It was 21 years ago this spring that my old friend Loraine Ocenas emceed my 50th birthday party and claimed its theme was: “How does it feel to have your future behind you?”
My answer, of course, was “my best years are ahead of me” and indeed, that turned out to be true.
Now at 71, if someone asked me the same thing at a similar party, I might attempt to say the same thing, but perhaps not quite so vigorously.
Where did all those years go? An awful lot has happened both to me and to the world we live in.
That 50th birthday party was in 1996. There barely was an internet back then and cell phones were, well, they were just phones. The first smartphone did not come out until 11 years later in 2007.
We had 2 grandchildren back in those days. Today we have 13 plus a great-grandchild on the way. We have seen our own children grow up and build lives on their own.
I like to give talks to graduation ceremonies. One of the things that I always tell the graduates is that my over-riding feeling during my graduation was simply: “What is going to happen to me?”
Well, I know what happened to me. Generally, it is pretty satisfying to look back with warm feelings at all those events and occurrences which make up the milestones in a person’s long life.
Celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary last year certainly is near the top of the list.
But those grandchildren — wow, are they ever special. Grandchildren have a purpose in life. That purpose is to show you that you have a hidden place in your heart. And that place is full of love for someone you are just finally getting to know.
We joke that our job as grandparents is to spoil ’em and sugar ’em up and then send them home!
Our children might be thinking that we consider them chopped liver because we will travel thousands of miles to see those wonderful grandkids.
During a 50-year-plus career, I always wanted to own businesses and we were fortunate in having that opportunity. We owned newspapers, print shops, magazines, book companies, and a half interest in an Internet company with our daughter Shelli Johnson and even an advertising agency.
We worked with wonderful people who became like members of our family. It was easy to deeply care about people who worked side-by-side with you on all those various endeavors.
Charity work was always important to Nancy and me and we believed in the pay it forward philosophy. We often got more out of these projects then we expended.
Some years ago, I wrote a piece called “the 20 things I learned in 50 years of business.” One of those was to “love your customers.” We really did love ours, and that is something that I miss a lot now that we are not going to work every day.
Over the years, we managed to indulge ourselves in big-boy toys like a nice boat, a motorhome and even an airplane.
After flying for 30 years, we quit when a detached retina seven years ago made that a risky business. But what a joy it is to fly over a wonderful state like Wyoming! If you love this state from the ground, you need to see it from above. I just could not get enough of it.
Recently Nancy and I visited Flaming Gorge where we kept a boat for 10 years. Sure made us nostalgic. But our boating days are over, too.
Our old motorhome, nicknamed Follow My Nose, is not a toy but a real home for us. We like to travel south in the winter in it to get away from cold and snow. We have made great friends with that lifestyle.
About the only big-boy toys we managed to avoid were horses. We do rent out our pasture to horse-lovers, so we get to see horses every day.
A coffee klatch called the Fox News All-Stars puts up with me as we sit around telling lies most every morning at the Inn at Lander. Been attending that group for 47 years.
Our lives have not all been rosy. Watching family and friends get ill or die has been difficult. Dealing with stubborn illnesses has not been fun. But you soldier on and finally reach your seventh decade.
At my age, I am finally a grown up. It takes men a long, long time to develop. Luckily I married a very mature woman, who at the age of 19 was more mature than I was at 50.
Guys are just guys.
Face it; we go stumbling along, scratching ourselves in embarrassing places and making horrible noises at the wrong time. We often are selfish and we don’t talk much.
I used to refer to my life as four quarters, like a football game. If so, we are definitely in the fourth quarter.
Today, I prefer to think of life as a nine-inning baseball game. I am now in the middle of the seventh inning. It’s time for a nice stretch.
Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written six books, which are available at fine stores. His latest is Wyoming at 125. His books are also available at wyomingwonders.com.