A couple of days ago marked the 50th anniversary of my graduation from Highlands High School outside of Sacramento. A few days later I began my radio career.
50 years. It’s a stunning number. And that was quite a week, as I recall.
June 10, 1969 was a Tuesday. School was out and for some three or four hundred of us assembled in the football stadium the entire world of opportunities was laid at our feet.
I gave one of the two student commencement speeches that day. I waxed eloquently and metaphorically about those opportunities and warned my classmates, “You must be quick to grab the world by the tail (dramatic pause)…or be left holding the shattered fragments of a Crystal Dream.”
Our parents and teachers applauded my youthful wisdom. My classmates drank from hidden flasks, fired off a couple of illegal bottle rockets and laughed like hell.
One guy in the front row flashed me his junk under his graduation robe.
I said goodbye to my childhood that day with a handful of close friends who are still close and the girl who would become my wife.
Then 50 years slipped away.
In our fascination with big, round numbers we look back on our lives and try to find meaning in the journey. We measure ourselves then and now.
I’ve been anticipating this big round number for quite awhile and now that it has arrived I’m surprised to learn that it’s not that big a deal except for two things:
I’ve had a chronic cough since just before Thanksgiving, 14 weeks to be exact. That’s a long time for a cough to linger and I’ve not ignored it. After two visits to my doctor, a chest x-ray (turned out clear) and a passel of expensive steroidal and antibiotic prescriptions and inhalers, to say nothing of a hundred bucks worth of over the counter cough syrups, suppressants and antihistamines, I’m still coughing. My doctor is a learned and experienced man but he’s stumped. He’s talking about sending me to a pulmonologist. (I had to look it up: that’s a specialist in respiratory matters.)
I’m not writing this because I’m worried about my cough. I’m just taking note of this moment in my life. At 67 I’m experiencing something totally new: the unexpected idea that I may be entering an age of increasing infirmity, of nagging pains and niggling problems that I might have to drag around to the end of my days.
I rarely get sick, not even a cold, but suddenly I’m starting to feel a bit frail for the first time. Coughing wears you out and makes you think.
Roughly 40 years ago I suddenly realized that I would never play baseball again. Real baseball, I mean. Unwillingly I made the transition from hard-breaking fastballs to the high arcing lobs of a bigger, softer target. Slow-pitch softball is fun but it’s not baseball. Now, a couple of decades later I miss them both.
About 20 years ago I was suddenly relieved of the daily responsibility of parenting. Our oldest son was married and our youngest son had just moved out. CarolAnn and I celebrated our freedom as new empty-nesters. We loved it yet we missed having children in the house. Family time became the two of us time, which is wonderful though still bittersweet. We will always miss our boys.
There have been other life transitions of course, less notable and too numerous to mention. The thing is, after nearly 70 years of living I’m starting to see a pattern, a constant ending and renewal of a single life’s experiences and perspectives. In 1984 author Gail Sheehy kicked off her enormously successful series of books about the subject she called Passages.
From toddler hood to old age we who are lucky enough to live long lives are constantly saying goodbye to one time of life and entering the next with some trepidation. That’s the excitement of the journey. With great luck, or by design if you prefer, life is a very long road of wondrous yet worrisome discovery.
I feel like a slow student, coming to this realization as recently as I have but I’ve been too busy living to take notice of passages. I’m just now beginning to understand something that should have been obvious:
Lives are lived as chapters of precious stories belonging to the world and yet as unique as ourselves.
I don’t miss baseball as much as I did 40 years ago. And frankly, though I will always enjoy memories of having our boys at home, I’ve gotten over wistful nostalgia pretty well and cherish my daily solitude with CarolAnn more than ever.
This cough is forcing me to hire a younger man to do my yard work. I hope that’s just temporary but the fact is I may never mow a lawn again. That seems trivial but I’m starting to miss trivial things as well as the big, profound stuff. At the same time I’m learning to shrug off the life I’ve known for whatever surprises come next. We all are.
Life is a kaleidoscope. Every slight turn brings a shift in perspective and a dazzling new view of the world we’ve always held.
If this all sounds a little loopy, just blame the meds.
One of my favorite movies is Defending Your Life starring, written, and directed by Albert Brooks. It’s about a man who dies on his birthday and wakes up in Judgment City, a Purgatory-like waiting area where he must justify his life in order to proceed to the next phase of existence. It’s warm and funny and will keep you examining your own life for a very long time.
My son Jeremy loves this movie as much as I do and today is his birthday.
On my birthday 17 years ago, shortly before he died, my dad told me he couldn’t believe he had a son who was 50. I know the feeling.
