When I’m Sixty-Four

I could be handy, mending a fuse

When your lights are gone.

You can knit a sweater by the fireside,

Sunday mornings go for a ride.

Doing the garden, digging the weeds,

Who could ask for more?

Will you still need me, will you still feed me,

When I’m sixty-four?

The Beatles-1967


End of season tomatoes

As a fall birthday boy, I’m partial to the season. The transition from summer activities to winter’s repose wanders through the fallen leaves of remembrance and longing, fertile territory for a writer prone to introspection.

Lately, I see banded woolly bear caterpillars munching thimbleberry leaves. I listen to bees humming among the poppies, seeking the last remnants of pollen to prepare for winter. Overhead, hawks soar above the hay fields thinned from the summer’s final cutting.

It’s mid-October. I continue to harvest tomatoes. Their cages collapse under the weight of unripe fruit. A cool spring pushed back the growing season on the calendar. Fortunately, mild fall weather persists. The yield will continue until a frost puts the plants to rest.

I also acknowledge the autumnal stage of my life: on September 27th I turned 64.

Peanut butter cupcakes with one candle to the 64th power

At my age, birthday gifts are unnecessary, especially since I live with an incurable cancer. The sights and sounds of the season are sufficient reward. And, really, with such natural wonders outside my door, aren’t I the man with everything?

Yes, but this year, I received a surprise: a bundle of letters saved from forty years ago. Evidently, upon moving from San Francisco to the Sierra Mountains of California, I’d left some belongings with a friend. It was the beginning of the 70s, and as one thing led to another; those belongings went forgotten and unclaimed.

The letters, penned by numerous friends, were unexpectedly returned to me. In the year they were written, turmoil reigned. We were scattering like proverbial autumn leaves, dispersed by the fickle wind of our idealism. Any attempt to make sense of the changing sexual mores, experimental drugs, and the renaissance in music was complicated by the Vietnam War.

The letters

Vietnam, for young men at least, was the core experience of my generation. It either froze you in place or pushed you beyond conventional boundaries. Some of us did as we were told, some not so much. I have no interest in re-visiting the argument as to who was right or who was wrong. We made decisions leading to consequences that determined our futures. The dreams dashed by the war’s realities will pass away with my generation. And that’s just as well, for it looks like we need to make room for new debacles.

Nonetheless, the letters presented me with a poignant glimpse of my youth. They transported me back to the carefree days of my mid-twenties. At such a time, before the responsibilities of children and careers, the age of sixty-four appeared as distant as the moon, just a cute Beatle’s song. And yet, here I am.

My friends passionately conveyed the uncertainty of those years. The letters were handwritten or typed and corrected with white out. Word processors had not been invented. Nowadays, email, Facebook, and Twitter have replaced personal letters. The confidential communiqué vanished along with our privacy. These days we target audiences, instead of individuals. We mute our emotions in deference to political correctness. Perhaps in our quest for a connection with others we’ve sacrificed quality for speed and quantity?

Spanky understands the meaning of life is in the hunt, not the catch.

As gifts go, the letters hold remarkable power. They surprised me; they entertained me; they made me feel. At this latest birthday, in the midst of the autumn of my life, I experienced spring again, if only briefly. Even though the letters were re-runs, I appreciated receiving words intended for me alone, words full of the intimacy of anguish and hope, words that distinguish our humanity.

We are, after all, such funny animals. We pretend, even convince ourselves, that we have the answers. I’m still searching for reasons as to why things are the way they are. Observing plants and other wildlife seems to me to be as good a place as any to look. And, probably because I am a September baby, the fall is my favorite time for looking. As I age, however, finding what I’m looking for seems less and less important. And maybe, just maybe, that’s the answer I’ve been seeking all these years.

9 thoughts on “When I’m Sixty-Four

  1. Oh yes … I remember it well. That was the song that went through my mind when I recently gave myself the gift of opening a memory box I had put away years ago.

