Milestones


Seated: Danny, Rick, Delia, Jerry. Standing: David, Diego, Joey.

Our lives are marked by many milestones. The most easily recognized milestones are birthdays. I don’t really remember any of my birthdays until I reached the age of five. Five was such a magical number for me. Just ask William Carlos Williams about the number five and you’ll see what I mean. Five was special because a nickel was worth five cents (obviously) and that would buy me a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup when I was five. Then there was a long dry spell before I reached the next milestone of 10. It sure felt much longer than five years! Probably because I would tell people my age by half years: “You can’t talk to me like that. I’m seven and a half!” But when I turned ten, I had hit the double digits. I felt grown up. So grown up that I talked my mother into buying an electric guitar and amplifier that I promised to learn to play but never did.

Thirteen was another important milestone because, suddenly, practically overnight it seems, I became a teenager. Being a teenager was cool! My sixteenth birthday meant I could take driver’s ed. I felt like I was really moving up in the world. I was sixteen and I had my driver’s license! Of course, I couldn’t drive because I didn’t have a car and no one was foolish enough to let me drive their car. I wouldn’t drive a car until I turned eighteen and I bought my own car. Eighteen was a very memorable milestone for me, too. I also had to register for the draft and I was sure I would get drafted and have to go to Viet Nam! So I enjoyed life as much as possible before I was drafted, even though President Nixon had stopped the draft and no one was actually getting drafted anymore, but I was convinced that I would somehow get drafted anyway. Nonetheless, I was an adult with voting privileges.

Nineteen was also memorable because that’s when the state of Illinois, in its infinite wisdom, lowered the drinking age to nineteen for beer and wine. Let’s just say that I communed with the spirits on weekends to unwind from the long week of work at the peanut butter factory. When state legislators realized they had made a mistake in lowering the drinking age, they raised it back up to twenty-one again. But not before I turned–Tada!–twenty-one! I take pride in having planned my date of birth so precisely. Twenty-one meant I was an adult for real. Even if I would never get drafted. You would think that there would be no more milestones after twenty-one, but then you would think wrong! As all male drivers under twenty-five know, surviving your own reckless driving habits to live to your twenty-fifth birthday grants you the privilege of seeing your auto insurance drop dramatically.

Then the milestones were no longer significant. Thirty? The big three-oh? Thirty was so anti-climactic after seeing my auto insurance rates drop. Forty? What a yawn! I celebrated by taking a nap. And don’t even ask me about turning fifty. So stop asking me already. I actually forgot all about my fiftieth birthday until my sons reminded me that we usually go out for dinner and the movie of my choice for my birthday. Do I know how to celebrate or what?

Now, I hate when people ask me my age. And not because I’m embarrassed about my age. I actually enjoy being my age and I never try to appear younger than I really am, but please don’t ask me my age. That involves math. How old am I? Let’s see. This is 2010 minus 1956, the year of my birth. That makes me … Oh, I hate doing the math. That’s why I majored in literature! After twenty-one, I stopped keeping track of my age. Age became just a number to me–an unknown variable that I didn’t want to calculate! Why do I need to know my own age anyway. If I go to the liquor store for a bottle of wine and the clerk asks me if I’m old enough to drink, I just hand him or her my driver’s license and say, “You figure it out.” Now that I think of it, why am I still be carded?

My next milestone–and one that I look forward to seeing–is my 100th birthday. Triple digits! I hope you read my blog entry on that very special occasion!

Age


Tempus fugit.

I’ve been thinking about my age–again. So what got me thinking about my age? I think the presidential campaign had a lot to do with it. Come January 20, 2009, I will be–for the first time in my life!–older than the President of the United States of America.

This must be a significant moment in my life. Now that I think of it, I’m also older than Osama bin Laden–if he’s still alive. I was the oldest of six children. After I failed the fourth grade–the toughest two years of my life–I was among the oldest in the class. When I joined the Marines, I was 22, so I was the oldest recruit in my platoon in boot camp. I’m now older than my mother was when she died in 1986 at age 51.

I remember in grade school how we had to date every writing assignment we turned in. Every time I would write the year 1963, 1964, etc., I would fantasize about the day that I would someday write the year 2000. But I planned to be out of grade school by then. The year 2000 seemed so far off into the future.

Time traveled much more slowly back then. I remember watching the second hand of the clock in our classroom. The second hand moved ever so slowly right around dismissal time. Those last ten minutes of school seemed a lot longer than the previous six hours of school.

I remember birthdays taking much longer to come around. Birthdays meant so much more back then. I remember anxiously awaiting my tenth birthday because writing my age would require two digits. That tenth birthday also took forever to come around. The next milestone was 13 because then I would be a teenager. At 16, I took driver’s ed. At 18, I registered for the draft even though no one was being drafted for Vietnam anymore. At 19, I was able to buy wine and beer in the state of Illinois. When they changed the drinkin age back to 21, ta da, I turned 21.

25 was my favorite age because my auto insurance really dropped then. That meant I was no longer in the high-risk age group of drivers 16-24. The last significant milestone was 30. I sort of enjoyed the nice round number. After that, birthdays didn’t really seem all that important to me anymore. When I turned 40, I celebrated by taking a nap. My friends insisted on throwing me a surprise big 5-OH party even though I told them I didn’t want one after they told me about my surprise party. I mean, it really wasn’t a surprise anymore after they told me about it so I wouldn’t go on vacation before my party even though it was in July even though my birthday was in May. So, I’m older than President elect Barack Obama. How do I absorb all this? I think I’m going to bed. Good night!

My Mexican relatives


María del Carmen Martínez Valdivia

Well, I sure learned a lot about my family on this trip to México. For one, most of the stories that my mother told me about her family weren’t true! While talking to my cousin, I realized that none of the facts matched most of the stories my mother told me when I was a boy. For example, my mother would often tell me how when she was a girl, she wanted a life-like doll for her birthday. One that cried like a real baby, drank a bottle, and wet her diapers, etc. And on my mother’s birthday, my tía Jovita was born. That was the birthday present my mother really wanted! Well, I told my cousin this story and she said that tía Jovita’s birthday is on December 24. So this doesn’t match up to my mother’s birthday on April 27!

Also, everyone in México always knew my mother as Helen. When I was little that’s what my father called her. I always knew her as Helen, too, until she became a U.S. citizen and she changed her legal name to Carmen M. Rodríguez. When my mother died, I was surprised to discover that her real name, based on her birth certificate was María del Carmen Martínez Valdivia. When I was little, my mother always told me how she and her sisters didn’t like their given names, so they changed them to something that they really liked. Mariana Anita became Esthela, María del Carmen became Helen, María became Marusa, Jovita became Rebeca. Unfortunately, I can’t remember her sister’s Laura’s original name. Their brother Alfredo always remained Alfredo. Go figure!

My cousin also told me that her mother told her how my mother used to dress in boy’s clothes and insisted on being called Alejandro. Of course, I’m not sure how true this story is because it turns out my tía also liked to embellish her stories. But if it is true, what a coincidence that I also liked the name so much that I named one of my sons Alejandro!