Today is my birthday, marking 85 years spent on this planet. As is my habit, I will attend my water aerobics class (they have promised me jazz music today) and then head off to Koto's Japanese Restaurant for my annual birthday lunch of as much Sushi as I can eat. I was their first customer several years ago.
As many people my age remark: "I didn't expect to make it this far." My heroes (Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr, John Coltrane, and others ) passed away in the middle of their productive years and I expected to follow them. But it didn't happen that way.
A lot has transpired during a long lifetime. In my youth in Brooklyn these hot summer days found windows open, people sitting in them and on stoops, radios blaring, kids outside, playing under street lights because it was too hot to be inside.
New inventions came along faster than most people in my neighborhood could afford to purchase them. Refrigerators replaced ice boxes, air-conditioning replaced fans, radios and phonographs saw constant change, and once television arrived everybody remained indoors after dinnertime. Three people on my block had cars.
In the '60s civil rights and voting rights bills were passed following demonstrations, marches and protests across the nation. For a while my weekly activities included attending a demonstration or taping a Malcolm X speech for WBAI-FM.
Sometime this week I will take Sammi over to the McCrorey property on Grand Isle and he will get a rare chance to run and behave like a real dog. On birthdays before Larry McCrorey passed away in 2009 I would come over and Larry, Virginia and I, drinks in hand, would read poetry written by ourselves and others and laugh a lot. I miss those days.
Life has been good so far and continues to be. In younger days I hiked up and down 33 of the Adirondack peaks and many miles along Vermont's Long Trail. I took canoeing trips down the Fulton Lakes, on Lake George (some before motorcraft were allowed on the lake), and in Maine. Studied Judo (Took First Place in my last Judo contest at the age of 47), and played tennis every Thursday night until my hip gave way.
Like many folks my age I have put together a bucket list of sorts. Dave Buchholz fulfilled my boat ride wish with a personally guided tour around Auger Lake in early August. Still on the list are a horseback ride on a kind and gentle horse, a real good piece of Prime Rib (bone attached), another poetry reading, complete a painting of Larry and me, listen to some live jazz somewhere, play a game of bid whist, and more.
The most memorable parts of a long life are the discoveries made along the way. I watched Science Fiction turn into reality when men travelled 238,657 miles to leave their footsteps on our closest planet.
For years manned space stations maintained an orbit 205-270 miles above the Earth and probes to Mars and Jupiter reached their marks. How exciting to a mind that still appreciates discovery. But even with those applaudable accomplishments humans still have wars – at least six of them so far during my lifetime with no end in sight. It is sad that with all the progress humans have made we don't seem to know how to celebrate peace.
A lot of growing old is memories. Friends I have made across the country. Past girlfriends. The touch of a woman's lips to mine. Backyard birthday parties in Lynwood. Sitting in a press box at the Playboy Jazz Festival for 12 years. Trolley cars. Purchasing ice, fish and vegetables from a horse and wagon. Having milk delivered to our doorstep. My grandfather being proud to be a member of the Republican Party.
There is still much to accomplish, but my house has grown too big for me and with the diminished energy that comes with old age I haven't figured out how to keep it up and still find time for writing, painting and stained glass art.
On this day, I thank those of you who have become my friends. You know who you are. I hope you too enjoy my birthday.
Ken Wibecan lives in Plattsburgh, N.Y. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.