Dave Simpson: Merle was right about those years


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By Dave Simpson, columnist

The elixir arrived just in time.

Just when a 71-year-old could be forgiven for being a bit pessimistic and cynical, maybe even grumpy, comes a breath of fresh air.

Just blow a geezer hat into the stream.

My wife is a retired nurse practitioner, an anthropologist, and a pretty good archaeologist. She has more diplomas than a thermometer, from fine universities. With my English degree alone, I’ve spent the last 37 years running to death, trying to keep up with her. Everything I think, she thought yesterday.

And she says most of us start to break down between the ages of 65 and 75.

There are exceptions. But when I said I’d been pretty lucky health-wise, she screamed in disbelief and called me an “orthopedic train wreck.” That’s what I get to look at on the positive side. But, (like any husband, it’s painful to admit), she was right. (Ouch!)

Dry skin, painful joints, repaired rotator cuffs (port and starboard), a tight quadriceps muscle, three laminectomies and a fusion in the back, difficulty hearing in a crowded restaurant, difficulty remembering names and details that were once on the tip of my tongue, wrestling match sticking out of chairs… This recalls the words of the great Merle Haggard when he appeared in Cheyenne shortly before his death. He said that for the first time his road crew included a nurse.

Shaking his head at the thought of our “golden years,” Merle said:

“Friends, we have been lied to.”

That said, we are fortunate to have excellent facilities to manage our various illnesses. The same clinic in Laramie that saved Josh Allen’s NFL career handled all of my orthopedic issues. They are wonderful. We have an excellent hospital in Cheyenne full of knowledgeable professionals, and plenty of specialists on the Front Range for the exotic stuff. It’s not like the good old days, when my grandparents had to come to Chicago from rural Indiana to see their doctors.

I read Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s book “The Real Anthony Fauci,” and it’s an indictment of our public health agencies and the pharmaceutical industry. But then I think of the amazing research that has gone into treating multiple myeloma (the disease that killed my father) and has now dramatically extended the lives of those who have it (think Tom Brokaw), and I see another aspect. Thinking two things at once can get complicated. Walk, chew gum. Walk, chew gum.

So, back to what happened just in time. I was 67 when my first granddaughter was born and 69 when her little sister arrived. Suddenly things like high chairs, stuffed toys and a wayward pacifier found under a bed started showing up in our house. Baby gates were fitted, cabinets secured, and an old spring-loaded “Wonderhorse” (aptly named “Cheyenne”) was taken from the garage to the man’s cave.

The youngest let her sister do the most talking, but last month, at an ice cream shop in Gillette, she tasted her mother’s dish and proclaimed “MINE!” (Now there’s a concept that will serve her well in life.) The next morning, she spotted a big, ugly fly on the wall and said, “FLY! Life is full of little firsts for her, and I was thrilled the first time she butchered the word “grandpa.”

His sister watches with admiration a cousin who is a gifted barrel racer, and for a guy who grew up watching “Spin and Marty” at the “Micky Mouse Club” every afternoon in Chicago, a granddaughter who loves the rodeo is more than I could ask for.

And she knows how to yodel.

So just when a guy could be forgiven for becoming a collection of leg aches, pains and cramps, come these two little breaths of fresh air. And you have to understand that it’s about more than just us, like gazing at the Milky Way above your August campfire.

My older brother once said that having kids (sometimes) was like “paying a penny and getting a quarter back.”

I completely agree.

For the grandfathers, make that gain 50 cents.

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