“Blessed” is not a word I often use, the religious connotation is too strong for me. That said, I am extra blessed by the people around me and the place we all share. I live in a community where I feel supported and loved and encouraged. I’m surrounded by a landscape that offers both solace and challenge, raw beauty and man’s imprint, a contrast that only enriches our experience. I am a fortunate 70-year old man.
Saturday night, I was surprised by a birthday party on the Island in Marshall. I was totally oblivious to the months of planning and truly shocked when I walked through the door. After catching my breath and bearings, I was immediately struck by the diversity of people in the room. People I have known for my full forty-four years in the county, the older newcomers and locals, and many young people I’ve met in the last ten years who are the future of our county. It was a wonderful and heartening mix.
I can only say thank you to everyone who came out on the coldest night of our recent record-breaking cold spell, risking freezing pipes and cold houses. My only regret was not being able to speak with everyone, but please know I did see everyone and love that you were there.
There are people in my life who I couldn’t manage without. They put this party together – Leslie, Kate and Justin, Paul and Laurie, Joe and Janet, my brother Mark and his wife Marisa who traveled from Maryland, and their daughter Lily and her partner Joe (who win the prize for traveling the farthest, Philadelphia.) Newer friend Ricky Pumphrey, and one of my oldest and dearest friends, John Rountree. Thank you.
I’ve been saying that 70 got my attention in a way that 60 or 50 didn’t. I don’t feel differently than I did two weeks ago at age 69 and during the party people kept telling me how good I look for my age. But with the average life expectancy for white men in our country at 76 years, the reality is I’m officially old. 2018 marks my 45th year in Madison County, almost 65% of my life in this very special place. My deep and heartfelt thanks to all of you who have made my life the incredible journey it has been.
I don't do many selfies although photographers will tell you their photographs are mostly about themselves. But today is my 70th birthday, despite what Facebook may tell you, and I felt I deserved a selfie or two. I needed to look at myself more closely at this age and then subsequently decided that you viewers needed to see me too.
The wrinkles amaze me although I certainly not one of those people who thought they would never appear. They have and I do delight in flexing my arms and hands and legs so I can then watch the wrinkles dance in time to whatever tune I'm humming. Part of the 70-year old package is being easily entertained.
I look at my feet a lot because of my diabetes and my doctor tells me they are doing well. I had some burning for a time, but vitamin B12 and cannabis cream in the morning have done the trick.
I've just given up on my belly. Except for the hair I'm proud to say I can mimic most any pregnancy.
My head remains gnarly, probably more so since any of you last looked at it. What has interested me are the strands of hair sprouting up there like a badly seeded lettuce patch. Normally, I would shave these random, longish growths, but I'm finding I like them. I've decided there's memory in them of long ago, but not so long ago, too. Memories of a wrinkle-free, painless, no itchy skin, hairy time.
When I meet new people I usually get around to asking them how they got here. What was the route they took with their life that brought them from wherever, California, Georgia, the upper Midwest, to here, Madison County? I get a variety of answers mostly having to do with getting out of the rat race, wanting something smaller and slower, or perhaps to be closer to children who have settled here. Legitimate reasons all.
My great-grandparents, Caterina and Vincenzo, had three children in the small Sicilian village of Lentini. Their two sons, Giuseppe and Carlo, left as teenagers for the United States and never returned to Sicily and never saw their family again. Their daughter stayed behind to care for the elders, which is the Italian way.
I think about this kind of stuff a lot, probably more often than I should readily admit. But I'm taken with our goings and comings, as individuals and as cultures. It's not something new to humans, we've always moved and migrated to lands new to us. Places we liked better. Or places with more opportunities. Or places, as Nilsson said, "where the weather suits your clothes." I understand the motivation. It's what brought me here, the desire to be in a place I perceived to be better than where I grew up, or anywhere else for that matter.
Yet I also wonder about those left behind. Caterina and Vincenzo without their sons, my parents when their children left home, and perhaps us, as our children look to new places. We are a fortunate people with our ability to choose. It isn't the case for most people.
I'm not sure what to say about this.
On the one hand I want to believe that no one owns the land.
That it belongs to all of us and
we should all have access to it.
On the other hand I believe that we DO own our piece of land.
And with that ownership comes rights and responsibilities
that we try our best to attend to.
One of those rights is being able to decide who can and cannot hunt on our property..
And for twenty years we've let a friend and his sons hunt on our land.
No one else.
The reasoning is simple.
It's about safety.
It's about respect.
It's about stewardship.
I often hear there are fewer and fewer places where one can hunt.
That nowadays the majority of landowners have posted their property.
"That's not how we used to do it," some say.
"That land never used to be posted.
It ain't fair.
I've been walkin' and huntin' up there my whole life."
I would argue that many people new to the community don't understand
the existing culture and its relationship to the environment.
Others just love the deer and don't want them shot.
And others, perhaps like us, would simply
like to have our rights respected for our safety and
the safety of the hunters who steward our forests with us.
So Here's a Thought
When Kate was fourteen she was called to order in Phys. Ed. Class for throwing a tampon applicator at Christian Maloney. We don't know why she threw it. Her teacher, Betty Shook, told Kate she was going to call her mother about it. At which point, Kate responded, "That's okay, she'll probably laugh." She was right.
"There is nothing as beautiful as the body of a pregnant woman," he said,
as they went to the garden to make the photograph.
"Well," she said. "Do you want me to whip it out?"
We had a pleasant visit with our niece and her family a couple of weeks ago. Rebecca lives in Indiana, a state we don't visit much, so it was nice to have them stop here on their way to Gatlinburg and Myrtle Beach. Rebecca was the first of my now-deceased sister's children and she just turned 40 years old.
Valle dei Templi, Agrigento, Sicily 2005
Sometimes photographs just come to you.
You see them from across the field,
and you think,
"this is truly a lovely photograph walking towards me."
And they arrive to where you're standing,
And they're just as lovely up close,
And they present themselves,
so direct, so easy.
And you think, "Ah,
the grace of youth."
If you haven't had the opportunity to stop at the old jail in Marshall and participate in the brick project, you should do so. This amazing community art project is all about memory, both community memory, as well as, personal memory. Have your thoughts, your ideas, your likes and desires memorialized on the walls of the renovated jailhouse. This is a great idea from Madison residents Josh Copus and Emily Patrick and I urge everyone to come out, make a brick, say what's on your mind.
Go to https://communitybrick.org/ for scheduling.