Documented: A lifetime of struggling with staying healthy

Life expectancy would grow by leaps and bounds if green vegetables smelled as good as bacon. —Doug Larson, (1923-2017) Wisconsin newspaper editor and columnist.

Struggling to construct a searchable database of my column-writing career has been an eye opener. What I’ve found “stored” in newspaper clippings, photocopies and digital files is a pretty good cross-section of my life. At the very least, it’s a record of what was on my mind once a week which is treasure trove for someone who struggles these days with remembering what was on his mind five minutes ago.

I’ve lamented not working harder at keeping a journal. However, the database project now taking shape has shown me that I just may have unknowingly accomplished something similar with weekly digests spanning some 40 years, many touching on just that topic: staying in shape.

My earliest offering on living healthy, penned and published in 1980 in the Center, Texas, East Texas Light (now the Light and Champion), began: “No meats, sweets, coffee or tea? No wheat, nuts, beans or peas? And no chocolates? What can I eat, doc?”

“All the cauliflower, white bread, and potatoes you want,” Doc Ginn assured me. “And broiled chicken or lamb once a week will curb that purine content in the blood triggering arthritic conditions in a major joint, usually the large toe.”

“Come again doc?”

“Gout,” he replied without hesitation knowing that question was coming.

“That’s an old man’s disease,” I chuckled. “Mmmmm,” was my trusted physician’s reply with a shrug of the shoulder and a smile. “Look doc, I didn’t come here to be insulted.” As if to comfort me, he added, “Gout is a rich man’s disease suffered by King Henry VIII.”

“Still, my colleagues and those previously considered friends laughed, ‘Gout?’ My own children scoffed, ‘Isn’t that what grandpa has?’ Worse, no one was impressed with the King Henry VIII story.”

That piece written during my 32nd summer concluded with, “So after all that eating healthy, I’m still falling apart. I wonder if they serve cheeseburgers at  the nursing home?”

Fourteen summers later while publishing the Boerne Star down in the Texas Hill Country I wrote: “When I turned forty, a friend (or so I thought) gave me a mug proclaiming, ‘After forty, it’s patch. patch, patch.’

“Nothing illustrates that so graphically as Monday morning when my alarm sounds at five, but it doesn’t matter. I’m already awake and have been for an hour.”

“Time was when I rose early to exercise. Surgical repair of failing parts disrupted that routine and, as habits are prone to do, you miss one day then watch years pass. I still think about exercising. But it’s hard with a standing appointment at the clinic, plus bandage, muscle relaxer and liniment bills that keep the drug stores bidding on my business.”

“The worst blow came when the doctor said, ‘You better give up caffeine,’ adding those words I‘ve learned to hate: ‘At your age.’ Withdrawal was awful. I wrung my hands and broke out in cold sweats just smelling the beans roasting. I switched to decaff, but the fake stuff just wasn’t working. I’m back on the real thing again until I get busted.”

“I’d already given up sugar, bread, staying up late, desserts, and fried foods when I read an article at the clinic about how to quit smoking. I was having a nicotine fit thinking about it before it dawned on me—I don’t even smoke!

“Just a lapse in memory, I guess which is one sign of advancing age. I can’t remember the others. With age does come wisdom though. Unfortunately for me, it’s the knowledge that I’m not as young as I used to be.”

With the database almost done and 2019 winding down, I’m acutely aware that “not as young as I used to be” is no longer a relative comparison. Now when I attempt to describe someone by noting, “He’s younger than me,” I have to remember that group is just about everyone.

I’ve abandoned hope on those cheeseburgers at the nursing home for now, but I’m fine with the healthy compromises as long as mornings simply remain difficult.

It’s when I have to give up mornings that I’ll really start to worry.

—Leon Aldridge

Aldridge columns are published in these Texas newspapers: The Center Light and Champion, the Mount Pleasant Tribune,  the Rosenberg Fort Bend Herald, the Taylor Press, and the Alpine Avalanche.

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