Woody's Annual Birthday Essay
I turn 49 this year. Seems improbable, given my generally youthful demeanor (translation: I refuse to grow up!), but it's true, nonetheless. I'm definitely in my "middle age." I am actually quite comfortable with this thought; I have realized for years now that I'm not getting any younger. Various body parts, like Congress, have either taken up complaining as an art form, or, like Ted Kennedy, quit working altogether.
I have dentures older than my two younger children. I have a grandbaby, for corn's sake, that's just about taller than Grandpa by now. (She's only about a year older than our Jelly Woodyette, but she has tall parents.) I now look a lot like my Dad when he was this age, although I have arguably more hair left than he did. I have joints that have become rather accurate barometers. "Knees is creakin', Deah. Must be a nor'eastah!" I'd sit in the rocking chair, but it doesn't fit in our living room. Can't put it on the porch; the ants would have a fire sale.
49 and 50 are interesting years. 49 is the bridesmaid; that last breath of innocence before succumbing to the world of the adults. 49 is the last blush before "The Big Five-Oh."
49 gives me a whole year to become "Fit by Fifty." This is my personal health goal. By the age of fifty I would like — if not the desire, at least the ability — to run a mile without requiring a respirator. Ten years ago I did a turn on stage as Papageno in "The Magic Flute." I did not appreciate the fact that I was panting for breath inbetween scenes. Ten years on it can only have gotten worse. Even my voice is getting tired. My faithful, trusty, stick-with-me-through-good-times-and-bad voice is starting to remind me that nothing lasts forever in the physical world.
If 49 is the bridesmaid, then 50 is the matron of honor. Many years ago, 50 used to be celebrated as the "Jubilee Year" by those whose life expectancies hovered somewhere around 62. Fortunately there is longevity in my family tree, and I have little fear of not making it to my own retirement party (65!).
50 becomes a badge of accomplishment. I have lived for half a century! I have seen things come (and go!) that my kids take completely for granted now. My kids, for example, have never experienced the technological wonder that is the 8-track tape. I cannot tell you how many times I tried as a kid to figure out how in heaven's name they kept that tape going around and around without ever needing rewinding. The fact that you might experience a sudden "click" and a momentary interruption in whatever song you were listening to was immaterial. I wanted to know how they did it! I never did, of course. Dad owned all the 8-track tapes and it would have meant instant death had I dissected one (see my note about making it to my own retirement party above).
My kids also did not get to experience the Space Race. I was born right near the beginning of it. Dad worked for the guys who were building the machines that carried our guys into space. He would occasionally bring home the PR photos and materials that they would hand out at work, and they were the original eye candy. I used to take the National Geographic issue depicting John Glenn's orbital flight and recreate it in my backyard, using an overturned lounge chair for my capsule. I never made it for the entire 5 hours plus of Glenn's flight, but I always made a heroic and triumphal re-entry into the concrete, er, water. I also remember listening with bated breath to the announcers who pointed out that Apollo 11 was racing to the moon, and that the Russian Zond might be right behind them. It wasn't, of course, but I remember how important it was that we beat the Russians to the moon.
50 also means that AARP will begin to intensify their campaign to remind me what a fogey I've become. This, unfortunately, is nothing new. They've been recruiting me since I was about 26. Maybe they figured that marriage was aging me quickly, but I get their invitations about once every three or four years. I may never join (my grandmother was a charter member, and she used to pepper us with clippings about health and insurance and minor government conspiracies that used to drive us crazy), but it's another indication that I have arrived. The Big Five-Oh.
Of course, this does not qualify me for senior discounts. Oh, no. Gotta wait until 55 at a minimum to be counted as a senior.
From an aging perspective, though, all of this is largely irrelevant. I'm not one who typically "feels" his age. Creaky joints and bad teeth aside, my life continues along pretty much the same paths it always has. I revel in my family. It's fun being a Daddy to four bright kids, and hubby to my best friend. I enjoy my spiritual adventures. When I watch our 97 year old prophet exhibit a sense of humor, I realize that life can be fun at any stage. I am addicted to fun. I have numerous interests that should keep my life from getting stale, even when I finally retire.
But, most of all, I'm glad I'm turning 49 this year and not 50, because it means I won't have to put up with black crepe decorations and black arm-bands on my birthday. Not that my sweet wife would ever contemplate such a thing, but they're known to do that here in my office.
Like I need to be reminded how old I am...