A milestone, or just another birthday

“Today is the oldest you’ve ever been, and the youngest you’ll ever be again.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt

Many people regard birthdays ending with a zero as milestones. That’s a title I use for events like the day I graduated from high school, the day I got my first car, or the day I retired. Oh wait, haven’t completed that last one yet.

Honestly, I don’t mind aging. I’m of the opinion that continuing to have birthdays is a good thing—a blessing, and that an optimistic outlook about having birthdays will lead to a long life.

Thinking decade by decade last weekend about the zero-year birthdays with which I’ve been blessed, two or three birthdays are all that really stood out. Truth is, I’m thankful for every one I have been blessed to celebrate.

I’m reasonably sure I had a tenth birthday, but possess no memory of it. I do, however, remember Valentine’s Day as a fourth grader in Mrs. Poe’s class at Seymour (Texas) Elementary. Why Valentine’s Day instead of my birthday? Maybe it was something to do with the little blonde I had big crush on.

Fast forward ten years. Fourth grade quickly became my second year of college at East Texas State University in Commerce sharing a rented house with two of my Mount Pleasant classmates, Ronny Narramore and Gary Cornett. Birthday? I guess, but memories are likely overshadowed by the next year’s birthday—turning 21. Now, that’s a milestone.

Birthday 30 as a blank could have something to do with emotions falling between losing a first child short of his first birthday and celebrating a new daughter within eight months. Thirty was the first birthday I remember thinking getting “old” seemed closer than it had once been.

Forty was a big one. Friends and family heaped three celebrations on my “big Four Oh.” Turning the dreaded 40 made me feel more blessed than anything else. It was also the first time I realized a lot can happen in ten years, and that ten years can go by before you have time to think about it.

50 and 60 were marked with memories of settling into thinking, “Just another birthday. Yesterday, I was one day younger. Tomorrow, I will be one day older.” With each one, however, the ten-year spans were not just fast any more, they were picking up speed like a runaway locomotive.

So, what about 70? I’m proud to say, today is the day. If you’re reading this, chances are I’ve made it. My aforestated philosophies of remaining optimistic and maintaining a humorous outlook as prerequisites for a good life and a long life remain intact. And, today, I’m pretty sure those principles came from my dad whose wisdom on birthdays was, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer to the end you get, the faster it goes.”

I also believe there’s truth in the clichéd adage that age is a state of mind, that we are only as old as we feel. I can report today that 70 doesn’t loom nearly as old as it did when I viewed it on my parents. My goal is 100, which by then will surely be the new 70, and we’ll take a look at things from there.

I’ve been blessed to have known two centenarians while living in Center, Texas. Mattie Dellinger, with whom I worked for many years, lived to see 100 and beyond. She embarked on a journalism career after she was past 50, wrote columns, and hosted a radio show at one point, while reaching 100.

The other was Grover Hicks who saw 100 still driving a car, teaching a Sunday School class, and going wherever she wanted to go.

I knew Miss Grover had celebrated 100 when I saw her in the bank a few days after her milestone birthday. “You missed my 100th birthday party,” she teasingly scolded me. I acknowledged that I had, but apologized, letting her know I didn’t know about the party until I read it in the paper. She smiled and replied, “That’s all right, you can come to my 101st party next year.”

That’s the optimism I hope I have…should I still be doing this at 100.

—Leon Aldridge

(Youngster’s birthday party photo from author’s collection. A birthday party, but not his, in Pittsburg, Texas, about 1950 or ’51. He’s the one behind the table, between the two girls and looking at the camera.)

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion (http://www.lightandchampion.com) and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers (http://www.tribnow.com).

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