HAPPY BIRTHDAY…TO ME

I used to get excited…not so much anymore. The road “past” is much longer than the road “future” and when dealing with my own life, I try to stay “in the now.” At my unstated age, I find it more comfortable remembering the past rather than pondering the future. People much brighter than me have suggested that “you can’t live in the past.” I agree but would suggest, “I can remember the past and wonder”…just don’t live there…too much. Which brings me to today, the day before the anniversary of my birth.

It was an Easter Sunday with all the jokes about the Easter Bunny delivering me to my parents rather than the traditional stork. Bright blue skies and crisp I was told. My father had revolted at the idea of rising early for the traditional Sunrise Service. I understand he was forced to get up even earlier than he would have wished.

A colorized picture of a one year old. A tow-headed child gazing sweetly into a camera makes me wonder why the blond hair turned brown before turning gray. Unfortunately, it has also turned loose. At some point I wonder if my sink will have more hair in it than my head has on it…or already does. I also wonder what kind of cake was smeared all over my smooth baby face, a face I no longer recognize in the mirror…with or without cake.

Somewhere in the past, a fourteen-year-old with darker blond hair, got excited about his birthday until he was presented with a brand new red Toro lawnmower instead of the red Mustang convertible he was wishing for. My dad, always the practical one…but then I was only fourteen. The mower wasn’t even a rider or self-propelled. I didn’t get the Mustang at age sixteen or eighteen either. I did get a green Mustang for my beloved when I was forty-six…I don’t even like green and it wasn’t for me…or my birthday.

I remember a “sweet sixteen” birthday party, painstakingly planned by my mother and held at the fire house just down the road from our house. All my friends and classmates were there dancing to forty-fives, eating cake and drinking punch. I never told her how embarrassed I was for all the commotion…and for the fact I was “sweet sixteen and had never been kissed” before the party…or for a while after it.

For some reason, there are no outstanding birthday memories from sixteen to fifty…or I need something to trigger the memory I’m not having. A gathering at a local restaurant on my fiftieth netted me a four-disc boxed set of Jimmy Buffet’s greatest hits, from a friend I daily worry about. Because my six-disc changer is loaded with all four of my Buffet disc’s, there is a great chance I’m going to be reminded of my friend anytime I get into my car. I am also reminded of the battle I fear he is losing to his addiction. I think I’m going to call him on my birthday and remind him of the joy he brought me.

On my fifty-sixth we gathered with family at the same restaurant as my fiftieth, this time after church on a bright and warm Sunday afternoon. I had a great time but felt physically ill as I drove the winding road home. Queasy, I contributed it to the garlicy pasta I had consumed along with the copious amounts of birthday cheer in the form of birthday cake. It wasn’t until I got home that I considered a heart attack. The elephant suddenly sitting on my chest fueled my suspicion.

The attack may have been the greatest gift I could have ever received…even better than a red Mustang convertible. I survived and became a better steward of the health my creator granted me. Eleven more years with my beloved, seeing my daughter graduate from college, marry and start a family of her own…beginning her THIRD vocation while seven month’s pregnant. Miller Kate and Nolan the grandbabies. An epic Sixtieth in Atlanta with “too good” a friends attending a James Taylor concert. Front row seats within touching distance and a limo ride to and from. Madeline Roo and Matilda Sue, two Australian blue heelers who have made us their own, worming their way into my heart for the past twelve years.

Just to be clear, Linda Gail has already stated, “We are not going to celebrate your birthday on this Sunday.” Superstitious or just not willing to tempt fate? I had not thought about it…guess she does love me just a little. Well…Happy Birthday to me.

Visit Don’s author’s page at https://goo.gl/pL9bp or pick up a copy or download his new book, Musings of a Mad Southerner, at https://goo.gl/zxZHWO.