Jeremy was born 42 years ago today. Like all loving parents at this age I understand that he’s an adult with a family of his own and our relationship has grown with us. But like all parents, in my heart he will always be my little boy.
You have to be careful about that when you talk to a middle-aged child. Occasionally I still have to stop myself from calling him, “Kiddo”.
I’m not going to wax poetic about Jeremy and me. Many fine words have been written about ideal father-son relationships and the bonds of love that can’t be described. I have nothing to add. We know how we feel and how we’ve enriched and informed each other’s lives.
I will say this, however:
I am a far better person for his existence than I would be without his love, influence and instruction.
Parenting is a two-way street. You get as much as you give; you learn at least as much as you teach, probably more.
If you’re happy with who you are today you can thank your children in large measure.
When I arrive in Judgment City I will point fearlessly to my boy and testify, “This man is my justification for everything.”
I learned nothing from my upbringing about aging gracefully. Mother’s only advice about the passing years was to encourage the use of more moisturizer so boys will like you.
– Anita Garner
My friend Anita wrote those words in her blog earlier this week and it made me think about my own upbringing.
My parents taught me small things about washing dishes and how to work a slingshot. Mom taught me to scrub my face with Phisohex to wipe away teenaged pimples. Dad taught me to stand up straight and look a man in the eyes when I shook his hand.
Neither of them talked to me about girls or careers and retirement. I didn’t even get the birds and the bees talk.
There was no talk, not one speck of advice about fulfillment, about health, about work, about relationships, about how all of that changes through the years. – Anita
My parents, like Anita’s, left me to learn the deep, quiet lessons of life in my own good time. They taught me to be honest and respectful and that was pretty much it. Matters of my future and relationships were not theirs to teach.
These days parents seem to be much more hands-on. They plan their kids’ lives from sunup to sundown, from birth to college and beyond.
For all the stuff we read about helicopter parents and everyone-gets-a-trophy I don’t think parents today are doing anything wrong. It’s not mine to judge. The world seems much more complicated now than it was 60 years ago, though I don’t understand why.
I do wish my grandsons could spend their free afternoons building forts in open fields with no grownups around. I wish they could ride their bikes home at sundown dirty, sweaty and wearing a freshly scabbed knee and simply be told to go wash up for dinner.
Today I somehow wound up Internet surfing upcoming concerts and live theater events in Dallas-Ft. Worth. Here’s a short list of shows I would enjoy seeing but will not:
1. ELTON JOHN’S FAREWELL TOUR – Cheap seats, $282 each. (In a basketball arena that seats 21,000.)
2. PAUL MCCARTNEY – Cheap seats, $82 each. (Third deck of a 50,000 seat MLB stadium.)
3, The Broadway tour of HAMILTON – Cheap seats, $345 each. (For that price CarolAnn and I can fly round-trip to California and spend a week with our kids.)
As a self-conscious old fart I figured that I’m just way out of touch with the cost of living these days. So, I did some quick Google work on cost of living comparisons and here’s what I found:
— When I was a teenager in the late 1960s the Rolling Stones played the Sacramento Memorial Auditorium. Ticket prices were $2.75 (including a Homecoming Queen Contest). In today’s dollars that’s just shy of $16.00, not the $282 and up for nosebleed seats to see Elton John.
— In 1966 The Beatles played their last-ever live concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. Tickets were $4.50 – $6.50. Paying $82 next year to see McCartney in a baseball stadium is a price increase of 551.77% and that’s just for one Beatle, not all four.
— Broadway tickets prices for Orchestra seats were $15 in 1970. That would be roughly $94 now, not the $345 they want for a seat that would require me to carry a telescope to see Hamilton.
Look, I believe in capitalism. If people are willing to pay these prices for two or three hours of big show entertainment who am I to protest?
I’m just kicking myself for skipping that Stones show.
You ever notice that people who have a cold almost always beef it up a bit with paralyzing adjectives that make it sound like an exceptionally bad cold, not just a “common cold”?
This cold of mine is the worst cold in the history of colds. Trust me.
Thirty years ago when I was still young, eternal and bullet proof I just ignored any illness that didn’t force me into a hospital. A cold? Flu? Please. It will go away no matter what I do or don’t do. That was my attitude then and it was proven correct time and again.
I spent a lot of my 1980s evenings in a Northern California honky tonk wearing boots and hat and sucking on beer bottles, smoking Marlboros, chatting up the ladies and laughing with my friends.
Don’t go getting all judgmental on me, it was a different time and socially acceptable. To say nothing of hella fun.
In those days I learned that if I caught a wicked cold I could stay home, get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and I would gradually recover within a week or two. On the other hand, if I went out and smoked, drank, danced and laughed as usual it would take seven to 14 days for me to regain normal health, such as it was.
