Wednesday, October 26, 2011

When I'm 62

Three weeks ago I was over at Dancing Rabbit for a free concert by the local blues band that had been rehearsing for months to provide the musical accompaniment for the Off Grid Blues weekend slated for Oct 7-9. The building in which the event took place was the Casa de Cultura, erected in the record time of four months, and this was to be its inaugural event.

Mostly the audience was sitting on the floor (to maximize space for dancing), but as I was settling in along the east wall, someone came up to me and whispered discreetly, "We've reserved a chair for you along the opposite wall." My first reaction was, "Huh?" Why would I get a chair when there were only three available and we were expecting a crowd of more than 30? Then I got it—I'm one of the old folks. The combined population of the tri-communities (Sandhill Farm, Dancing Rabbit, and Red Earth) is about 80, but there are only a handful of us geezers in the over-60 crowd, and the gesture with the chair was meant as a respect-your-elders kindness.

Yesterday I turned 62—which doesn't feel nearly as old as I used to think it was. Last week I noted how tired and achy I was after finishing a food processing shift (canning last-of-the-season tomatoes and pepper relish) and wondered about whether this was what people referred to when lamenting the dark side of getting older. But then I realized I'd been in the kitchen nonstop for 10 hours, working straight through lunch and dinner, and I figured pretty much anyone would enjoy sitting down after that.

During a birthday breakfast that Ma'ikwe and I cooked together for a group of friends yesterday morning, I was asked to speculate on the greatest impact another year would have on my life. Without a moment's hesitation, I replied, "Priority boarding on Amtrak." At the larger stations (such as Chicago and DC), there is a preliminary call for seniors and passengers traveling with small children. I've now reached the age where I'm officially a senior by Amtrak's lights, allowing me to henceforth avoid the cattle calls for boarding. Yippee! (As this courtesy is extended to all traveling in my party, this is also a significant benefit for my 41-year-old wife whenever we travel together—which is a lot.)

The Leaning Tower of Paris
I spent the night before my birthday over at Ma'ikwe's, and together with her 14-year-old son, Jibran (who is homeschooled), we devoted an entertaining hour to perusing a copy of E D Hirsch's Cultural Literacy. Among other things, this book contains an alphabetical list of 5000 names, phrases, dates, and concepts that the author considers essential for what every American needs to know if you want to be literate. While the edition was published in 1987 (and therefore doesn't include anything that has risen to the standard of being essential in the last quarter century—such as, say, the internet), I was interested in seeing how well Jiban's free-grazing reading habits were preparing him for understanding what Hirsch felt was important. (Also, secretly, I was interested in learning how literate his mother and I were.)

For the most part, all three of us knew most of the 153
terms we considered (whew). There were, however, some interesting gaps in our knowledge, as well as some hilarious brain farts. On whim, we started with the letter P, proceeding from "Pacific Islands" to "phallic symbol" (which was hard to top for its potential for comic relief with a 14-year-old boy). Perhaps the best moment came when I read "Paris" (the city, not the Greek myth) and Ma'ikwe immediately blurted out, "The place with the leaning tower!" complete with waving hands, a la a palm tree swaying in the breeze. Jibran fell to the floor struggling for breath, he was laughing so hard. I was impressed that he understood at once his mother's gaffe.

All and all I had a great day yesterday. Following my power breakfast (with fried potatoes, scones, portobello mushrooms, crustless quiche, and fresh coffee), I was serenaded with a round of Happy Birthday at lunch (replete with four homemade beeswax candles—one for every 15.5 years—glowing atop a pair of flourless chocolate cakes with maple icing), got in a three-mile walk, shipped a couple Priority Mail boxes, read a handwritten birthday letter from Annie (yes, the Post Office still delivers those), answered my email, stowed a couple dozen pints of preserves on the shelves of our root cellar, took a happy-birthday call from my daughter Jo, bought some train tickets, cleaned and filled a five-gallon bucket with fresh sorghum for the neighbors, and worked a five-hour boiler shift (from 4 pm to cleanup)
down at Sugar Shack (where we were cooking this season's penultimate batch of sorghum)—which afforded me the perfect occasion to enjoy a maduro-wrapped birthday cigar and a couple fingers of bonded Old Fitzgerald. While I stoked the fire, the bourbon stoked me. All of that and I still had time for about eight hands of bridge and an IPA before bedtime. How good can it get?

While my version of the good life is perhaps a little different from Scott & Helen Nearing's, it's plenty good enough for me.


Mandy Creighton said...

I'll be sure to remember to travel with you on Amtrak :)

And funny enough, you ended up staying on the floor at the dance, and I got one of the seats!

Hope you had a wonderful birthday, and I look forward to celebrating many more with you in the NEMO TCA (tri communities area) :)


Abe Karl-Gruswitz said...

Happy Birthday, Laird!!! Thank you for your good work and wonderful contribution to the world!!