First off, I turned 50 today. Pretty much by myself in Chicago, save a visit by dear and long-time friend Scott Kline for brunch this morning. And you know what? Other than all the thoughts you have about grand parties with myriad friends in attendance and the whole ball of wax, it’s been very cool.
Here’s the deal. Most of you know; but if you don’t, I was adopted at birth. And God gave me such a gift for a family—both my mom and dad’s sides—that it just never even occurred to me as a big deal. I was IN those families. And I’ve never looked for my “birth” parents. Have no interest to. I’ve got my family. Big win. :-)
But when my mom and dad (Eleanor and Bob “RT” Hoover) picked me up, they didn’t exactly get all they’d bargained for. Eleanor couldn’t have kids, hence the adoption. And they get me, and find out I’m allergic to pretty much everything here. I basically lived off soy milk for the first six months. Initially they were told that I’d be lucky to make it a year. And then when we got past that, the doc said I’d probably be lucky to make 50 due to “developmental issues” in my respiratory system.
And damn if he wasn’t right; at least about the respiratory part. Asthma, myriad allergies, coughing fits throughout the night that many times sent us to the emergency room. It’s why we moved to California in 1967. My dad, who worked for Bendix, volunteered for an assignment to the brake segment of the Lockheed C-5 project, taking us to California for two years hoping the climate would improve my condition. Alas, it wasn’t as good for me as promised, so two years later, missing family and friends, we moved back to Indiana.
But the thing is, in my mind, I was only ever going to live to 50. I kidded about it. People would start to say, “When you’re older…” and I’d cut them off…”Nah, I’m not livin’ past 50…” Gallows humor to help my mind with what I KNEW.
Then, in March of 1972, my dad dies of a heart attack, three months before his 51st birthday. It was his fourth since the age of 39. Today, he’d have a double bypass and live for another 30 years. Back then, he checked out in the spring of my sixth grade year. And just proved to me that living to fifty was pretty much it.
So, here I am. A kid who loved athletics and often couldn’t participate, and who wasn’t supposed to make it to today. Ha. I was always such a kidder. Who knew I’d ignore THAT? LoL
Along the way, my Mom use to celebrate my birthdays like there was no tomorrow…literally a week long gig. Family dinners, friends, surprises. She’d send cakes to work with me at my summer jobs! No one day birthdays in OUR house…
So I’ve always lived with a “do it, do it now, and enjoy it” attitude. I get a lot of grief on Facebook for all of the fun stuff I post. Most people don’t know that if I’m on a business trip…I’ll stay two extra days to get the work done, and see and do everything there is in that town; I’ll work seventy hour weeks, and never pass up a friend or business relationship passing through that wants to have dinner. Fourteen hour days on six hours sleep. Six hours driving and 400 miles round trip to watch your son swim for three minutes or to see a two hour concert with your daughter. I never let it pass me by, work OR personal.
You see, in my mind, I only had fifty years.
So yesterday, as I sat at my son’s swim meet in Indianapolis with my daughter at my side, I couldn’t help but laugh at the irony. It was the last day before I turned 50. And my death wish and death sentence has led me to the most amazing life I could have imagined. Never say no! "Wow, yeah, I’ll be the campaign manager for Congressman Bud Hillis’ (IN-5) re-election effort" in 1984. Fuel an Indycar for my friend and boss Robby McGehee in 1999? Is this a trick question?! World Series, Stanley Cup, F-1, Moto GP. See it all pal; you just never know...
Coast to coast on a motorcycle (five times), pilot’s license, racing license, guitar lessons, job changes…as someone who once reported to me asked: “Dude, is this resume for real???” Yup. I wasn’t going to miss a lick.
So, here we are…day one of the life I wasn’t supposed to live. And you know what? I’ve been accused of being a glass half full guy, so, in that vein I think of it this way: it’s free baseball folks!
If you aren’t a baseball fan, this will mean nothing to you…but you hard core baseball fans will remember a phrase that Mike Shannon, Cardinals third baseman and later broadcaster, often used. Mike’s a little nuts. (to wit, on a broadcast in Miami: “Boy, I wish you folks back in St Louis could SEE this fabulous full moon tonight!”) But whenever a game would go into extra innings, Mike would almost SHOUT into the mic, “Weeeellllll, ol’ Abner’s done it again folks! (referring to the creator of the game, Abner Doubleday) It’s FREE BASEBALL! More than you paid for or had any good reason to expect!!! You only paid for nine innings, and you're gettin' more!” It was bonus time. Found money. What you hadn’t expected but love having.
So tonight, I’m opening a bottle of Chateau Lafitte Rothschild from the early 80’s that I bought in 2003 and paid $400 for THEN. It wasn’t to be opened before 2007; and I intended it for tonight. I thought it would be some great cookout or party for all my nearby friends. That’s how you celebrate 50 right? Open this fabulous bottle of wine on the great occasion and party with dozens of your closest friends!
Well, that’s not how I’m doing it tonight. I’m going to have a martini, extra dry with Tito’s vodka and blue cheese stuffed olives. I’m going to broil a dry aged NY Strip. (Yeah, on this birthday I am in Chicago without what is almost like my right arm at this stage of my life—a good charcoal grill) I’m going to sauté some mushrooms and onions, blanch some asparagus, and bake a potato to fill with butter, sour cream, chives, and grated parmesan. And I’m going to sit by myself and savor this ridiculous bottle of wine.
Because it’s free baseball folks!!! More than we ever thought we’d get or had any reason to expect!!! And based on the FIRST nine innings? Well, this is going to be a GREAT game.
So, thank you. To my friends, near and far. Those of you whom I’ve seen frequently like my very-best-friend-in-the-whole-wide-world Andy Knoop and the Beaver Dam Blues Band Men’s Club, and those of you whom I haven’t seen in thirty two years but have found recently on Facebook. To those of you whom I saw today (Scott—thank you for making the effort to get together!) to those I’ll never see again on this plane (Bazoo and Tom Dunnuck—miss you boys).
To my families—the one I never knew, and the one I had no reason to deserve or get. Cousins, brother, aunts and uncles.
To Atlas and what wasn’t, but could have been and I always thought would be; and to Bekins for believing it still is and what is yet to come.
And to the best in-laws and kids a guy could ever deserve. Jenny for all we went through; Alex and Dane for all that you remind me is possible.
Yup, the glass is always half full. But not for long, this Romeo and Juliet Churchill is calling me to fill it up… ;-p
Thanks everyone; I'm blessed and lucky to know each and every one of you. What a great life