The breakfast table was covered with birthday cards decoratively labeled "50," which meant somebody in our home had crossed the half-century mark. But who? I asked myself, gingerly rubbing ointment into muscles still inflamed from strenuous physical effort (getting out of bed).
Who is this aging person? I asked again, as I absent-mindedly hummed the theme song from "The Donna Reed Show."
Attempting to solve the mystery, I finally narrowed it down to either our 16-year-old daughter or myself. And since most 50-year-olds don’t badger their parents to let them practice driving (at a place that used to have bushes growing alongside the road), I deduced that it must be...me.
(Actually, I think my Dad was 50 when he taught me how to drive. He was in his 40s when I got behind the wheel and two hours later he looked 50. But maybe it was because I always kept my hands at the 9 and 11 o’clock positions on the steering wheel, a technique I developed myself. That way it’s easier for the driver to jump out of the car at high speeds if he feels he can no longer take responsibility for the vehicle.)
Being 50 means I was born in the ‘40s, for gosh sakes! World War II was just over, and we had yet to get the bill for the Marshall Plan. (Congress: "This seems a little high. Couldn’t they have used cheaper drywall?") I was born before rock ‘n’ roll, before StoveTop Stuffing. Ward and June Cleaver weren’t even dating yet.
Why, if I’m 50, don’t I look graying and distinguished, like Marlin Perkins of TV’s "Wild Kingdom"? I use him as an example because I actually met him when I was 9 years old. I was in the bathroom at the St. Louis Zoo, where he was curator, and he just walked in, like a regular person. I remember that as we stood together two things came to my mind: He was very tall, and, sometime earlier in the day, he must have been very thirsty.