger man. But when I look, back, there he is. When you glance into a mirror, who knows when you will meet a past you hadn’t expected and may be not ready for. I guess one can say that about the future as well. Look into the mirror and tell me what you see… right?
How do I feel? My doctor, whose first name is “Bubba” (you check out closely a doctor named “Bubba”) says I look a heck of a lot better on the outside than I do on the inside. I have my share of aches and pains. A knee that needs a partial replacement, some recurring arthritis, too much hay fever and a sore back. But hey, I had all that 20 years ago. So I guess I’m doin’ OK.
A cute story to share about my age -- I’m getting a smoothie some months ago, and the cashier asks my name to put on the ticket. I said “Jim Brown.” The counter girl, all of 17 with a number of piercings and purple streaked hair, prepares my smoothie and calls out “Jim.” She’s a bit young, at least from my perspective, to call a guy my age “Jim.” So I ask her how old she thinks I am. Then I sweeten the question. I tell her if she comes within five years of my age, I’ll give her a five-dollar tip. Remember the smoothie is only $3.50, so I’m making it worth her while to guess right. Of course she wants the large tip. She looks closely, squints her eyes, studies my face, and, after a rather long pause, she announces: “You’re fifty two!” Without blinking an eye, I pulled out a five-dollar bill and gave it to her. “You win,” I said. Actually, I’m he winner if she reflects anything close to a younger prevailing view.
I still listen to the 50s music on the radio and remember, well, dancing in high school to Jerry Lee Lewis -- Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. In the 60s, I was a Ferriday lawyer representing the likes of Jerry Lee and his cousin Jimmy Swaggart. Three daughters and country living dominated the 70s, and politics took over my life in the 80s and 90s. The Feds were an irritant in the early new century, but I survived and have branched out in a number of new directions. Our visit each week through this column and on the radio is one more reflection of living life to the fullest. Four grandchildren in the past decade is the icing on the cake.
Tolstoy, in boyhood, wrote: “I am convinced that if I should ever live to a ripe old age and my story keeps pace with my age, I shall daydream just as boyishly and impractically as an old man of 70 as I do now.” I once thought I daydreamed too much. But isn’t that what creative people do? Painters, musicians, poets, actors are all full of aspirations and dreams, many out of reach.
I’ve tried to flush out an occasional creative vibe. Painting with a granddaughter, who, at eleven years old, is much better than me. Refreshing my banjo skills. Would you believe that in my twenties, I helped pay my way through law school by strumin’ the banjo at Your Father’s Mustache on Bourbon Street in New Orleans? Even a stint as an actor in the Three Penny Opera and The Fantasticks at several local theatres in the French Quarter. It took a while, but I finally figured out that I shouldn’t worry about being all that skilled at many things. It was better to delight in the pursuit, and find clarity by enjoying the undertaking itself, regardless of my limited talent.
Yes, seventy-three is a milestone. But I won’t consider myself old -- just a bit older. Ninety is probably old, but I have many years of lively living before I have to consider that next line in the sand. In the meantime, I will continue to be the happy go lucky, meddling, opinionated, bullheaded, talkaholic, health conscious, lovable (from my perspective) fellow that I have always been. I won’t hesitate to give plenty of advice to my children. They may be middle aged, but they are still my kids, and even though they think they don’t need my advice, I know they really do.
Grandchildren are a bit different. My oldest has learned that by the strategic use of smiles, sighs, pleadings, persistence and kisses, that a firm “no” is quickly turned into a “yes.” And I am awfully good at hide and seek, playing “Marco-Polo in the swimming pool, telling animal and ghost stories at bedtime, teaching shoe tying 101, patching up boo boos, and other similar adolescent attributes.
So why make a big deal of being 73? I mean, it’s just a number isn’t it? Like a bunch of other numbers in your life. Dates, addresses, sums, amounts, and then, in the mix, is age. But maybe it’s more than that. I can make a case that it could be an important milestone. My seventy-three years, by any measures, have been full and hard living, with ups and downs too numerous to mention. If there is a yin and a yang, the before and the after, what has happened, and what is yet to be, then maybe seventy-three is a special waypost for me. Hey, I could be at the top and ready for the long and relaxing ride back down.
As for the rest of all you youngsters below the age of seventy-three, I have just this one thought. It’s nice to be on this side of troubled waters.