News From The Woods - June 13, 2011


By Bob Ketchum

Originally Published June 13, 2011

"Age, Mortality, and Eventually"

It's been a while since my last News From The Woods column. I guess I've just been taking a small vacation away from writing. After three years of writing and proofing my book "Face The Music" I am about all written out. I have managed to keep up with my Facebook page and other online adventures, but after writing over 800 pages of my life and going over and over it my mind has sort of shorted out. And just in time, as it seems lately I cannot remember much about my life any more. Maybe the act of writing it all down has released my brain cells of their promise to remember every eventful thing that has happened to me!

Sitting in my hot tub this morning after a hot and humid lawn mowing excursion, the thoughts wandering around in my brain were dwelling on my life at this very point in time. Now that the book is finally behind me I don't have to keep concentrating on "what was" and can spend some quality time on "what is" and "what will be". After fifteen minutes of reflection I must admit the prospects did not look rosey.

I won't go into the gory details but suffice to say all my ailments in recent years were reminding me (in my joints, muscles, and overall well being) of my mortality.

When you're a kid you are invincible. You know, even then, that you won't live forever but at the same time the word "EVENTUALLY" keeps flashing in your brain like a cheap motel sign. After my jeep wreck in the mid 60's, when I drove dad's WWII army surplus jeep off a 40-foot cliff, the doctor told me that "eventually" I'd have problems with my back and right hip. After getting hit head-on at 70 MPH by a Little Rock City dump truck in the late 60's I was told that I might "eventually" have some arthritic complications from the accident. After getting shot in Tulsa at a gig in 1976, the doctors told me that "eventually" I'd have problems with my hand and hip (I was hit twice by the same bullet - long story - just my luck). I could go on and on but if you want ALL the details you'll just have to read my book. The point I am making here is that we live in constant denial about our own mortality. We keep telling ourselves…. "Well, 'eventually' I will have to deal with these issues"… and then we continue right along with our lives. It is in our nature. Then one morning you wake up and something is different. Sometimes it's BANG and you're "there". Sometimes it starts small and then continues along, getting a little worse each day. It depends on the ailment and circumstances of your life.

In MY life, I have always been 18 in my mind. Concerning age….. It's just a number. I know some people who are thirty and act like they are 60. Others, like my father in law who is 91 and still maintains his own cattle farm, are like the Energizer bunny.. They keep going and going and going…….

I remember when I was living in Ft. Smith and a close friend had a heart attack and died at 35. I was 26 at the time. It really made me think… "NOBODY knows how long they will live!" Living a good, clean life guarantees you nothing. You could drown in your bathtub or step out in front of a bus or simply trip while on a walk and break your neck. Thousands of people die every day. Just a statistic. Just a number. Some know its coming. That'd be the worst. Cancer…respiratory diseases…. stroke…. AIDS….. infections….. blood diseases…. TB….. mental illnesses….. The list is endless. And I'm not even mentioning suicides or dying in the line of duty. As my friend Randy Keck is fond of saying "Nobody gets out of here alive". It's true. Of course, that doesn't stop us from living in denial. I mean… WHY would one dwell on it, anyway? Life is tough enough without worrying about the eventual fate of all mankind.

For me, the "magic number" was 59. As I said previously, in my mind I have always been 18. Being a musician has helped because I believe it is true that music keeps you young in spirit. Also, being awarded with a new son at age 51 was an experience that has helped me to stay young. So I have been happily and merrily living along, clinging to my long ago self deception that my mother lived to 81 so I've got "young genes". Sure, dad died at 64 but I told myself he was an alcoholic all of his adult life and since I am have not abused my body in such a manner I should easily be able to outlive him. I even once considered taking the average of the two of them and somehow convincing myself that, with a little luck (no mention of actually taking care of myself) I could live to my mid 70s' with "no problem".

