Seven decades down

family
Then

AT 4:23 AM, 70 years ago today, a scrawny, unhealthy baby was born at the Emily Winship Woodruff Maternity Center at Crawford W. Long Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

T’was I.

It was eight months before V-E Day, nearly a year before President Truman dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and 21 days after famous firefighter Smokey the Bear appeared on the scene.

My mother was weary because I was a long time coming down the birth canal. Was my father there? I don’t know. He might have been in a bar.

I had an affliction. An intestinal valve did not work right, and I could not digest food properly. The prognosis was grim. I hung on, skinny and wan, for a couple of months until an experimental drug was first tried on me — and it worked. I’ve been digesting well ever since.

It’s strange to be this old because I feel good. I have no major health issues, and I’ve never had any. Knock on wood. My last hospitalization, for nothing serious, was over 50 years ago when I was 19. I’ve never broken even one bone. The only obvious signs of this passage of time is that my hair is white, and my energy level is not what it was 30 years ago. You do feel that.

Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Jesus Christ all lived fewer years. There is some debate about the last one.

There is one quite noticeable aspect to being 70: You know it’s the end game. Oh, it might come 20 years down the road, like it did for my mother, or just five years more, like it did for my father. It could come tomorrow, and nobody would be surprised. No one would say: So young. What a shame.  Young has vanished.

This age brings a sweet calm but also a sadness, una tristeza. Many things won’t be repeated: barreling 100 miles an hour on a motorcycle down a California freeway in the middle of a cold night; bicycling the perimeter of Puerto Rico, a long-ago, unfulfilled dream; having the sole motor of an Aeronca Champ conk out at 800 feet, forcing a spiraling, white-knuckle descent to a New Orleans runway …

… speedily bolting a crib together alone at night after my wife heads to the hospital earlier than expected; having my daughter call me Daddy; visiting a Cuban dictatorship with a Mexican; visiting a Haitian dictatorship with a Frenchman; a first view of England from the seat of a DC-10; seeing notes of music dance with DNA helices over a Florida lake while listening to frog songs sung far, far away; moving to Mexico alone with two suitcases …

… getting married yet again.

Best to enjoy the calm, an uncommon sensation decades ago.

I never amounted to much, as we Southerners say, but that goes for most people. Most of us simply breathe and live. With luck, we do minor damage and some good. The most the majority of us can hope for is that we made some small difference, sometimes in the life of only one other person.


“If I can stop just one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.”


Emily Dickinson wrote that, and I believe it. The flip side is that you do not break hearts. Twice divorced, I fear I have been remiss in that.

Now*
Now*

I committed one major error. I drank too much. It went on for 25 years, from age 26 to 51. I was never a raving drunk. I never spent a night in jail. I never lost a job. I was a low-level boozer, blotting things — mostly myself — out.

I quit one sunset evening in March of 1996. I was sitting alone in the outdoor patio of a taco restaurant in Houston, Texas. It was a conscious decision.

I remember marveling at my clear-headedness. It was easy, and life made a 180-degree flip overnight. Things have been great ever since.

So I was born twice. Once in 1944 and again in 1996, so I’m not really 70 years old. I am 18, and my child bride is not really my third wife but my first. I’m just getting started.


“Death should take me while I am in the mood.” — Nathaniel Hawthorne


* * * *

* Photo by Jennifer Rose.

65 thoughts on “Seven decades down”

  1. Being 62, I wonder where the time went. It’s true that life is short, that is, if you’re not starving or in severe pain. Thankfully, I’ve never being either, so far. I think the actor James Garner who recently passed had the right idea when asked how he would like to be remembered. His reply was “With a smile.”

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  2. Happy Birthday, amigo!

    Hope we continue to enjoy the life in the land of common sense and beautiful ladies. You are indeed an inspiration of what retirement is!

    Enjoy your special day.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tancho. As for its being a special day, I think of the old Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. I would prefer to be 40 but living in precisely the same situation — and just as smart.

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  3. Felipe, forgive me when I made my earlier post I did not read the part on your drinking too much. Change that tequila to a couple of shots of espresso!

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  4. Happy 70th Birthday! You weren’t just born in a mere hospital, but one with a named maternity ward. Thanks for throwing Nathan Bedford Forrest in there also. I know you were thinking about me when you did that since I live in Forrest County, Mississippi, named for him. You gave me a chuckle today. Good writing. Jan in Mississippi.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jan: My father was a Civil War buff, and one of his very favorite generals was Forrest. He sincerely wanted to name me Nathan Bedford Forrest, three first names. But my mother nixed that plan. I would have liked it. Not too fond of Nathan, so I would have used Bedford or Forrest. Occasionally, my father came up with good ideas.

      Of course, Forrest was one of the founding fathers of the KKK, which would have given some people who read my website some real ammunition. His being a Klansman was not why my father admired him. My father was a left-winger. He admired Forrest because he quite likely was the best general on our side.

