Turning Seventy

My sev­en­ti­eth birth­day rolled on by this month. It’s hard to con­vince myself I’m not old with that big num­ber hang­ing around my neck. The phys­i­cal evi­dence works against me, too.

My body parts are wear­ing out. My sinus­es shut down first. A sur­geon roto-root­ed out every­thing from my upper lip to the back of my skull so I could breathe again. Cataract surgery on both eyes came next. A dou­ble her­nia repair after that. Then my gall blad­der tried to kill me, going gan­grenous for no appar­ent rea­son. They cut it out on Christ­mas Day.

Last month, they replaced my left knee. I get a new right knee next month. A woman in my rehab class has two new knees, two new hips, and a new shoul­der. Makes me won­der why we don’t just replace every­thing all at once and get it over with.

An Ital­ian neu­ro­sur­geon, Ser­gio Canavero, thinks this piece­meal approach to fail­ing body parts is inef­fi­cient. He plans to fix every­thing in one fell swoop by trans­plant­i­ng the head of a man onto a healthy body in a two-part process he calls HEAV­EN (head anas­to­mo­sis ven­ture) and GEM­I­NI (spinal cord fusion). He’s sched­uled the world’s first head trans­plant for Octo­ber of this year in Chi­na. You can read about it here: http://www.newsweek.com/head-transplant-sergio-canavero-valery-spiridonov-china-2017–591772.

When I men­tioned the head trans­plant idea to my wife, she threw cold water on it. “It won’t work,” she said.

Why?”

You’ll be stuck with your head.”

Twelve­head & Turkey Wattle

While I feel strong­ly she could have stat­ed her opin­ion with a tad more sen­si­tiv­i­ty, I agree that my head won’t cut it, so to speak. My face has more lines than a Vir­ginia road map; my turkey wat­tle is so jow­ly I have to watch my back on Thanks­giv­ing Day; and my hair is falling out! My hairline’s been reced­ing since I was thir­ty. My son used to joke that my fore­head was a five­head. Pret­ty fun­ny at the time, but I stopped laugh­ing between there and my cur­rent nine­head, which is work­ing its way toward the dread­ed twelve­head, where your hair­line meets the back of your neck.

James Traf­i­cant

There are no attrac­tive ways to fix this. There’s the Prope­cia-dri­ven Trump comb-over. Very com­pli­cat­ed and requires fol­li­cles thir­ty feet long. On the oth­er side of the aisle are the Biden/Schumer hair plugs, where, close up, you look like you’ve been run over by a sewing machine. Then there’s the late Con­gress­man­/ex-con­vict James Traf­i­cant hair piece, oth­er­wise known as a dead squir­rel. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll just pol­ish my twelve­head and live with it.

There’s a lot more to being sev­en­ty than phys­i­cal chal­lenges, though. My mem­o­ries go back a long way. I’m so old I remem­ber when my fam­i­ly didn’t have indoor plumb­ing. Our toi­let was an out­house in the back yard behind the chick­en coop. We drew well water with a hand pump and bathed in a wash tub. We got run­ning water in the house when I was five. I still remem­ber the first hot show­er, the abun­dance of water cas­cad­ing over my shoul­ders, the steam, and the refresh­ing feel­ing of being real­ly clean.

I’m so old I remem­ber not hav­ing a tele­vi­sion set. I sat cross-legged on the floor by the radio and lis­tened to Gun­smoke and The Lone Ranger, imag­in­ing the peo­ple and scenes. Radio nar­ra­tion is a lost art today, which is too bad. I can still hear the deep voice of The Shad­ow’s guy. “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shad­ow knows!” His rum­bling creepy laugh gave me goosebumps.

