Turning Sixty-Nine

If you had asked me at any point in my early life, like when I was just a kid or even a teenager, what my life would be like at almost seventy I would have been honest and told you I never thought about it. I just muddled through every day with no real plan or thoughts for the future. As John Lennon famously said back when I was a teenager, “life is what happens while you’re making other plans”. So very true.

I guess my thoughts of my own demise started when my Dad died in my arms back in 2005 and then when my mother died in 2007. My Dad was 81 and my Mum was 84. I wondered if that was a sign of my future. Would I make it into my eighties and, more importantly, would I want to? My Dad smoked. So did I. My Dad had terrible asthma which is what killed him. My mother was much worse because she suffered from the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and I moved in with her to care for her until I could find proper facilities for her. Watching her waste away was just brutal. I wondered if that was in my future too, which I knew I couldn’t deal with after watching my Mum. I would rather be dead.

Okay, somehow I managed to make it this far. I’ve certainly had my share of near-death experiences in my life. My first was when I was just a kid at a camp in Algonquin Park. A bunch of us were playing on a raft, tipping it over and jumping off. At one point I came up and banged my head on the overturned raft. I was laughing and panicked. I started swimming like a mad fool and came up about twenty feet from the raft. Scared the crap out of me.

Flash forward to when I was in a band playing at Chez Monique, a club in Yorkville. It was a three-story house and I didn’t know that the third floor was a brothel. Our guitarist’s, Don Thurston, sister, Pat came with us this night. While we were playing I noticed this guy in an overcoat bothering her. The minute our set finished I went over to them and told him she was with the band and to leave her alone. He turned and pulled a gun on me! Hell. I was only sixteen at the time and I was going to die getting shot. Luckily he just put the gun away and left. You need to remember that I was a scrawny hundred and twenty pounds back then and certainly not threatening.

The next time I remember was dirt biking with my son, Chris. He was new to biking and I was worried he was getting too cocky and could get in trouble. We were racing down a mountain in Revelstoke which had what’s called switchback after switchback, basically a hairpin turn that you needed to be cautious going through. Chris was behind me and we were really booting it. I kept looking back to make sure he was okay, not paying attention to what was in front of me. I was in third gear and going fast when I looked forward and realized that I was going way too fast for the switchback ahead. Too late to apply the brakes so I just geared down, very quickly. I saw the gravel on the side of the roadway too close, with the drop off at least a few hundred feet. It took every bit of riding knowledge to somehow get around the hairpin without going over. My heart was racing. From then on Chris was on his own.

I had a ball in my fourteen years in the Okanagan. I had a much better life balance not working the crazy hours I had been working back in Ontario. I had my toys. I had three different boats. I had several different dirt-bikes. I had a snowmobile. I had both downhill skis and cross-country skis. It was quite the life. In all those years I only had one near-death experience.

Wade and I had found a gorgeous little-sheltered bay on the Okanagan Mountain side of the lake. There was room for several tents and there was a stone berm protecting our boats. Once we got all our friends there we decided to go down to the bar in Penticton. Late that night I guy comes running into the bar and hollers whoever owns those boats on the dock needs to go now! As is typical of the lake a huge storm had come in and our boats were smashing on the dock. Two of my bumpers were smashed to bits. On the way down I had several women with me but as soon as they saw the height of the waves they all went in Wade’s much bigger boat. Only my buddy, Greg, offered to come with me. At the back of the dock was a huge wall of rocks meaning that if I didn’t time it right getting out of there that’s where my boat would end up. Literally holding my breath I timed the incoming wave and accelerated. I made it but immediately porpoised into the next wave and the water flooded my boat. If it hadn’t been for Wade’s vital counseling I would have ended up on the bottom of the lake. He got us back to our campsite and got me into the bay. I wanted to kiss the ground.

The next one is in Ecuador and the closest I’ve ever come to buying the farm. I was staying in a cabin high on the mountain just outside Otavalo. It was freezing so I had to keep a fire going all the time. Funny and nearly tragic that my landlord and I had discussed putting a fan in the cabin to exhaust the gases from the fire. As usual, I was working and suddenly felt very tired so I laid down on my bed for a quick nap. My landlady brought my dinner down earlier but it’s important to understand that she valued my privacy and never once came down later in the evening. For some unknown reason this night she did.

Apparently, she tried to rouse me awake but couldn’t. She knew something was very wrong and thankfully called the ambulance. All I remember was waking up in the hospital just in time to hear the emergency doctor say that I was ten minutes from death! I had carbon monoxide poisoning from the fire. If my landlady had not come down to check on me I would be gone. Far too close for comfort.

Now that I’ve described the times I almost didn’t make it I wanted to turn to a more cheery subject and talk about my birthdays. With exception of one I honestly can’t remember any of them. I racked my brain trying to remember turning 21, 40 or even 60. Nothing. I guess they weren’t very memorable.

My fifthtiest would have to be the celebration of my life. My girlfriend at the time, Karen Falloon, had done an amazing job organizing a surprise birthday party for me. It was the first surprise party of my life and boy did she do a great job. We lived together and I don’t know how she managed to keep it a secret. The plan was we were going to meet some friends at a local restaurant. After we got seated she asked me to come with her to the back where they had meeting rooms. I was confused. When we got there the doors to the meeting room swung open and the first thing I saw were my parents. Then as I entered the room I realized that there were tons of people there. Friends, not only from Kelowna but from far-off places like Pete. Karen had organized the whole thing and kept it a secret from me. It was a really special birthday.

Last year was nice too because my friend Francis arranged for a small cake at La Sima. I had only just arrived here in Mexico so it was a nice touch.

This year was not shaping up to be anything other than sitting at home with my dog. I was a little down about that until Norma said she would join me at the plaza for what I thought was a night of the fiesta. There was nothing going on but we went down to the Malecon for a bit and then walked to El BarCo where I thought a great band was playing. We got there just in time to see the bass player, Sergio, leaving because they had five power outages and decided to quit. Norma and I went up on the rooftop area and had a nice chat. Not exactly a night of excitement but better than sitting at home alone.

Hopefully, I get to write something about turning SEVENTY. Never thought I would make it that far.

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