And another thing…… Is it just me or do we ALL think that someday we'll wake up and begin our aging process? Well, let me tell you, it doesn't happen that way. I realize that everyone ages differently but in my case it happened when I turned 59. I breezed right through the dreaded fifty mark. No one even bothered to drag out the black armbands and black balloons at my 50th birthday party. It wasn't appropriate. Just about the time I thought I was going to breeze through the big SIX-0, I hit a brick wall one year shy of the landmark year. "Things" started "going wrong". Back, knee and hip trouble, maladies, surgeries, carpal tunnel, and then finally the diabetes…. And all in the space of just a few years.

So much for growing old gracefully.

The worst part has been ailments on top of ailments. It's hard to know which ailment to blame for some of these problems. When you hit that mark, things just pile up. It's not just "Oh, gee, I don't get over colds as quickly as I used to" (which ALSO happens but that's just the "easy" stuff).

NOW it's:

"My back hurts. All day" (arthritis/obesity)
"This bench is waaay too hard for my butt" (prostate)
"My arm hurts and I can't raise it" (bursitis)
"My toes tingle and my shoulders hurt" (diabetes)
"I have this lump on my neck" (spine spurs)
"My hands have gone to sleep" (carpal tunnel)
"I can feel my heart beating" (high blood pressure)
"I'm sick to my stomach and I have sinus headaches" (bad teeth)
"A pain in my abdomen is killing me!" (Diverticulitis)
"I feel sluggish and tired" (depression)
"I can't run or jump" (hip/knees - see above)
"I can't take a lot of sun" (heat prostration)
"Hand me the SPF 64" (skin cancers)
"My keyboard keeps spelling words wrong" (dyslexia)
"I can't sleep past 5:30 AM any more" (aches and pains)

I feel like "Chester" from "Gunsmoke" when I walk because my right leg is about an inch shorter than my left due to deterioration of my hip. If I twist it wrong I am immediately and very painfully reminded that one more inch in that direction will guarantee me a trip to ER. I always try to stay away from the blade but know that "eventually" I will have to deal with my hip and even my knees. But I consider myself lucky in many ways. For instance, there are already several of my former HS classmates that have already undergone hip and knee replacements, bypass surgeries, and heart stints. Others have had eye surgeries and other major operations. Still other classmates are no longer with us. That puts things into perspective.

The reality is: I'm "there". At first it was very hard for me to perceive that I might be "there". But as things kept happening, I could no longer deny the inevitable. Also, I am well aware that this year I will (hopefully) turn 65. This is my landmark year to outlive my father. For some reason that's a big milestone in any man's life... to outlive his father. I have finally reached "eventually". A sure indicator was that I now qualify for Social Security but I jokingly kidded everyone about it. Although I still see "the same old me" in the mirror, others see the gray hair (despite the pony tail - trying to disguise it) and tool shed and seem to instantly recognize a senior citizen. All of a sudden high school age teens look like children to me. I watched the MTV music awards show last week and aged measurably in just thirty minutes! They were all just children. Not only that but the hosts and "adult members" making the presentations were SO YOUNG! The stars that I DID recognize all looked old sitting there next to the young (future) stars in attendance. After a while these things all add up and even the most stubborn of us have to realize we have reached "eventually".

Eventually, we ALL have to "Face The Music". It's funny (and not so "ha ha") how that book title can take on a whole new meaning when looking at it from a certain point of view. I never meant it to mean in that way, but there you go!

So, I AM facing the music. One of the things I wanted to do was to write and finish my book, so that my son would always have it whenever we wanted to know how his dad grew up and lived, even after I am gone. I am beginning to downsize the studio gear, partly because technology has forced me to keep updating and partly because I do not want to leave my wife wondering what to do with all the "stuff" I have accumulated in my life and career. I have also begun a massive archiving project in order to consolidate my vast library of audio, music and video into a manageable database, with the intention of donating the studio archives to the Reynolds Library; who is already arranging for a computer in the facility that will be dedicated to accessing the huge database of videos I am leaving for the public's benefit.

Don't misunderstand me or my intentions. I'm not cashing in my chips willingly. I am only preparing for "EVENTUALLY"………and suggest that you consider your own mortality and your own legacies, and not wait until the last minute to leave everything in your family's lap at the worst possible time for them.


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