Pinky Lee

We got a black and white tele­vi­sion set when I was six. Most of the children’s shows were filmed live, which wasn’t always a good thing. The Pinky Lee Show fea­tured a lit­tle song and dance guy with a check­ered hat and suit. Dur­ing a live show, he grabbed his chest, choked out, “Some­body please help me,” and keeled over, trau­ma­tiz­ing chil­dren all across the nation. “Pinky’s dead,” I told my Mom. “It’s part of the show,” she claimed, but hav­ing learned the truth about the great San­ta Claus fraud the pre­vi­ous win­ter, I no longer believed any­thing she said. When Pinky didn’t return to the show, I knew I was right. For six­ty-three years, I thought Pinky died of a heart attack that day. Research­ing for this post, I learned that he faint­ed from a nasal infec­tion, recov­ered, and lived anoth­er forty years, dying in 1993 at the age of 85. It piss­es me off that no one told me, but I’m so old I can’t do any­thing about it because every­one to blame is dead.

I’m so old polio still crip­pled and killed chil­dren when I was a kid. The Salk vac­cine came out in 1953. We wait­ed in long lines in grade school for the shot. Today’s hypo­der­mic nee­dles are so slim and del­i­cate you don’t feel a thing. Back in the 50’s, the nee­dle felt like an ice pick. Wait­ing our turn in line, we were scared to death. I almost threw up from nerves. One kid faint­ed. When your turn final­ly came, the nurse held you tight while the doc­tor stabbed you with the ice pick. Most of us walked away bawl­ing, but none of us got polio.

Duck & Cover

I’m so old I learned the nuclear attack duck and cov­er drill in the sec­ond grade. The teacher would yell, “Duck!” We ducked under our desks and assumed a tucked posi­tion. “Cov­er!” We put our hands over the backs of our necks. We stayed there until she gave us the all-clear.

In the fourth grade, I went on a school field trip to the city’s fall­out shel­ter. It was a gloomy place, a foot­ball-field-sized root-cel­lar with gen­er­a­tor-pow­ered lights, ven­ti­la­tors, and shelves of canned goods and water. The shelter’s direc­tor gave a talk and then took ques­tions. A girl stand­ing behind me asked, “How long will we have to stay here?” The direc­tor answered with a wall of words. When he fin­ished, the girl whis­pered, “They don’t know.” A boy asked if there was room in the shel­ter for every­one in the city. This one the direc­tor answered straight up. “No,” he said. “Every fam­i­ly should build its own shel­ter.” Very few fam­i­lies had a shel­ter. My fam­i­ly didn’t have one. I lost sleep over that for a few nights, but chil­dren can block out hor­rif­ic thoughts. I did then. I still do.

I’m so old I was in high school when the prin­ci­pal came over the PA sys­tem and told us Pres­i­dent Kennedy had been killed. There were scat­tered gasps and cries, then qui­et. They called off school ear­ly. In the halls and on my bus ride home, where teenage enthu­si­asm and mis­chief always reigned, no one said a word. I’ll nev­er for­get the dead silence of that afternoon.

Me at 22

I’m so old I went to UVA when all the stu­dents were white males. We were Vir­ginia Gen­tle­men. We wore coats and ties to class. We lived by an Hon­or Code. Gen­tle­men didn’t lie, cheat, or steal. There were no degrees of hon­or. The slight­est infrac­tion result­ed in expul­sion from the school and the com­mu­ni­ty of gen­tle­men. A Vir­ginia Gen­tle­men was allowed, how­ev­er, to board a bus with a keg of beer in the back, drink all the way down the road to one of Virginia’s all-girl schools, and not hav­ing seen a woman for a month, go par­ty­ing with a blind date, who hadn’t seen a man for a month. Thank God for that, or I nev­er would have met my wife.

I’m so old I’ve been mar­ried for forty-eight years to a woman I still love.

I’m so old my chil­dren have grown up to become peo­ple I admire.

I’m so old I have four grand­chil­dren who melt my heart when they call me Papaw.

I’m so old my time is my own to spend as I choose, how­ev­er unwise­ly. With­out this free­dom and the per­spec­tive of age, I would nev­er have found the late-in-life writ­ing demen­tia that inspired me to pen my nov­els and to inflict this blog upon all of you.

I could go on and on, but I’ll rein it in, for your sake. I’ll just say this. I’m sev­en­ty years old; I’ve lived a long full life; I’ve still got a good ways to go; and you ain’t seen noth­in yet.