Birthday thoughts

2 Mar

Sixty-five years ago today, as a blizzard rampaged through central Michigan, Georgia Pearl Puffpaff Balcom went into labor for the second time in her life.

Clifton Waldo Balcom loaded his 6-year-old son, Richard, and his suffering wife into the family car and, despite the warnings of hazardous conditions, negotiated the 50 or so miles of M57 from Lincoln Lake to Carson City.

On March 3, 1947, Georgia delivered her second son, David Harry, so named on the condition that he would never be called “Davey.” That day she also consigned herself to 18 years of torturous agony at the hands of Rheumatoid Arthritis that had attacked her after the birth of her first son. Doctors had predicted that her apparent recovery from the dread disease could be derailed by a second pregnancy, but she was adamant that Richard not grow up an only child. Her pain would eventually be put to an end at the hands of Lupus. She was 48.

She has always been the standard for courage and commitment for her younger son; a standard he has never attained.

I couldn’t help but think of all this as I set out today to walk with the veteran Ark and tyro Kris as the first flakes of a forecast blizzard started drifting down through the stark reddish brown limbs of our forest.

The dogs romped in the skiff of snow, but the big, wet flakes were piling up fast. In fact, as we turned the corner to start a second lap around the woods, the snow had erased all sign of our first passage. A lap is only a quarter of a mile.

The quiet of a winter woods became muffled in the falling snow. The silence was accented by occasional sounds that are always out there. A flock of north-bound geese, snows and blues by the sound of them, passed over head but out of sight in the white-out sky.

An energetic squirrel tried out his “chuck a chuck” call, but gave it up after a few seconds.

Early March in Michigan is high school basketball tournament time, and everyone expects a blizzard during the tourney, so my birthday blizzard story was told and retold as I grew up. Even then I noticed the snow got deeper with each telling, but the real message was about the commitment my parents demonstrated to insure that I got a healthy start.

So what would they think of their younger and only surviving offspring if they could tell me? Georgia would be 95; Cliff would be 106.

It’s hard to know. It’s even hard for me to know how to react to this “milestone” birthday. My friend Jim Whitney in Pendleton, Oregon, drilled a point home when I asked him how it felt to turn 60. “I’m grateful when I think of all the guys I knew who didn’t make it that far.” Amen to that.

And I’m grateful for the good fortune that has blessed the people I love. Susie, Molly and Casey are and have been for the most part healthy and hardy all their lives. All of us at this age have friends who have had to deal with one of those tragic losses, and I’m very glad not to be one of those.

Kris’ ears flopped as he puppy-galloped on his stubby little legs to keep up with the long-legged Ark, and I remembered those days when my little legs were not able to keep up with my older brother and his friends. Like Kris, I whined in my frustration, and then celebrated wildly when I caught up with them. I didn’t know then, and Kris can’t comprehend, how keeping up with bigger and older makes a youngster strong.

Watching him romp gave me thoughts of what’s ahead. I’m coming to grips with the probability that my working career is over. I’m looking forward to the freedom to fish while others work; hunt the weather I want rather than the weekend weather I get.

I’m excited to consider becoming involved in a project to provide food to hungry people in our part of the world, and, as I’ve preached to my children, friends and strangers for years, the fastest way to getting over the blues or the blahs, is to get involved with helping strangers.

As I walked in that snow-filled woods this morning, I thought about the courage and commitment that my parents demonstrated 65 years ago, and felt an overwhelming urge to keep making a difference as long as I’m on this side of the turf.

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5 Responses to “Birthday thoughts”

  1. Yolanda Lennon March 2, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

    Quality writing my friend. It sounds like you may have a retirement book or two inside of you.

  2. Molly March 2, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

    An inspiring and lovely birthday reflection. It makes me think of the realization I had a few years ago, on my 33rd birthday, when someone sang this silly They Might Be Giants song to me: “You’re older than you’ve ever been, and now you’re even older! And now you’re even older! And now you’re even older!” It was suddenly profound to me because I realized that I better get on with what I want to do as soon as I can, because the time I spend wishing for it without acting on it is time I won’t get back. Birthdays and the reflective thinking they prompt can be good catalysts. Happy Birthday!

  3. Jessica March 4, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Happy Birthday! I don’t think I’d heard this story before, hard to imagine your mom making that drive while she was in labor.

  4. Darnell Nowell March 6, 2012 at 1:06 am #

    Just wanna remark on few general things, The website design is perfect, the content material is real fantastic : D.

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