An enormous oak once stood at the end of the road, a silent sentinel that watched impassively as the centuries passed.
We saw it each time we turned the corner and drove by, a tree so big it was impossible to miss. My wife, who’s more prone to speak aloud to nature than I, told me she would often say, “Hello, beautiful,” or “Hello, old soul.”
So big it was that it took a work crew parts of two days to end its life. Why, I cannot say.
Before they cut it down, its massive bole measured nearly 6 feet across, and judging by information I’ve read, that mighty oak was in the neighborhood of 300 years old, and was probably already massive on June 25, 1956, the day I was born.
Age has been on my mind of late, because today I am 60, and although I could never be confused with a mighty oak, it’s hard not to reflect on this milestone and wonder how much longer until I am cut down.
A friend told me the other day, “Cheer up! 60 is the new 30!” and who knows, maybe she’s right. I know it really sounds good, but I have to say that I’ve done 30 — twice in fact — and I sure don’t feel 30 anymore.
Milestone years seem to pack a bigger wallop. I’m only one day older today than I was yesterday, but it’s that zero at the end of the accounting that always gives me pause. I can recall (vaguely) being 20, 30, 40, 50, and now 60.
I remember looking forward to 20 because it made me feel like an adult, though I didn’t realize then that I still had the mind of a child. Age 30 rocked me back a little, but 40, strangely, didn’t bother me. Hitting 50 made me think of myself as “half a century old,” which wasn’t necessarily a pleasant thought.
And now 60, and a grandfather, six times over!
People sometimes ask me, “How’s it feel to be a grandfather?” and I’ll respond with a question of my own, “Is your grandfather still alive?” Most will answer “no,” and then I’ll say, “Well, there’s your answer to how it feels!”
My best friend always says she appreciates my “sardonic wit,” while at the same time chiding me to look on the bright side. I’ll sometimes counter her optimism by reminding her of the card I sent years ago. “It’s always darkest before it goes pitch black,” it said. We’ll both laugh then, and I’ll feel better despite a habitually bleak outlook that somehow comes naturally to me.
I need to brace up, open my presents and wait for the phone calls from children and grandchildren to come rolling in. There won’t be a birthday cake this year; too much sugar that I don’t need, and besides, that many candles might start a prairie fire.
What I think I’ll do is pocket my flask and take a short drive to the end of the road. I’ll raise a final toast to a life well lived, then pour a tipple onto the battered stump of another old soul, and silently mourn a death too soon.