I turn fifty today. Not sure I thought I would ever see this day. I am also pretty sure there are plenty of people that “took the under” and are now out of the betting pool on whether I would ever hit that number as well. As I look back over the last half century I can truly say that I am blessed. I have great family and more loyal friends than a person should be allowed to have. If there is anyone luckier than me, I don’t know who they are.
I was able to grow up in a place where everyone knew each other and the world didn’t move so damn fast, which has undoubtedly help me navigate life. I had the luxury of summer nights on the porch swing listening to cassettes on a boom box. I traded baseball with friends while playing whiffle ball and riding bikes all day until the street lights came on at night. I remember thinking we were rich when we got an Atari 2600 for Christmas. I had great teachers in school (I won’t name all of them here but they know who they are) and had the greatest grandparents in the world as well as a Mom and Dad that taught me many life lessons. They remain some of the hardest working people I know –even to this day. They did everything they could to make sure my brother, sisters and I had a chance to make it in this world and have an opportunity do better than them.
There have been lots of ups and downs in this first fifty. Graduated from Eastern Illinois University (A place I love dearly to this day) with an undergraduate and Master’s degree. Got married. Got divorced (because sometimes you aren’t as good at something as you wanted to be--- and hopefully get better and learn from it). Some of my best days so far in life have been the ones where I had the opportunity to rescue dogs and bring them out of the harshness of the shelter to a true forever home. I have been able to travel all over the country and see some incredible places (Everyone should see the ocean, The Vegas Strip and Bourbon Street at least once). I wouldn’t change or trade any of these experiences. They have all shaped who I am today.
I work at a place I love (Western Illinois University for 27 years now) in a community I love (Macomb). I have worked for, and with, some of the most unbelievable individuals you could ever ask to sound yourself around. Truly incredible professionals and human beings. The people here are the best, and I consider myself fortunate to count many as my dear friends.
I have had the chance to watch two game clinching World Series in person (2006 and 2011 Cardinals) and attended three Final Fours. I had the opportunity to work St. Louis Rams Training camp for nine years, as well as work two Super Bowls for them (XXXIV and XXXVI) during their Greatest Show on Turf years. Truly a life changing experience.
I have plenty to be proud of and lots of regrets as well. I have been able to experiences some great accomplishments. I have also made some pretty bad decisions along the way and said plenty of stupid things. There are lots of nights and words that I would like to have back over the years. Too many times my demons have been on the winning side against my better angels. I apologize for all those times. Hopefully I have learned from them. I appreciate that for the most part people have accepted my unvarnished way of communicating as well as my unorthodox style of going about things. Friends rationalize this by saying you are “One of a kind” while others think you are a little closer to being a Jackass. Both are probably technically correct depending on the day.
As I move to the next part of this journey, I will hopefully make it to retirement, start a second career, become a better golfer, cook a little more, read a little more, and go to more baseball games (and more Baseball Parks) with friends. I still plan on enjoying spiced rum, Cuban cigars and a pretty smile aimed my way. Maybe I will write on this blog more often (or start a Podcast). I am not a big “Bucket List” guy but I would like to punch my attendance card at the Kentucky Derby and the Masters in Augusta before I become food for worms. The older I get the more I appreciate the little things like the smell of fresh cut grass, Sunday brunch, walking the dog, or just sitting on the deck solving all the world’s problems with friends. Speaking of the world---It has become a lot more complicated now days than it was in the first half of my life.
I know I need to be a better son, brother, uncle and friend going forward. I don’t want to mess that up in the back half of what I have left. I really don’t want to bury any more dogs, but I sure plan on rescuing as many as I can. Max, Maddie, Charlie, and Ruby have been true gifts in my life. Maybe I will travel a little bit (just not outside of the country) and get in a little better shape. I, for sure, will continue to enjoy pizza, steaks, and good BBQ. Not matter what, I will definitely be better at telling those close to me how much I love them (I have learned you really can’t say that enough and that I don’t say it enough)
As I celebrate this milestone today (surrounded with friends) smoking a hand rolled cigar, with Ruby by my side, that I will look back fondly on the first fifty, and be thankful for all the good things in my life. I will, undoubtedly, be nostalgic and emotional over making it this far and for the embarrassment of riches afforded me along the way. I have sort of had a “George Bailey” type of life. A Wonderful Life.
For all of you that bet against me getting to the first fifty I will let you go double or nothing on me reaching one hundred. Don’t count me out. I think I would make a great centurion. Just the right amount of caustic wit, biting sarcasm, and wicked sense of humor to remain interesting, if not relevant, for another fifty years (or maybe I will just become a crotchety old guy like the two Muppets in the balcony). Thanks to all of you that have made my life so special. You mean more to me than I let you know (I will try to do better about that). I love you all. I am now on the clock to aim for one hundred. Place your bets.
“The Older the Violin, The Sweeter the Music”