A Beach Bum Looks at 50 … 7 days

50 In a week.  Before that, there’ll be a hell of a party, but next Wednesday is the official day.  Still, I don’t see that this is any more of a milestone birthday than any other.  No really.

Other than the fact that I’m getting all manner of mail from the AARP, and I might actually want to retire some day, but not anytime soon.  I’m not even sure how effective they are as a lobbying group any more.  Maybe it’s just for the discounts.  But I’m still far more of a late dinner guy than an early-bird special aficionado.  Sometimes I’m not having lunch much before 4:00.

So, I think I’ll embrace 50.  It’s just a number, after all.  A way to keep score.  Perhaps a good time to take stock, reflect a bit, but no reason to get all maudlin and weepy.  As I said before, I’ve already done so many of the things that guys do after turning 50 that I’ll just keep on rolling along.

As I wrote yesterday, I’ve been trying to remember some of the things that happened in my childhood … elementary school … just being a kid.  There’s not a lot there.  They say that’s what comes back when the mad cow disease (as they call Alzheimer’s’ on “Boston Legal”) starts to take hold.  My youngest sister swears she can remember vividly things from when she was that age, but not so much me.  There are flashes.  More like still images burnt into my brain.

There is one from pre-school.  Kindergarten, I think.  Just a fuzzy hint of me sitting at a little lift-top desk, next to Mike Sallee.  He and I were pretty good friends all the way through high school … but then he roomed with Doug, Greg Alter, and Carl Swope in college, and I kind of got left out of that group.  I took a random roommate for Freshman year, and roomed with Doug’s brother Charlie Sophomore year … which in retrospect was a mistake.  But I’m getting WAY ahead of myself.  Don’t you just love free association?

I have some of the same vague, fuzzy images of Catholic school, grades 1-4, at St. Vincent de Paul.  Most of those are of marching into the church … a mini-cathedral built of (guess what) limestone.  I don’t remember any particular teacher.  The priest was Father Weinsapple, as I recall, and I don’t remember getting whacked by any of the nuns.  I do remember going to church 6 days a week, which may be one of the reasons I don’t have a lot of interest in going today.  That, and I just can’t accept the Catholic dogma, but that’s another post.

I remember walking to Parkview Elementary in the 5th and 6th grade … with at least some uphill both ways and in the snow when it snowed.  It was probably about a mile or a little more over to the school.  The junior high was right next door … just a little further to the east.  The only teacher I honestly remember from those days was my 6th grade teacher … Larry Lafferty.  He was (is) tall, with freckles and a shock of red hair.  He must have been just out of school when he came to teach my 6th grade class, because as far as I know, he’s still there.  I saw him at my sister’s funeral 3 years ago, and he looked pretty much like he had when I was 10 … just a bit older.  Not a lot, really.  I don’t know if that’s because he’s aged very well, or I just thought he looked really old when I was 10.  Either way, he was a great guy, and a good teacher.

I guess I was an OK student.  I don’t think I excelled at much, but I know I got decent grades, and other kids thought I was smart.  At least that’s the impression I got.  I was always musical.  Dad taught me to play the ukulele at about 6, and I got my first guitar shortly after that.  I can still remember learning a few basic chords.  On a uke, they’re easy.  a “G’ chord only uses one finger, a “C” chord just two.  “A” and “D” are tough at 3, and an “F” takes a bridge across the “E” and “B” strings.  But back in the day, my fingers were pretty supple, and I played pretty well.

Everyone always told me I had a lot of musical talent, and I suppose I did.  Still do, really.  But like so many, I squandered it.  I played by ear.  Everything.  It was too easy to hear something and in about 10 minutes have the basic chord progressions down that I never wanted to work at it.  It frustrated dad no end.  At one point, he wanted me to practice so much that he said “I’ll buy you any guitar you want if you’ll learn to play 6 scales”.  It should have taken me about a week, and I’d have had a genuine Les Paul or Fender Stratocaster or a Martin Superdreadnaught.  But I couldn’t be bothered.

Oh, I started.  I can still play about 4 of those scales, including a “G” scale in broken thirds.  But I never finished.

It was the same with the piano.  My oldest sister still carries a bit of a grudge because of it.  She’d worked and worked and worked with sheet music on “Color My World”, a Chicago tune that was immensely popular at the time.  We were teenagers by this time, and I listened to her play it for probably days.  Then, one afternoon, I sat down and played it in about an hour.  My family tells me she’s still pissed about it, and I think they’re only half joking.

Summers were spent at The Lake, about which I’ve written a lot.  We swam, and boated, and canoed, and snorkled, and fished.  Before the 50th actually comes around, I’ll tell you about learning to drive the boat, to sail, to water ski … so many good memories from The Lake.

I had an OK relationship with my dad.  For a while, some of his friends would hunt, and he took me along.  My sisters were jealous of my getting to spend that time with him, but I know he was always fonder of the girls than me.  I remember getting up early, and trying to dress warmly to be out in the field.  He’d bought me a .410 gauge shotgun … and we reloaded most of our own shells in the basement.  Thinking about it know, I remember the first pheasant I shot.  Our bird dog Sam, working with Jack Moon’s dog, flushed it out and I shot first.  That little .410 wouldn’t knock down a bird that size, but they said I hit it first, so they credited me with the kill.  At that age, it made me feel really good.  I hunted for a long time, both with dad, and later with friends.  But along the way somewhere I lost the killer instinct.  It hasn’t affected my fishing, however.

Another vague memory is spending a weekend on Dr. Wilhite’s houseboat down on the Ohio River.  Another of my big adventures with Dad.  I don’t recall much about it other than trying for the first time to sleep on a boat in the water with river traffic throwing a lot of wake.  I think I did OK.

I guess I remember more than I thought.  And that’s a good thing.

I think I’ll leave it there for this post.  It’s a lot.  I hope I’ll have time to write this weekend … but we’re having that big hoo-hah of a party Saturday, and I might not have a lot of time.  Still, if I go into “A Beach Bum Looks At 50 + 2 or 3 … well, what are milestone birthdays for, anyway.



1 Comment

Filed under 50, Birthday, Dad, Kenray Lake, Music, Nostalgia, Thoughts

One response to “A Beach Bum Looks at 50 … 7 days

  1. Carl Swope

    Amazing how these search engines work. Put in your name and you find out how famous you are! Hi, Tom. Remember me? Well of course you do; I’m one of the guys that “left you out”, though that’s not how I remember it.

    I’ve really enjoyed looking through your missives even though I was truly the outsider in all this. I just remember spend a little time at “The Lake” and really enjoying the Patton cabin. It was livelier than the Kaderabek cabin and had better water.


    p.s. 50 something is great! Welcome

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