The Biblical Threescore and Ten






“The days of our years are threescore years and ten.” Psalm 90:10


I think if my father had not become so obsessed with the Biblical threescore and ten that today’s birthday, my own seventieth, would have passed as not much more than another day. Oh, there would have been some fuss, simply because the passing decades always engender a bit of that. As we age, we tend to laugh a bit at those turning thirty and thinking themselves old, but there eventually comes a time when we can no longer deny the passing years. That said, I have to admit that I don’t really feel seventy today. In my mind I’m—oh, I don’t know forty or so—but I have but to vocalize that thought to have my body shout “In your dreams, pal!” Sixty was nothing, but I have now begun accumulating the aches and pains of the aged. Nothing major: just sore knees and a loss of flexibility. Beyond those very minor issues, I have been blessed with extraordinarily good health, which surely accounts for my looking so much younger than my age. I have never been hospitalized, never had a major ailment of any kind, which means, too, that I have not had to endure the debilitating pain that is the lot of so many. There are people who cannot move without screaming in pain, and that sort of thing will definitely create a few wrinkles in one’s face.


In thinking about this blog, I briefly considered sharing lessons gleaned over the years, but W. Somerset Maugham did that so much better with his “The Summing Up,” published when he turned sixty-five, that it would be an embarrassment to add anything of my own in that regard. I do think I’m a bit wiser than I was fifty years ago, but that’s so common an occurrence that it really merits little in the way of observation. For all my reticence on the subject, though, I don’t mind saying that I feel very blessed to have seen things that have now passed away.


I grew up in Helena, Montana, and because that city is so far off the beaten track, we still got radio comedies and dramas in the early 1950s. I can remember lying on the floor in front of the Philco in the second or third grade listening to “Sky King” and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” We got our first TV when I was eight years old, which means that my younger sisters (nine and eleven years younger) never knew a world without television. I did. And it was in Helena where the local radio station demonstrated stereophonic sound for the first time in our lives. We were instructed to set up two radios at opposite ends of the living room. When they finally played the sound of a freight train that seemed for all the world to actually be going through our living room, the Old Man was literally jumping up and down with excitement. “Can you hear it, kids, can you hear it!”


In September, 2007, AT&T announced that their Time-of-Day information service would be discontinued, an item I found particularly intriguing because I can remember how fascinated we all were when it started in Helena back in the 1950s. For a while we kids dialed the number with some frequency, still not yet able to get our arms around such a concept. AUTOMATED Time-of-Day on the telephone! What would they think of next? Well, as it turns out, we now have three computers, two cell phones, and a TV cable box that have filled that role quite nicely, to such an extent, really, that when AT&T pulled the plug on the Time-of-Day service, it no longer even mattered.


The Berlin Wall fell in 1989, but I saw it in person as a young soldier stationed in Berlin in 1965 and 1966. At that time the Soviet Union was such a behemoth that no one could foresee an end to it, yet alone its total collapse.


I remember the Soviet Union launching Sputnik I in 1957 and the rush for the USA to catch up, a race so intense in the beginning that they had a tendency to go off half-cocked, causing a number of rather spectacular missile failures in the early years. As a high school freshman I was part of a group that was putting together tiny missiles, none of which, if memory serves, did much more than fizzle almost immediately after launch.


The one thing I’ve seen that most resonates with me on this seventieth birthday is my parents’ example. I started this by saying the Old Man was obsessed with it, and he really was. It was thirty-four years ago (when I was just thirty-six!), and he kept remarking on how difficult he found it to be attaining the Biblical threescore and ten. I gave him the Banzai Tree that tops this blog along with a card that explained it. A bonsai plant, I told him, surely required more attention than he would be willing to give it in his “declining years,” but this creation of jade, copper wire, and petrified wood was a Banzai Tree from the Japanese for “live for ten thousand years.” When he finally passed to glory some eight years later, I inherited it, and it’s been in our home ever since. It feels more than passing strange to have finally attained the age that made this gift appropriate for the one we always called the Old Man.


But beyond his difficulty with the number seventy was Dad’s reaction to it. He enjoyed excellent health, but upon turning seventy he started to shuffle and did so until he died at age seventy-eight. My mother was twelve years younger than he and died just a week short of twelve years later (both of them in late December), also at age seventy-eight. She said at the onset that she was NOT going to be an old woman, and she never was. She was wise enough not to dress like a twenty-something, but she never looked frumpy, never wore house dresses, and never once shuffled.


At the moment I am still much too busy with my many woodworking projects to start shuffling, but even when that work is finished, and I can spend more time in the study with a stack of books, I will still not shuffle. Age really is just a number, not a physical condition.


Finally, saving the best for last, I am still having entirely too much fun with my wife of thirty-eight years to ever feel old. We’ve often said that we’re childless because we felt that as parents, there should be at least one adult in the house, and neither one of us wanted the job! All these years later we still cut up with each other, still tease each other mercilessly, still laugh about something every day, usually a LOT of somethings!


I met Christine where we worked, the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and I knew her some two years before we ever got together. At Christmas, 1975, when we were still just friends, I gave her a little book of poems by James Kavanaugh, not knowing that the following year and every year thereafter it would be on the nightstand on my side of our bed. The last stanza of the first poem sums things up quite nicely:


“There are men too gentle to live among wolves

Who toss them like a lost and wounded dove.

Such gentle men are lonely in a merchant’s world,

Unless they have a gentle one to love.”


I did find that gentle one to love, and that, more than anything else, has made “the Biblical threescore and ten” just another birthday. Or as Maya Angelou famously put it, “wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.”