I don’t live like that anymore, I’m too old, and I don’t recommend it because it’s not socially acceptable these days. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure:
Dancing and drinking and smoking cigarettes with a cold made the time pass much more quickly than shivering on the couch alone and feeling sorry for myself.
We didn’t have Facebook or Snap Chat or Twitter in those days. Whining about a cold had to be done in person and your real life friends helped you get over yourself.
It’s raining today in North Texas. I love rain and dark, cloudy days.
Most people I know worship the sun. They seem to like summer best of all and the hotter it gets the better. I don’t get it. Summer was great when I was a kid, impervious to sweat and grime, running barefoot through neighborhood lawn sprinklers and slurping from any old hose lying around because that’s what they were for.
We didn’t have air conditioning when I was a kid. We had a swamp cooler on the roof that blew semi-cool, very humid air directly into the middle of the hallway between the living room and kitchen in our house. I used to lie my bare tummy on chilly asbestos tiles right under the swamp cooler, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts fashioned by my mother’s scissors applied to an old set of blue jeans.
I stayed there for hours on the hall floor with a stack of Dennis the Menace and Sad Sack comic books for entertainment.
Sometimes I took the pillow from my bed and put it on the floor next to my comic books. That was “the life of Riley”, as we called it in those days.
(I still don’t know why.)
Mom had to step over me to hang wet laundry on the clothes rack She didn’t mind. Sometimes she gave me my lunch there, peanut butter and grape jelly on Wonder white bread. I had to eat it fast so it didn’t dry out from the wind.
I wish I had pictures of all these things: me, my pillow, PBJ and comics. Sometimes my collie, Rusty, would lie down with me for a couple of minutes. He liked the cool floor but I don’t think he cared for the overhead wind.
For the past fifty or more years I’ve been able to enjoy and expect indoor air conditioning.
Now in my mid-sixties I don’t need to strip down to my shorts and lie on the floor under a swamp cooler.
I still like summer for its memories of all-day baseball, ice cream trucks, slip ‘n slides and hot days that wouldn’t end until bed time. I loved childhood.
These days I prefer old man comforts, winter and the temperate yet crazy weather days of spring and fall in Texas.
Dark skies and rain feel cozy to me. They call people like me pluviophiles.
I’m glad they have a name for it. I just thought I was weird.
This is the only picture I have of my entire family together. (I’m not in it because I was holding the camera.)
I’d like to say my family always looked this happy but that wouldn’t be true. It wouldn’t be true of any family. Old photos allow us to keep and embellish the good times when everyone was smiling because we were all really happy together, at least in that moment.
My old pictures invoke a nice warm feeling of a time when life was less complicated and when my family was together for everything including mealtimes at the table, visits with our relatives and family vacations.
This was our family vacation in McCann, Northern California, along the Eel River in August of 1964. We were there for a week which included my 13th birthday. My parents gave me a stamp collecting album and a wonderful variety pack of international postage stamps to study, sort and paste.
I also got a new, official National League baseball which my dad and I tossed back and forth for hours that week right in the middle of the dirt road outside our cabin’s front door.
McCann was already a ghost town when we were there.
It was smack dab in the middle of no place, Humboldt County. It had been a stage coach station in 1881 and a post office soon after. It tried to be a town but stumbled and failed in the thirties and forties. By the time we got there in ’64 there were no living businesses, just the dirty old windows of store fronts that had been abandoned decades earlier.
As I remember it we were there for an entire week without seeing another soul. The only traffic we saw and heard were the Northwestern Pacific freight trains that rumbled and shrieked just a few feet past our cabin in the middle of each night. When that happened we all woke up and giggled in the dark, not just us kids, our parents too.
We had no TV in that cabin and couldn’t even get a radio signal. I know because I tried. Instead we just played together. We hiked down a steep river bank to get to the water’s edge. I held my little brother’s hand as we waded into the Eel. I held onto the blowup raft with my little sister aboard and grinning from ear to ear.
Dad and I fished with salmon eggs for bait and I saw beavers playing in the water not far from the lodge they had built from the branches of young fir and redwood trees along the shore.
My mom burned my birthday cake trying to bake it in an ancient wood burning oven in the cabin. It was edible, just toasty, and I loved it because it was mine and Mom made it for me.
On my birthday I wrote a note to the future, shoved it into an empty tin can and stuck it deep inside a hollowed chunk of a tree that was still very much alive. I imagined that the tree would grow over that hole and preserve my message. Someday, I thought, someone would cut that tree down and find my hello from the past.
Wouldn’t it be something if it was found now, in the 21st century?
I remember all of that from one picture taken 55 years ago. I probably have a lot of it wrong. I just remember it as I wish to.