      Yes, I was hatched in a named maternity ward. I would not have known that had it not been printed on my original (suitable for framing) birth certificate, which I still have. I would not even have known the name of the hospital.

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  5. Happy birthday, señor Felipe. Yes, after reaching 70, one slows down a tad. I ride at a lofty 70 miles per hour now, sometimes even slower. I actually take the time to see things now. The end is closer now for sure, but one can’t dwell on it.

    You touch many people with your writings. You are exceptional at it.

    I wish you many more birthdays to share with your child bride. May each day bring you happiness. Bob.

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    1. ¡Feliz cumpleaños!
      Where and when’s the party?
      I passed the 70-year mark a couple of years ago, and now have 73 staring at me in about a month.
      Old age wouldn’t be so bad were it not for the aches and pains that so often accompany it.

      Saludos,
      Don Cuevas

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Señor Cuevas: As you undoubtedly know, there is no party. As for the aches and pains, for some reason I do not have them. Perhaps they will fall on me, kerploop!, all at once, without warning. I hope not.

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    1. Patzman: Probably won’t be making it down there today for my espresso. My wife has friends visiting from Mexico City, and we’ll be giving them a drive around the lake, and some other social stuff.

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  6. Felicidades!!!! May you enjoy a fabulous 70th replete with fabulousness. And free from noisy neighbors, fireworks, and crowing roosters.

    Saludos,

    Kim G
    Boston, Ma
    Where we also have an impending birthday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kim: All my days are replete with fabulousness because I am one fabulous old dude, and always have been, except the old part. I doubt I’ll hear noisy neighbors or fireworks today unless some fiesta is planned that I know nothing about. As for crowing roosters, that is a daily thing. You cannot get away from crowing roosters. It’s part of the life.

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  7. Lucky you. You got born in a fancy maternity ward. I was born at home with a Seminole Indian mid-wife assisting. At 74 I’m starting to get those “gee, you don’t look a day over 70” compliments. I know you’ve been thinking about this birthday for a while, but the best thing to do is just “forget about it,” as the Jersey boys would say. Have a great 71st year and many more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Paul: I’ve seen photos of you, and you look pretty darn good. And yes, I have been thinking about this birthday for a while. I wrote this post a month ago. And now I would like to just forget about it.

      Let us keep on chugging along.

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  8. Happy Birthday, Felipe. Sometimes you’re a little cranky (which can be interesting, and you’ve earned the right), but I like the calmness of this piece. Well-considered and well put. I am just few years behind you, and hoping that I can arrive at that point in a similar frame of mind.

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      1. I meant your last sentence…..how fortunate you have the wisdom to recognize the place you are in and the treasures you have in life. These sweetest of days can be so concentrated with joy, gratitude and calm….so much more meaningful than when I was younger.

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  9. I don’t know if my greeting comes from the furthest distance, but it certainly comes with sincerity equal to that of your other readers. I am not too far behind you on this interesting path we tread. Happy birthday.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Steve: Being as how you’re over there visiting the Brits, I imagine your greeting has traveled the farthest over these electronic waves. Thanks. You’ll catch up one of these days.

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  10. Life is what you make of it, and those of us that choose to make it an experience by being active, looking for joy and appreciating that the small things in life are the important ones, but not limiting ourselves, are the people who are truly happy. You are one of those people, and one of your small joys is raising the hackles of your faithful readers from time to time.

    Happy Birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kris: You’re correct about all of that with one occasional exception. Raising the hackles of some folks hereabouts gives me great joy, not small. I should be ashamed of myself.

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  11. Happy Birthday from another 70-year-old. I turned 70 five months ago, and I have quit thinking about it. I envy you for not having the aches and pains, but they are tolerable for me. Keep up the great writing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I hate funerals. It’s because they’re like birthdays. But like Yogi Berra said, if you don’t go to your friend’s funeral, how can you expect him to go to yours.

    So that being said, I guess I will pay my respects.

    HAPPY BIRTHDAY

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Carlos: To follow Yogi Berra’s example, I now owe you a Happy Birthday too. Alert me when the time comes, and I will happily follow through.

      As for funerals, I’d rather not go there right now.

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  13. Happy birthday, Señor Felipe.

    And you never know, what’s to come might be the best yet! Either way, I wish you many more years filled with great stories that end up on this blog!

    Cheers and saludos from Amsterdam!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I’ve fallen behind in my blog reading and I see you’ve sneaked another birthday in on me. A very happy late birthday wish to you, my friend. This was a particularly well crafted and thoughtful piece of writing. It has been a privilege to eavesdrop on your life all these years.

    Passing years often are powerful mellowing forces. Neither your life nor mine have escaped this honing of some rough edges.

    Thanks, Felipe. Via the virtual world, you have been a mentor, a friend and a speaker of truth to many of us.

    More than that you are a good person and you are special to me. Peace.

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