In 1984, during a presidential debate, Ronald Reagan said of his opponent Walter Mondale, “If my opponent will not hold my age against me, Ill not hold his youth and inexperience against him.” Mondale asked for it. He had just brought up the issue of Reagan’s age.
Mondale took it like a man, however. He laughed as much as the audience did. Like his fellow Minnesotan, the Happy Warrior Hubert Humphrey, Mondale laughed much anyhow. That was back when our politics was far less acrimonious.
Reagan went on to begin his second term one month before turning 74. The man gave old age a good name. His cheerfulness put to scorn the claim of columnist George Will who, upon turning 50 wrote, Looking forward from 50 is no bowl of blueberries.
50? Old? Sounds young to me. Will turned 78 this past May. Let’s hope he didn’t go into depression.
Looking forward from age 75 — if I live for two more weeks — shouldn’t be too difficult to do. Nine and soon to be ten grandchildren will remind me that life goes on. Our republic is far stronger than the constancy of cable television news leads us to think, and everywhere I go, I see teenagers and twenty-somethings working their heads off. I know there’s more to the picture than this, but Ill still take hope wherever I see it.
My first memory is from age 3, but from the fabric of the last 72 years, I have plucked three others, all of which have been sources of joy and/or learning. These particular memories also remind me of the debt I owe to so many who have rendered me a rich man for three quarters of a century.
I remember the dirt, the soil I mean. Oh, the dirt, the fields, the gigantic gardens that my father and other farmers up and down Old U.S. 80 Highway cared for. Their dirt was a precious possession, almost their second self. I wish that children today understood that groceries dont come from grocery stores. School teaches them where groceries come from, but only at the intellectual level. How I wish children and teens could experience real dirt for themselves and get outside their houses more.
My professional life has required me to haunt libraries and bookstores, but even the printed word has not erased the memory of the smell, the feel and the mystery of dirt. Directly or indirectly, food comes from dirt. From dust to dust is a phrase too many children and teens have never even heard.
Antonia (Pupi, we called her) was the Italian woman brought to America by one of my much older brothers after World War II. What a memory. What an education this tough, resilient woman brought to a poor Southern family. Her broken English and knowledge of Europe made her not just an exciting oddity, but the interesting centerpiece of our lives for the rest of her life. Antonia left her family and a significant job for an American soldier boy.
A more recent memory is the year 1971, when I moved to the county I now live in. From Day 1, this county has been forward-looking and even more inviting than a bowl of blueberries, or peaches either for that matter. While some counties around us falter educationally, economically and socially, ours thrives. I say its not because we are an educated county. Its because many good people have landed here, most of whom treat others well. We fuss when necessary, but because of visionary political, community and religious leaders, we still have something special.
Oh, for the space to name names. Suffice it to say that my two mayors (I live in one town but have the address of another), commissioner, state representative, state senator, Congressman, governor and my two U.S. Senators are good people and effective leaders. My last three former governors, the only former ones I was ever around (one Democrat and two Republicans) are all men of good will. They are also givers. Thats something to remember when I start thinking the nation is going to the dogs.
Men of faith, pastors particularly, have shaped my county also. Two pastors helped me raise my children. Two others have helped me to look steadily forward in faith as I grow older. Another, a retired Methodist minister, has become a great friend to this aging Baptist. He knows I believe John Wesley was actually a Baptist.
My county’s leaders and citizens obviously seek civil peace order. Just call it being a good neighbor and loving your neighbor as yourself. Whatever its called it can surely produce good memories for a guy who is not getting younger.