A Sweet Ride

On the road to the big 6-0

By Bill Fields

During a hectic season of business travel — I’ve been to Florida so much I think convenience stores everywhere stock flip-flops — it hasn’t hit me yet but I’m sure it will.

My birthday will arrive and I’ll feel like one of those fast cars in a 1970s commercial — zero to 60 before you can believe it.

It shouldn’t feel like a surprise, because what they tell you is true: The older you get, the more the calendar seems like it’s on speed.

I remember the friends, balloons and food from 50. I can give you the birdies and bogeys from a round of golf on my 40th birthday. Even the festivities of number 18 are clear, despite a couple too many newly legal beverages.

Veteran tip: Do not accept the offer of late-night Champagne from a well-meaning classmate celebrating a milestone of her own with friends — who came into the world on a May day at St. Joseph’s while I was being born at Moore Memorial — after draining the beer taps in the 28387. Happy Birthday, Beth Huntley, wherever you are. I forgive you.

I also forgive author Fred Kaplan for omitting my birth in his book, 1959: The Year Everything Changed, published a decade ago. After all, there was a lot going on — the Space Race was on the first lap, and the Cold War was getting hot. Two months before I was born, Texas Instruments introduced the solid integrated circuit, the microchip. When I was four months old, International Business Machines unveiled the modern computer.

As Kaplan writes, lots of wheels in different parts of society began turning rapidly in 1959, setting the stage for dramatic shifts in the 1960s and beyond. My arrival was upheaval aplenty for my family, a big deal even though I weighed in at canned-ham size, a shade over 5 pounds, when Dr. Michael Pishko delivered me into a changing world. The attending nurse was Mrs. Luna Black, mother of sons Clyde and Marcus with whom I went through school.

Mom saved my hospital baby ID bracelet that kept me from going home to Robbins or Raeford. It looks like a crafts project created by a patient someone who likes tiny things, with itty-bitty blue beads and my last name in white beads, on a short string that will just circle my ring finger now.

My sisters were 12 1/2 and 14 1/2 years old at the time, with Johnny Mathis and Bobby Darin 45s to spin and wool skirts to sew. But from the moment my father came into the Southern Pines school cafeteria to give them the big news after my 10:42 a.m. birth on May 25, Sadie and Dianne loved me and cared for me, even when they would have rather been downtown with their pals having a fountain Coke at the drug store on Broad Street.

I might have gotten to 60 without the support of my family and friends, but it would have been a harder ride with less joy, a journey I don’t wish to contemplate. I’m lucky to have my mother still, even though seeing her diminished is hard. Yet I miss my dad, who didn’t quite make it to 60, and wonder what more years would have given him — and us.

Would he have ever talked about the war? What would he have thought about New York City? Would he have liked craft beer? Late in his life, when they were finally empty nesters, Mom told me, Dad talked of an RV in retirement, of seeing more of the country. When I’ve ventured to a new state — 48 now, lacking only North Dakota and Alaska — each trip has been at least a little bit for him, the man who finally got a son.

On this birthday, more than most, he will be a candle that can’t be blown out. PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent.

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