Monday, March 24, 2014

Birthday boy (again): Luck of the draw

It's my birthday week again, he said in mild surprise --- having not been expected to live.

No secrets from Facebook; it might as well be acknowledged.

No. NO! I was not a delicate child. My parents had no cause for worry once the kid was pronounced alive and well at Yocom Hospital, Chariton's postwar baby mill. It was me who sometimes didn't expect to get this far.

It's chilly and light snow is in the forecast. Grandpa Myers brought my mother a bouquet of violets gathered in the woods during late March in the year I was born. No violets this year.

Childhood, spent largely outdoors, in retrospect, was idyllic. That's a reason to love this place, still. And fence rows, prairies and open skies.

No heavy duty doses of old-time religion as a kid; I go to church now, in more gracious times, without the need to overcome a gag reflex. Because I want to. Nothing more or less.

Since someone asked the other day, my folks were OK with the gay thing, too --- after encountering an inconveniently positioned boyfriend during graduate school years. Love ya still, Bob (the older man by a few years, now of blessed memory).

For various reasons and at various times, I was not so OK, however, and figured I wouldn't pull through. Life always has seemed tentative.


Just for the heck of it, I pulled up front pages of Herald-Patriots from the month of my birth. Not very exciting on the 21st (right click to open in a new window and read) --- a forthcoming rodeo was bannered; Republican caucuses relegated to second place. Some wanted another traffic light --- at the intersection of Court Avenue (then Highway 34) and Main. These days, Lucas County doesn't have a traffic light to its name.

The photo is of Lucas County's spelling champion (Barbara Hollingshead) and her teacher at Mauk School, the young man to her right, is Dale Cottrell --- impossibly young.

Eighteen new members of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). My Grandmother Myers, daughter of a notable although kindly drunk, was a charter member and my parents, teetotalers.

A small party involving alcoholic beverages on the homeplace when they were away on vacation one summer and I was supposed to be doing the chores resulted in considerable consternation. Neighbors have big mouths. (I still drink, in moderation.)

Scattered reports of young men returning home from World War II service --- and on the front page of the March 28th edition, a longer story about Lucas County's first two "war brides," one from England, the other from Australia.


Twenty years later, I was drafted and sent off to Vietnam for another war --- plucked from graduate school where I'd enrolled because there was nothing better to do while the military fussed for months about my eyesight, legally blind in one eye, before deciding (what the heck) --- nobody's going to worry about that when he's dead.

As it happened, due to serendipitous events and the hugely incompetent military establishment of that time, I lived through it, with flying colors, emerging unexpectedly a buck sergeant. Great restaurants in Saigon, too.

Couldn't even shoot straight except under carefully controlled firing range conditions --- survival was a considerable surprise.


Loved the next years --- and the little towns in North Iowa where I landed as editor --- don't I look happy?

AIDS came along, and survival seemed unlikely again. Safe what?

Made it through, no idea how. Many didn't. Miss them. Luck of the draw.

I can be a really annoying preacher in my old age about safe sex.


So here we are.

Not especially sentimental, don't do regret, do wonder now and then what it would be like to be young and in love in this day and age and maybe have a go at some of those relationships again. People like me can celebrate their lives and loves now, even in places like Iowa, even get married.

That might have made a considerable difference.

But I'm glad I lived to see it. It's a great day to be alive.

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