I mentioned in my last column that our family has a tradition of celebrating year-end holidays together. At our latest gathering, my eldest daughter asked, "How old will you be on your next birthday?" I told her, and she hastened to point out that I didn't look nearly that old.
It got me to thinking about the many adventures and exciting experiences over my lifetime and what role my age played in the decision to do or not do something. I am certain it had more to do with the novelty, challenge and expected reward as well as whether or not I thought I could do whatever it was.
My mom asked me if I thought I'd like to have a newspaper route. Never had one, no reference point, but I didn't know I couldn't be successful as a newspaper boy, so I gave it a shot. I learned that whether it was blistering hot, freezing cold, pouring rain or snowing, I was responsible for making sure my subscribers received their newspapers. For about $8.50 a week. I was 8.
Another time Mom asked if I thought I'd like to join the Civil Air Patrol. I'd never heard of it but quickly learned that it was as close to heaven as someone with a love of aviation from the age of 2 and interest in the Air Force could be. I would have paid the Air Force to fly jets, and this was a chance to get a jump-start. My dad's transfer from Greenville, S.C., to Charlotte, N.C., interrupted an earned scholarship to get my student license. I was 16.
Myopia doomed my dream of being a pilot. A changed focus on rocketry and lots of study led to construction of a three-stage, solid-propellant rocket with which I won first place in physical sciences in a science fair my senior year in high school and fourth place at the state level. I was 17.
On a whim, I wrote to Atlantic Research Corp. and landed a job working on several military missile projects between my junior and senior year of college, earning enough to pay tuition and fees for my last year at North Carolina State University. The experience was all the more valuable because it helped me understand I would never be a fit in governmental bureaucracy and red tape. I was 20.
A buddy owned a 1956 Corvette, and I fell in love with everything about the car. I finally found one 160 miles away and drove up to see it. A few days later, my Corvette buddy and I drove back, and I bought it. In retrospect, it was a piece of junk. But it was a Corvette, and it was mine! I didn't know how to rebuild a Corvette, but I didn't know I couldn't, either. I was 24.
It turned out I had a knack for building engines, especially high-performance, small-block Chevrolet engines. The third bedroom in the house I was renting became the engine-building lab since the garage had a dirt floor. That was great, except when it came to getting the engine from the lab to the garage. This was my first experience with the truism that "just because you can do something doesn't mean you should."
I would pick up the engine, put it in my daughter's Radio Flyer Wagon, roll it to the back porch, pick up the engine and take it down the steps, take the wagon down the steps, pick the engine up, put it back in the wagon and roll it to the garage. Each time I did this there was a bit of a tingle in a muscle or a joint, but the twinges went away. I was young, strong and enjoying what I was doing, so a little pain here and there was no big deal. I thought. I was 27.
Fast forward to when Sherrie and I were married. She had opened the first cruise-only agency in Tennessee on Jan. 4, 1988. In May, we attended a conference in Miami of the late National Association of Cruise Only Agencies, and not knowing any better, we asked to meet Bob Dickinson, then the senior vice president of sales for Carnival. He invited us to lunch instead, during which I asked him what we had to do for Just Cruisin' Plus to be named Agency of the Year. He told us, we did it, and we were named Carnival's Agency of the Year for 1990. I was 48.
In March 1993, I began working at the agency, which had never made a profit. We had a daughter in college and a mortgage. This is when being in the travel industry got really serious. I was 52.
There have been other milestones along the way, but none as fulfilling as when Sherrie and I were named to CLIA's Hall of Fame in 2012. I was 70.
Last year, we added a grand patio to our home and decided we needed a gazebo. Costco had a do-it-yourself model that was perfect. Sherrie was insistent that I get someone to assemble it.
"You don't think I can do it," I protested. Her rejoinder was, "I know you can do it. I just don't think you should." Except for having to get help to put roof panels in place simultaneously, I built that bad boy. By myself. I was 76.
And then there was a few weeks ago. My son-in-law, Jim, has searched for a particular pickup truck for quite some time and finally found the right one in Baton Rouge, La. I agreed to fly down with him to buy it and be a companion as he drove it back the same day. This was going to be a great adventure!
And then the wheels started coming off the wagon. We were delayed out of Nashville and arrived at our Atlanta gate five minutes after the flight closed out, delaying us for three hours.
We finally reached Baton Rouge, picked up the truck and headed north at about 2:30 p.m. A couple of hours later, the engine shut down just south of Picayune, Miss. After a tow to an AutoZone, a fuel pump swap in the parking lot and the seller driving all the way to Picayune to help (he's a righteous dude), we were back on the road about 8 that night. By my calculations, without any further complications, we would be back in Nashville by about 4 a.m.
And things were going great until about 9:30 p.m., when the question of whether we needed to stop for the night arose. I was emphatic that we didn't need to stop and that I was ready take the wheel if Jim got tired.
Then my daughter called Jim, wanting to know how things were going and when were we going to stop for the night. I again reiterated that I didn't want to stop, Jim relayed the sentiment, and I thought the matter was closed. It was, for about 20 minutes. My daughter called again and played the age card on Jim, cautioning him that I was 77 and that we had to stop.
My 27-year-old brain was ready to keep on truckin'. That said, I didn't make it to 77 without learning to pick battles. We spent the night at a motel in Meridian, Miss.
I wonder if anyone else has the same reaction I do to a conversation that starts with, "People your age ..." The trite answer is often, "Age is just a number." Yes, but so are blood pressure and hemoglobin levels, and I respect both of them.
More important, I think, is the question, "If you didn't know your birthday, how old would you be?"
True, there are physical limitations following 13 major surgeries, including two rotator cuff repairs, two total shoulder replacements and three spinal surgeries. Remember picking up those engines? Like I said, sometimes just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. Like driving all night in cold, rainy weather.