Counting life by tens

When it’s a new year, we look forward. When it’s a new year, especially one that ends in zero, some of us look back. I’m a backward gazer.

January 1970

I was a toddler, about a year away from starting my first job. It’s possible farm kids enter the workforce sooner. My first job entailed sitting on a rock and calling the cows down from the pasture at milking time. I did such a good job of it, I was promoted to jobs with more responsibility. I regretted that none of these higher jobs involved sitting down.

toy tractor

1970: Already working with tractors.

January 1980

I was in 7th grade. My father died in 1976, so we no longer operated the farm. I was excited for the 1980 Winter Olympic in Lake Placid. It was a big deal having the Olympics in our state. On weekends, they showed Nordic events on TV. Afterward, I would put on my skis to race around the perimeter of the cornfield. I wore my watch so I could try to beat my best time.

Becoming an Olympic biathlete was my sports dream, but it never had a shot. We didn’t have any ski clubs and there was no Internet to help find such things. I just skied around the field, enjoying the dream for what it was.

January 1990

I had graduated college the spring before and moved to Los Angeles. I quickly discovered that my freshly printed degree in Video Production was an express ticket to working retail sales in that town. I worked in the Glendale Galleria, selling personalized mugs and engraving glass and metal. Beginning at minimum wage, I was bumped up to $6/hour when I became a competent engraver.

I was at a drive-through ATM one day when my car began to shake. The ATM screen promised me I had no money for repairs, but after a minute the car calmed down. I drove home fearing a breakdown, but the car behaved. Turning on the TV, I breathed relief at learning it was only an earthquake.

It was around New Year’s, 1990, when my mother called to tell me she had cancer. She played it down and assured me everything would be all right. I believed her, because when your mom says it will be all right, you make yourself believe her. You make yourself believe her for as long as you can.

Lost cause

1990: My Los Angeles office/dining room.

January 2000

We survived Y2K; that was good. California and a few other sojourns were long past. I was already working the same job I have now; a fact that gives me pause. I was single and living in a tiny loft apartment. I wouldn’t meet my wife for two more years.

After years of fits and starts, I started to take writing more seriously. I submitted a novel to POD company, not realizing how immature the writing of a 32-year-old could be. I don’t know if blogs existed yet. I certainly hadn’t heard of them.

January 2010

I had a kid! I owned a house! Not to mention the whole marriage thing. After years of assuming I would grow old in my little apartment with a growing pile of unpublished manuscripts (my version of cats), I had people around me to help me grow old. (I mean that in a good, easing sort of way – mostly).

I’d worked for the same employer for 10 years, which felt kind of odd. Who does that? But there was more waiting for me at home than edits and rewrites, so things were good. I would start this blog within the next two years.

Florida vacation

2010: Father of one. Since children 2 and 3, I don’t get to sit so comfortably anymore.

January 2020

I have three kids now – still only one wife. I have published three more books, all so much better than that first one. This blog is eight years old. I hope it has a few more years in it. Tonight, I will coach 6th grade basketball practice, which is just one of the many cherished privileges my children have offered me.

And now you’re all caught up.

P.S. Almost forgot. I have a cell phone now. I held out for decades, but you know how we young fellows are susceptible to peer pressure.



Winter dreams

These are the first winter Olympics that my eldest son will be old enough to understand. I hope we can have some fun watching them together. I predict that his favorite sport will be bobsled because the Germans traditionally succeed in it. He’s a big fan of Germany right now.

First time on skis

My son’s first time on skis – two years ago. He was representing the country of Spiderman that day.

Having owned a pair of cross country skis since childhood, I’ve always preferred the winter Olympics. They inspired my youth like no other sporting event. I loved baseball and basketball, but was a mediocre player. As a skier, I had no peers for comparison; for all I knew, I was pretty good.

I was 12 during the Lake Placid Olympics. They were happening just a few hours away from where I lived. Most Americans remember Lake Placid (if they remember it) for the Miracle on Ice. I remember it as the time when “skating” became a controversial new technique in Nordic skiing. (It’s called Nordic skiing because that makes it sound Norwegian, and nothing is cooler to a cross country skier than pretending to be Norwegian.)

There was a corn field behind my house. Every day I would put on my skis and my wristwatch and do laps around that field. The winter Olympics and the growing season don’t conflict, so I didn’t have to slalom through any stalks. Every day I would mark my time. The next day I would try to beat it.

Corn fields aren’t the most professional of courses, but it didn’t matter. It also didn’t matter that I was routinely followed by a German Shepherd who made his own sport of stepping on the back of my skis as I went. What mattered was that I got faster. For a few minutes every day, I could dream of becoming the first American to win gold in any Nordic event.

Ski brigade

Hard as it is to believe, these guys didn’t win any gold medals either. (Image: Detroit Publishing Co.)

It was a forlorn dream. By the time I caught my breath I realized that. I had no friends who skied. My school didn’t even have a football team. The idea of a ski team would have sent the community into fits of hysteria. This corn field was the best training ground I would ever have. Being in the same state as Lake Placid was as close to the Olympics as I would ever get. I always knew that, but I still raced myself, because sometimes just having a dream is enough.

I hope my son and I can catch some of the Nordic skiing on TV this year. It’s kind of hard to do, between the non-stop figure skating and the novelty of a few hours of curling – a sport that allows us to scratch our heads and say, “Really, Canada? You thought this would be a good sequel to hockey? WTF?”

Maybe after we watch, I’ll take him outside with his skis. Maybe he’ll be inspired to dream a little dream. If not, that’s okay. I’ll dream one for him. I’ll dream I’m skiing alongside the first American ever to win Olympic gold in a cross country race.