OLD MEN IN FEDORAS

I am by nature a baseball cap “kind” of guy. Forty-three years of coaching baseball and football will make you a baseball cap kind of guy out of habit. Forty-three years of coaching baseball and football added to sixty years of “bronzing my body” in the sun while working in fields or cutting grass will give you a carcinoma on your ear because baseball ball caps don’t cover them. Especially mine! I was born with big ears to go with a big nose and was a bit disturbed to find out, besides finger and toe nails, ears and noses are the only body parts to continue growing throughout life. Maybe I can try out for a part in the next Dumbo movie.

I now wear big floppy hats. I still wear baseball caps…I even have one that my darling daughter gave me many years ago that has a flap that covers my neck and ears…although I need to check and make sure my ears are not outgrowing it. I use it when I run or walk in the sun or go fishing. I have a long billed one she gave me that I use when I am not running in the sun. For long periods in the sun I have “boonie” hats, straw hats and the hats that prompted this post, the fedora. What I think of as the “Old Man’s” hat.

I didn’t always think of them as “Old Men’s” hats…until I got to be one of the “Old Men.” Until I became one of the old men, I thought them to be “cool.” My first fedora was a genuine Indiana Jones’ Stetson from over thirty years ago. I still have it…as I have all of my wide brim fedoras, no snap brims for me. Indie’s old hat is moth eaten and worn…kind of like me. I don’t get up in the morning thinking I’m moth eaten and worn. I don’t even move through the day thinking I’m an old man…unless I get near a mirror. There ARE some mornings that I get up and suspect I might be an old man or rather a young man’s brain trapped in an old man’s body. This is usually confirmed when I look in my mirror. I really should invest in a youthful Panama with a colorful band to get that thought out of my head.

My grandfather always wore a fedora, in the field or at work. My guess is that he took it off when he was indoors at Springs. Unlike today it was poor etiquette to wear a hat indoors. Blue jean overalls topped with an old sweat stained fedora. I have a mental picture of him astride his plow horse riding in from the field. An old man riding an old horse with a fedora perched “fore and aft” on his head. No “jaunty tilt” for him although he might tilt it back to rid himself of the summer heat. No tilt even when he had his “Sunday go to meeting” clothes on with his “Sunday hat” firmly in place…until he got inside the church with the rest of the “Old Men” carrying their fedoras by their side or sitting with them in their laps. Afterwards and outside they were all careful to touch their brims to the ladies, removing them if they stopped to talk. There is one problem with this mental picture. I am nearly a decade older than my grandfather at the age he died.

Thirty years ago this coming winter I drove into Travelers Rest in need of something only a hardware store could provide. Pre Lowes and Wally World, I stopped at Williams Hardware, before it was a restaurant, for no other reason than it was the first one I saw. It was a bitter cold and gray day with a wind that carried ice cycles forecasting the snow or ice that was soon to follow. I wrapped my coat tighter as I fought the wind until I opened the door. It was like a sauna with a huge potbellied stove glowing pink from the heat. As far from the heat as possible, three men sat around a checker board they had placed on an old nail keg. They could have been stamped from similar molds. Broad bodied going to seed, they were wide of shoulder with little or no necks showing above the collars on their flannel shirts. Their round heads were covered by the requisite fedora and underneath they sported broad faces cut by crevasses rather than creased with wrinkles. Faces were the color of tanned leather except where the fedora was pushed back on their heads. Foreheads were as white as freshly bleached sheets having rarely seen the sun. I am sure the bodies under the flannel and overalls would have matched. They spoke in hushed tones as if they had been admonished not to disturb the paying customers…although I was the only paying customer.

I see old men from my youth, sitting around checker boards on wooden barrels crowning kings. Fedoras cocked back on their heads as they studied the board and contemplated their strategies. Another group of old men sat waiting their turn, kibitzing, cracking wise or telling stories that they had all heard before. Old friends comfortable with their age I guess…something I hope I have plenty of time left to acquire…but not quite yet. Yeah, I think a Panama with a colorful band might be just the trick, or one of those snappy European driving hats…but then I would have to buy a sports car to go with it. Hum, not a fate worse than death unless I grow too old to enjoy one.

For more of life’s non-fiction by Don Miller try http://goo.gl/lomuQf