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.”



Watching Her Sleep

Watching Her Sleep


 “Little Things”


“He was always there for the big things, but how often does that happen? Once or twice a year maybe. It was the day-to-day stuff that wore me down. All that little piddly stuff that goes on in a marriage.” It’s a statement from a lady I knew some time before Christine and I got together, but it’s always stayed with me. She was talking about her ex-husband and telling me why he was ex, not present. That’s one of the virtues of marrying later in life. You get a lot of time to think about what kind of spouse you want to be.


But lest I make this sound like it’s all about me, I have to point out that Christine also married later in life, albeit sooner than me because she’s younger. But for both of us this marriage came later, when we were more mature, which is what makes this first marriage feel like a second marriage at times. We have a serenity that often comes only to those who been married a time or two and have learned how to pick their battles, or better yet, avoid them altogether. Part of that is simply having those extra years to reflect on what kind of spouses we wanted to be. Part of it is being so endlessly considerate of each other.


I thought about that this morning as I lay beside her while she was still sleeping. Even though it’s a Saturday as I write these lines, she had to work today, as she’s a Human Resources Manager, and her company is throwing an employee party tonight. Between now and then there is much to be done to get things ready, and HR always gets the call for that sort of thing.


Both of us have very restless minds at times, but especially so in the early morning hours when we might have slept a bit longer, had our minds not suddenly slammed into high gear, wrestling with the many details of the day to come. On weekends especially, I am much more susceptible to that than she is because I wrote two novels while I held a fulltime job. It meant that I got up at 3:45 a.m. five days a week, so I could work in the study between 5:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. before going to work. I have not kept those hours for a very long time now, but my mind is still acclimated to flipping on full blast in the middle of the damned night! In those years I almost never slept past 5:00 a.m. on a weekend, and even now, when I really should sleep in on the weekend, I often can’t.


It was still dark at 6:00 a.m. when I woke up this morning. She was sleeping, but I felt her stir when I got up for the obligatory bathroom trip that begins every old man’s day. At that point I had a decision to make. I was hoping I could get some more sleep, but I’d retired early last night and knew it wasn’t very likely. The other aspect was knowing that I had surely awakened her when I got out of bed, and knowing, too, that with the bed growing colder beside her, she would soon begin thinking about the day’s activities. And having gone to bed later than I did, I knew she really needed the rest. So I returned to bed.


OK, I might have gone back to sleep if I’d been more resolute, but those few minutes of indecision were just enough to get my mojo running. The next stage of my current woodworking project is a difficult one, and pretty much any period of inactivity will get my mind to wrestling with the many details of the work to be done, which is exactly what happened. In the meantime with, as she often puts it, the big Bubba beside her, she fell back asleep within a minute or two. Now I really was in the soup. Getting up a second time would wake her up again, and this time she would stay awake. Or I could lie beside her for the next hour or so mentally going over the details of my project and listen to her gentle snoring. And that’s what I did.


But, as I said earlier, this is not all about me. She does the same for me. I sleep more soundly during the week because I work all day in a shop with a concrete floor, and when the day ends so do I pretty much. During the week she is buried with the myriad details that make any HR department hum, and she sometimes faces the same dilemma. She wakes up an hour before the alarm goes off and can’t get back to sleep because her mind is racing, but when she gets up early, I must do the same, and it makes for a very long day for this old man. So she stays put and lets me sleep.


Later that morning over coffee, she will tell me that she “took one for the team,” just as I did for her this morning, but there’s a difference between that sports metaphor and those little acts of kindness we so often do for each other. It’s not a fast ball to the ribs to draw a walk, and it’s not done in a packed stadium. No one applauds, and no one but us much cares. It’s just a little gift we give each other from time to time, but that’s what makes a marriage hum. Little things mean a lot.



New Year’s Eve 2014




“All That Jive”


Although I have never been a fan of winter, January has long been my favorite month because of what will happen later tonight, the end of the year, the celebration, along with the usual goals, resolutions, and general excitement. It’s more than a new month, it’s a new year, so the whole thing gets wrapped up in a fond—or dismissive—adieu to the year just past and eager anticipation for the year to come. I’m told that January is actually named for the Roman god Juno, not Janus as I’ve long believed. But that to me is the sort of thing pedants go after, the pricking of others’ balloons.


Janus is the ancient Roman god of beginnings and endings, the god of gates and doors and doorways and transitions, that most of all the god of transitions. So if Janus is not the impetus for January, than he certainly should have been. So I’m sticking to the myth I grew up with: tonight marks another ending and another beginning, just as it was in whatever ancient rites were celebrated in the temple of Janus.


I don’t know how it is in other countries, but there are those who say that Americans are too hard on themselves when it comes to setting goals and making resolutions, and they may well be right. Personally, I AM the kind of person who likes to look back on a year of accomplishments, but I am not the kind of person who seeks success to the exclusion of all else. I first encountered Henry David Thoreau as a high school sophomore. One of my English teachers had a bulletin board filled with various quotes, one of which ran, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”


Reading that quote for the first time was an epiphany. I knew at once that he was talking to me. I’ve been a couplet out of rhyme my entire life, never really in tune with my companions and especially not with other students, other people, the general population. I march to my own drummer, always have, but Thoreau gave me permission to do so.


But even so, tonight I will reflect on the year just passed and think about what I would like to accomplish in the year to come. Maybe lose some weight. I won’t, but that’s OK because I said, “maybe.” No, what I will do is make some definite goals for the year and work like hell to achieve them, not because the world thinks I should do such-and-such but because I wish to do these things. I will finish the Home Theater that has been in progress for so many years it’s become an embarrassment to me. But this year I managed to complete the second section and made it a bit more than half way through the third. God willing, in a few months the finished project will be ready for beeswax. Then it’s on to an oft-deferred kitchen. Beyond that… I don’t know. Read some books, improve my mind, but overarching all is that quote from Thoreau and this from Gandhi: “There is more to life than increasing its speed.”


Just now, though, I do have to rush off, as Christine will be home soon. We’ll have our dinner, ice down some champagne, talk a little about the year passing and the year aborning. At midnight it’s our toast and our plans, and for me usually, an hour or two spent quietly after she goes to bed. I’ll sit there with the remnants of the champagne and my own plans for the life I’m still working to build for us. Come morning I’ll surely welcome the Java Jive! Happy New Year, All!