I’d like you both to know that though I don’t get to be with you very often I think of you every single day. I really do.
When I wake up in the morning my first thought is to be grateful for a new day. I thank God for it. If you don’t believe in God that’s your right but you should give it some serious thought before you dismiss the possibility that you are alive for a good reason, not just by accident.
Either way, you should start each day happy to be alive. Be grateful for sunrise, blue skies, cold rain and for puppies and bugs.
Be grateful for the people you love.
That’s when I think of you, first thing each day.
Start your day happy.
When you’re happy it makes everyone around you happy. It’s contagious. They spread their happiness to other people. We need more happy people in the world.
As you get older you will learn a great many things about life. You’ll learn most of them from experience but you can get a lot of good tips from your parents, grandparents and other people who are older and carry your life in their hearts.
I’d like to share some of my life lessons with you. I’ll just do one at a time.
My dad taught me what I think is the single most important thing in life:
“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anyone else.” – Don Williams, 1981
If you can’t love yourself, who will?
I’ll have some more of these from time to time. You can take them to heart or just consider them and decide later what you think.
We never know how much time we have left so I’ll give you the end of these lessons here and now.
This is the point and purpose of life, in my opinion:
“We are game-playing, fun-having creatures;
we are the otters of the universe.” Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah
With much love,
Your Grandpa Dave
Copyright 2018, David L. Williams. All rights reserved.
A recent study of 2,000 young people about to enter college has concluded that millennials are unprepared for the realities of life in the real world. More than half don’t know how to pay a bill or how much they should expect to spend on rent.
61% of these young people are scared to leave their parents. 58% have trouble sleeping. 27% have panic attacks when they think about moving away from home.
These blossoming adults go off to college nervously in need of “trigger warnings” for their studies and “safe spaces” in which to live their lives. Many don’t want to learn how to drive a car.
Some expect to get a trophy for merely participating in life.
Recently on our Dallas morning radio show on KLIF my partner, Amy Chodroff, and I talked about this study and tried to figure out how young Americans went from being excited about inheriting their own lives, as we were at their age, to being seemingly terrified by the prospect of growing up and leaving the nest.
Amy, a Gen-Xer with two well-parented and supremely prepared and confident children of her own, decided her generation is to blame for coddling these kids.
We talked about so-called helicopter parents and the everyone-gets-a trophy entitlement era of today’s society. It made sense to us and we left the blame there, on the Gen-X parents of Millenials.
Something about the discussion nagged at me and it wasn’t until I got home that I realized what it was:
Amy’s generation of helicopter parents are my generation’s free-range kids.
We Baby Boomers, born between 1946 and 1964, were the beatniks of the 1950s and the hippies of the 60s. We worshiped at the altar of Do Your Own Thing in the Church of What’s Happening Now.
We had a wonderfully carefree childhood during a time of unprecedented peace and prosperity and yet we rejected every notion of our own parents’ culture from the Hit Parade music they loved to our haircuts and the clothes they wanted us to wear.
We even rejected the uniquely American idea that liberty came with a price worth paying, though that’s easy to understand if you consider our perspective.
Politicians of the 60s sent us to a war of their making. 50,000 of us died in Vietnamese rice paddies ten thousand miles from home.
I frequently think of my high school buddies who had their lives blown away before they were old enough to grow a beard or fall in love for the first time.
Those of us who dodged the draft warned each other to never trust anyone over thirty and shouted, “Make love, not war!”
Now we’re in our sixties and seventies wondering why our grandkids are so nervous and we blame their parents, our children.
Just look at the society we Boomers left in the wake of our cultural revolution.
In some ways our kids are more traditional than we were at their age. Growing up as the children of free-range parenting they’re over-correcting our mistakes by inventing their own, insisting that every spare minute of their children’s lives be scheduled, structured and under constant supervision and by insisting that the road to happiness begins at birth with eyes fixed on the prize: a scholarship to Harvard or Stanford.
Our children’s children are leaving home, entering those schools confused and scared. And who can blame them? They were never taught that they would be challenged and sometimes they would fail. Nobody ever explained that they aren’t really bulletproof, bound for glory or as exceptional as they were constantly assured.
Nobody ever explained they’ll be paying off those student loans for the next twenty years.
We love our children. We don’t want them to ever be scared or disappointed. And yet we know they have to suffer to succeed.
Or did we forget to tell them that part?
Sometimes parents make mistakes. We can’t avoid them. We can only try to minimize them and try to make them teachable moments for ourselves and our kids.
As my Carolann likes to remind her Gen-X son: “You didn’t come with instructions.”
*Source of quoted material: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-4666794/Millennials-aren-t-ready-reality-life.html