That time of year again. This morning withered, bent but not broken, I awoke to bushels of happy birthday wishes scrolling up the screen of this amazing space age cyber gadget one year older than at this time last year, eight years after moving "home" to Arkansas, 62 years after leaving and 81 years after first seeing the light of day in an Appalachian-like cabin on a remote mountain spine nine miles southwest of Chester known by its denizens as Burkett Ridge.
What’s the old song, ‘You’ve come a long way from St. Louie?’ Well now, don’t know as I have "a long way to go" as advises the old classic, and as for the "ladder of success" seems I’ve only made it here to the Bottom Rung; but don’t let the word "only" detract from the established theme, what I’ve got "ain’t shabby" Bro, t’ain’t shabby at all. From looks of activity on this social network where I hang with mine, I’m not at all short on friends and acquaintances, some having been with me awhile, some, because of time and distance, regretfully, I will not see again, some I have never met and never shall, but a treasured network of friendly people, nevertheless.
Aug. 14 brings the dawning of a beautiful day here on Alma’s south slope; a great welcome to my 81st year as a passenger on this big ol jumble of tumbling rock, that insignificant little speck of space debris called earth, spinning its way through the Orion arm of the great Milky Way Galaxy at a cool 515,000 miles an hour; rays of the early morning sun cut through the tall hedge, crawling out across a lawn green for the first time ever this late in the year.
Hasn’t this simply been a banner year weather-wise for folks down here in the South? I say it all began with the most beautiful colors ever, Autumn last, a mild winter and a brilliant flowering springtime amidst an ocean of green flowing out across the Ozarks far reaching landscapes, as cool a summer as one could ever expect; why sir, it has simply astounded the brethren over there in the church of environmental fundamentalism, expecting the arrival of Armageddon any day and at any time thereof; quietly have fallen their raucous voice as only occasionally a politician up in Washington DC will harangue about global warming, and that, as sort of an afterthought.
Is Arkansas beautiful or what? With the world around us going to hell in a hand basket, still not all that difficult even for a tired old pilgrim like me to manage a "keep on the sunny side" attitude of life. Looking out across the lower yard, soft warm rays of the rising sun flood a bank of tall, orange colored African Marigolds dominating a flower garden extending the full length of this quaint little cabin wherein dwellest I. A 60-foot bed of the tall beauties bloom down by the cross street.
Large industrious bumble bees buzz around and through the high reaching Marigolds, never at all mindful of the gent who stands quietly by, curious of their activity; late afternoon, the critters weary from a hard days labor will bed where they feed, wait out the night, and only stir from slumber when the morning sun peeks over the eastern rim and temperatures rise enough to thaw them from a lethargic state and awaken them to another day’s activity at the very spot they ceased yesterday’s labor.
Within the flowery mix are high climbing zennia’s and low laying petunias mingled amongst other species the wind or the birds have brought in, or perhaps lingering witnesses to the taste of past transitory tenants working to beautify the pathway to wherever their hopes, dreams and aspirations chose to take them. Most volunteers cannot be readily identified and some, mistaken for weeds were tossed aside before found to be domestics. The "Naked Ladies" which now appear each season was found amongst the beds of Iris two years after my moving here.
First order of business for my birthday was some walkway repair out by the front stoop, readjusting and replacing bricks resting on a foundation of sand. Delicate repair work was never my main suit, far better at destructing than constructing but I enjoy working with my hands and long as it’s a minor operation gung ho to give it a try. Never mind that for the most part, the end results testify to the hand of an amateurish child.
I’m expecting a call from the Poindexter brothers, Donnie and Bill from over at Sallisaw who head up the great western music band "Steeldust," so I fetch the cordless outside and place it in a nearby flower pot whilst I go about my labors; meanwhile the lady keeps wandering to the door all dolled up as if to go partying, wondering why the old fool is out there working so hard on his birthday for heavens sake, but no I tell her, t’will be time for that come evening time when I fetches my guitar and mandolin and we travels up for a little celebrating at Red Moore’s open mic night at the Mountainburg Senior Center.
Yet, comes a time at this age and stage when enough is enough; with the old haunches pleading for relief, I finally give it up, suspecting I’ll be butt sore and sorry come morning, store away my six 40-pound bags of sand and put away all the tools of labor.
The "riders of the purple sage" never call in but when I check my email, a note from Donnie who has himself one of those newfangled "smart phones" saying my number does not compute. I message him back and find he and his brother Bill having a hamburger at McDonald’s five minutes down the street from my little domicile here on the south slope and tells them I shall be there pronto.
The gentlemen are into a small promotional program for their cowboy band and I’m here to pick up a shirt with the Steeldust logo. If ever one should have a hankering for good authentic western-oriented music come on out if they come around, why, these guys don’t only wear cowboy hats and boots they own horses and actually ride them. Proud to say I am, that the "old guy" was instrumental in getting them out to the Royal Wade Kimes trail ride and benefit concert up at Chester for the areas disadvantaged children, the last two years.
Meanwhile back at the ranch: Sure enough when evening rolls around, I escort willowy lady to the automobile and fetch her to music night at the Mountainburg Senior Center, the only place I’m welcome to strap a guitar over a shoulder and actually sing. There I meet my little, younger head taller whatever - brother Bill of the tonsorial parlor down the street and we proceed outside the auditorium to work up a little something for our part of the evenings program; meanwhile, inside there’s 60-70 people singing happy birthday to some old guy what’s off gallivanting elsewhere.
Still, noteworthy enough is the diminutive one to be acknowledged by his elder sister Pluma, the matriarch of Mountainburg who entertained with a song I writ ‘way back in the olden days. Surely a nice thing to do but why do I get a feeling the gracious lady is yet peeved for having to babysit her squalling sibling weeks on end after his birth 81 years ago, when mom took one look at what she had wrought and suffered a nervous collapse on the spot.
Like I say, my birthday t’weren’t a shabby day at all and the more of them I have the more I like ‘em, the more I enjoy the Octogenarian society. Why one might even consider "going for the gold" like that Ms. Gertrude Weaver, a 116-year-old gal living here in the great State of Arkansas, though just betwixt you me doubtful if I’d ever make it.
I’m thinking personal attitude may be the answer, so to all my friends and well-wishers:
Keep on the sunny side
Always on the sunny side
Keep on the sunny side of life—
See ya there, say wot?