    I had kept all the letters and cards to me. You are so right – we will never have the same feelings by reading the blogs. I admit that time had worn the memories into different shapes, like a river changing the landscape. With the reading of those precious words from sister to sister, I was reminded of all the wonderful things I DID do. I do, however, admit that I had my “ah yes, I remember it well” moments.

    Why is this important? Because one of the things that happens to us warriors is that we wonder, sometimes, “was it something I did? Was it something I DIDN’T do? was I unkind? unthinking?” You wonder what you could have done differently, better.

    In the end, the letters were a reminder that I had been a good sister and friend.

    And don’t get me started on the cute and fun cards from my now husband of over 30 years (did I just admit that???)

    I love your writing. Sometimes I read the same blog entry 3-4 times. You are an inspiration to me – you are real.

    Thank you.

    p.s. – our tomatoes look just like yours. That picture could have been taken in our garden.


  2. Happy birthday, John! I wish you many happy returns and all the best this world has to offer.

    I, too, am a September baby and share your love for this season.

    Also, being a fellow cancer survivor, I agree with your (and Spanky’s) philosophy that it’s the hunt that matters – not the catch.

    Best to you. I look forward to your postings.


  3. Forget FINDING what I am looking for, I can’t even REMEMBER what I am looking for. ;o) I guess the end result is the same. It’s all about the search and discovery along the way like ol’ Spanky there. Happy belated birthday! I love autumn too. It’s such a cozy time of year.


  4. I used to write all the time. With a pen, I mean. In college, I was finally forced to buy a typewriter (ah, the days of white out, how well I remember them…! :-)).
    I bought my very first computer toward the end of my senior year (=one of those special student deals…), but it remained in a box, untouched, until the summer after graduation (=1988). Then, slowly, I taught myself how to use it. But I still wrote almost everything by hand.
    I learned to appreciate computers a few years later, when I left my job and began grad school. I finally threw away my white out…:-)
    I rarely use a pen anymore. I don’t feel any nostalgia, though. If I had to handwrite my posts and do all my research in the library, there would be no “Margaret’s Corner”…;-)
    Please give a big pet to my handsome godson. He is spot on about the hunt… It’s the same with my research: I find something of interest, hunt down all the info, write the piece, then forget about it. The hunt is definitely the most exciting part! 🙂


  5. Happy birthday, John! I remember listening to the Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers, I had saved money to buy the album on the very day it was released. The song “When I’m 64” was a weird sort of future-perspective for a 16 year old. It was the age of grandpa’s and it was so far away from your daily reality that it was impossible to realize what that age would really mean. Now that I’m heading for 60 I have some perspective…. I hope I will be 64 too, it’s one of my greatest wishes!!


  6. I’m late again ( I hope I remembered your birthday on FB) “Happy Belated Birthday wishes John”, at least it lasts longer getting a late wish! I am one of three girls who grew up during ‘beatle time’ I can remember my Father decorating the sitting room and I drew four little beatle heads with their super hair cut styles on the bare walls – we were ‘mad about’ them. My dear Father laughed and said “I wonder what people will think of these four little heads with the word beatles written beneath, when the room is next decorated and if anyone will remember them! Little did we know then of their success! I am not quite 64 but it won’t be long, then I shall sing that song for a week!


  7. Thank you for that marvelous trip down memory lane, and for all the insights you shared about it. Strange that I sometimes find myself grieving over the loss of those years when, in fact, I longed for sanity during that extremely tumultuous time.

    Lately one of Gary’s greatest pleasures has been for me to read to him. I read your post to him, then we both sat in silence for a minute, absorbing it. Finally he just shook his head and said god, he is SUCH a good writer.


  8. Hi John,

    My belated best to you. So great to read your enjoyment of the season (Definitely my favorite, too) and of the visitation of past voices.

    As always, you are a treat–a crisp and well tended orchard in the sprawling pasture of the Internet.


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