Fifty years of good fortune, deserved and otherwise

tredagar iron works

I have absolutely no recollection of the event, but I know exactly where I was 50 years ago today: In a Catholic hospital in San Luis Obispo, Calif., being born. At least, that’s the story I’ve been fed over the years.

Since I don’t put much stock in the idea of changelings, I’ve gone along with this line and must say the first five decades have been interesting, perhaps even more so for those who have found themselves forced into extended proximity with me for an extended period.

The old phrase “Some are confused, others bitter” often seemed to best sum up the effect one was left with after a stint with yours truly. It might be added, however, that with the confusion and bitterness nearly always came no small amount of entertainment.

Highlights over the first 50 years (none of which are recommended):

  • A narrow escape from Mexico after trashing a hotel room with friends, ala The Who. It would be nearly a decade before I returned South of the Border, for which Mexican authorities were likely quite grateful;
  • Getting my first and only tattoo in North Hollywood, Calif., the night before the 1994 World Cup final, without telling my then-wife. She learned about it when I got home and found a small pamphlet titled “How to Care for Your Tattoo” while cleaning out my travel bag. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth afterward, all of it on my part;
  • Shooting out the back window of a fraternity brother’s car with a pistol because I wanted to see “if the gun worked.” Fortunately for me, the vehicle was DOA anyway and ended up being towed away. Overall, the less said about college the better;
  • Catching a cotton rat, and then losing it in my house for a week before finding it in a pile of dirty clothes;
  • Spending a night in a Durham, N.H., hoosegow after having been “overserved” at a local drinking establishment, then sitting in said jail cell between two knuckleheads who spent the better part of two hours yelling at each other about who was tougher. Talk about an experience that made me particularly proud of my life choices; and
  • The “Hull, Quebec, Incident,” details of which will remain unspecified for the sake of all involved.

There are others – too many to detail, sadly – but you get the drift.

Fortunately, for all the dozens of stupid, inane and half-witted decisions I’ve made, I’ve gotten a few things right.

Some were out of my control, such as being born of loving parents. Others were blind luck, such as after my divorce I stumbled upon a wonderful woman who is now my wife. And then there is the good fortune that one can only chalk up to Providence, such as being blessed with wonderful children, whose goodness and love helps me to realize that no matter how difficult things can be – and they have been very difficult at times – there is always something for which to be thankful.

So, while I’d wager that the next 50 years will almost certainly contain far few hijinks and shenanigans, I’ll also guarantee that they’ll be more fulfilling and rewarding.

As the old saw goes, “Even a blind hog finds an acorn once in a while.” The good news is that this blind hog has finally wised up to the fact that he’s got a pretty good deal.

(Top: Photo of Daughters 2, 3, 4 and 5 at Tredegar Iron Works in Richmond, Va., last summer on a vacation arranged by their history buff father. Not surprisingly, they were good sports.)

When Cain and Abel joined Adam and Eve at the Last Supper

Last supper

My girls and I have done a bit of traveling lately to an array of creeks, lakes and rivers, for fishing, swimming, exploring and generally enjoying the summer weather. I, having tired of the same-old traveling game of who can irritate whom the most effectively, of which all four seem equally adept, took it upon myself to introduce our form of Jeopardy.

Initial categories were the main subjects of my younger daughters (a rising 9th grader, two rising 8th graders and a rising 6th grader): English, science, math and social studies.

After a couple of games, I found myself having to improvise as I was beginning to struggle to find the right mix between what my kids knew and what I thought they might know. When questions such as “Name any of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina” and “Define the term ‘heliocentric’” began to draw blanks all the way around, I figured I probably needed to dial it down.

But first it was time for a little fun.

A little more than a year ago, I wrote of Daughter No. 3’s bible acumen, or lack thereof. She’s sharp as a tack, an excellent writer and is on the advanced track at her school. However, it should also be noted that she is far, far down the recruiting chart for the local chapter of the Sisters of Perpetual Prayer.

Daughter No. 3, you may or may not recall, is the one who described Adam and Eve as having fallen victim to “Forbidden Fruit Theory” – which involved, according to her, the pair eating poisonous peaches in the Garden of Eden.

So, guessing my 13-year old’s bible knowledge hadn’t increased markedly over the past year, I announced we’d play another game of Jeopardy, but with different categories.

“All right,” I announced, “the categories are: The Old Testament, the New Testament, Geography of the Bible, Translating the Bible over the Centuries, and Major and Minor Prophets.

Daughter No. 3 was seated in the front passenger seat and I as I drove: I could see her expression out of the corner of my eye. It could best be described as dumbfounded dismay, with her face crinkling up like a balled-up newspaper.

“Caroline,” I said to her, “you want to go first?”

She proceeded to give me one of those looks. Head titled down, eyes peering up, slight frown on face. “I don’t think so, dad. That’s not Jeopardy – that’s all bible stuff!”

“So? What’s wrong with having questions about the bible? They have bible questions on the real Jeopardy, right?”

“Yeah, but not every category! You can’t have every question be about the bible. It’s not fair.”

I looked at her for a moment with a smile. “You only think it’s unfair because you don’t know much about the bible, right?”

“I know some things,” she responded (apparently at least one word in nearly every teen’s sentence has to be heavily emphasized).

“Really,” I replied. “Well, let’s see what you know.”

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