Mid-December in Gilbert, Arizona, is normally characterized by beautiful weather. Usually in the mid-70s, leaves still on the trees, green lawns, and people in a festive mood. With the hot weather in the rear view mirror and the holidays just around the corner, what’s there to not be happy about this time of year? This day is my 65th birthday, yet another reason to be happy on this December Arizona day.
As we travel down the road in my ’96 Dodge pickup, my son Max asks, “Are ya feeling old today, Dad?”
“Not really,” I reply.
You see, a guy my age is kind of like this pickup. Lots of miles, a little rough on the outside, but the motor is still running like a champ. As I am saying that, I am thinking to myself that the big difference is this: I have owned this truck for a long time, and always changed the oil like clockwork. Motor should keep chugging right along, right? On the other hand, I have to admit that I maybe didn’t do that well with my year-1952, 5-foot-5 body. Seems like I spent the first half of my life trying to kill myself doing stupid things and, hopefully, a long second half trying to stay alive and live longer. Nevertheless, I hope that my mostly-healthy lifestyle and supplements will negate the missed oil changes in my early years.
“You really don’t look that old, Dad,” said my daughter Kelli, who was riding in the back seat.
Since her nick name is Binks, I replied, “Oh, thanks Binks. You are too nice as always.”
As we pass by Greenfield Elementary School, I decide to toss out a little fatherly wisdom: “Look at that, kids. Seems like just yesterday when you two went to school there. Binks, you’re 29, and Max, you’re 27. Can you believe how time flies?”
They both shook their heads agreeing with me just to keep me happy. Sensing that this wasn’t really sinking in with them, I decided to bring the truck back into the conversation for a life-changing analogy: “OK, guys, think about it this way. Old Red here has almost 300,000 miles on him. Just think if all those 300,000 miles were on a lonesome highway with never stopping, and the same scenery going from point A to point B. Talk about a boring life for a truck. If it had feelings, it would be devastated for having wasted its whole life going from point A to point B with nothing in between. Luckily for Red, that’s not the case. Old Red here has seen a lot in those 300,000 miles. Everything from hauling you guys around as you were growing up, to going to horse sales, and everything in between. If only Red could talk, I think he would tell us it’s been a pretty good life so far.”
Bingo—that seemed to have struck a chord with both of them.
Binks responded by saying, “Yeah, Dad, some of the old people on Facebook say it’s the journey, not the destination. Is that what you’re getting at?”
“Yeah,” I replied.
Then Max tactfully said, “I guess you think of life that way as you get older, huh Dad?”
“That’s right,” I replied. “The real secret, though, is not to wait until you’re my age to look at life that way. But start living your life one day at a time, and enjoying your accomplishments and experiences along the way. Start thinking of your life as stories. Good or bad, every experience in your life is a story. Learn to use the bad ones to grow stronger, and remember to savor the good ones to live a fulfilled life. And never forget, it’s in your hands to create as many good life stories as you possibly can. That’s my advice to you guys.”
“Sounds good,” they replied.
Not sure if that sunk in, but they are smart. I pulled into the driveway and, as we were getting out of the truck, I said, “Love you guys,” as they headed into the house and I started walking out to the barn.
The barn and my horses are sort of my sanctuary. I spend most of my time out there cleaning stalls, training horses, giving lessons, and simply enjoying a cowboy lifestyle that I have cherished since I was a little kid. I do some of my best creative thinking and reflecting when I am in this element. On this day, my birthday, it’s no different. I sit down on a bale of hay and just start gazing and thinking. What did I do in life to be this lucky? I really do not deserve everything this life has done for me. Sure, there have been rough stories along the way, but I learned and became stronger from them. And the good stories are so many I can’t even begin to count.
And look where I am at today.
I have been married to my wife and best friend for over 33 years. Daphne was the pillar in raising Kelli and Max, and the main character in some of my best life stories. Everybody is proud of their kids, but in my biased opinion, our two kids turned out pretty well. Humble, successful, and also the main characters in some of my best life stories. In fact, instead of stickers plastered on my truck saying “My Kid is an A Student,” I have one that says, “My Kid Spent 2 Years in Third Grade Because
He Liked It So Much.” (Just kidding.)
As the horses start whinnying for their dinner, I snap out of it, stand up from sitting on my bale of hay, feed the horses, and head to the house. As the sun starts to go down, the temperature drops pretty fast. As I look at the orange Arizona sunset, I remind myself of how miserable it must be in Colorado right now with freezing temperatures. A great place to grow up, and to help me appreciate Arizona winters. And yet another reason to be thankful.
As usual, I am running a little late as I walk into the house and everybody is there waiting for me to get ready and leave for a birthday dinner at Rustler’s Rooste. The Rooste is my birthday tradition. It sits up on a pointe on the east end of South Mountain. It’s a tourist trap, but the atmosphere is just-me rustic, and a lot of western décor. Tonight’s even more special since Tenley, who is just under 3 years old, will be able to go down the slide with her dad Mark for the very first time. You see, when you enter the restaurant, you have a choice of going down the stairs to your table, or taking the 20-foot slide. Unless it’s a grown-up who spent too much time at the bar, the usual takers are kids.
So here we are at the Rooste. Kelli, her husband Mark, daughter Tenley, Max, Daphne and birthday boy all ready for the festivities. Tenley loves the slide, and we are escorted to our private table. The waiter in his cheesy western attire suddenly appears. What really stands out is his official Kenny Chesney cowboy hat—quite impressive. He takes our order and we settle in listening to the country-western band with granddaughter Tenley getting all of the attention. After dinner, the balloon guy comes to our table and makes Tenley a Mickey Mouse balloon for a meager tip of $20. Hey, they know you will pay anything for making a kid, wife, or girlfriend happy, right?
After all the waiters and waitresses get through singing happy birthday for probably the 50th time that night, we are ready to pack up and hit the road. Everybody wishes me happy birthday, then Kelli says: “Oh, by the way, Dad, I was on Facebook, and a lady about your age posted: In our day, social media was talking with each other around a dinner table face-to-face and enjoying stories and conversation. So, after listening to all your wisdom this afternoon, Max, Mom, and I talked and think it’s a great idea for you to start telling us all of your life stories from the very beginning. If that will make you happy, it should also make us happy, right? In fact, since we have family dinner every Sunday night, you can just tell your stories then, just like in the old days when they didn’t have social media, or electricity (laughing). How does that sound?”
“Book it,” I said.
What a great way to share my life stories. Sure, they have heard a lot of them before, but hey, this should be a lot of fun.
“OK then,” I said. “I accept, and we can get started Sunday.”
This has to be the best birthday present ever.