In the springtime of every Grumpy Old Man, there was once a budding youth, full of ideas and ambitions and, well, you-know-what and vinegar. A green, uncarved block of potential for making good, bad or mediocrity. This obvious realization hits me every year around this time; Autumn promises what is now known as Ozarks Weekend around our house.
For a dozen years, eight high school classmates have gathered at a small cabin resort on Table Rock Lake, which straddles the Arkansas/Missouri state line. One of our eight owns a marina on the Arkansas side; the rest of us converge there just as the autumn air snaps to. After growing up in northern Indiana, we’ve become scattered – two in Texas, two in Tennessee, one each in Georgia, North Carolina, Arkansas with one remaining in Indianapolis. We were all band nerds before a time when band nerds were so labeled. We marched in half-time shows, played high school dances, romped as a pep band when Robert Kennedy came through town on a whistle stop in 1968. We tasted beer and belted out big band tunes in American Legion halls and watched in amazement as those old geezers cut a rug with unbelievable style and grace.
About five years ago, it became apparent that something had changed. Where we used to arrive with boxes and boxes of alcohol, fixin’s for meals to be prepared at the cabin, golf clubs, running togs, fishing gear and late night anticipation, we now arrive with a bottle or two of a good wine, some premium bourbon, interesting beers and maybe a bottle of cognac and cigars. And most of that goes untouched. And while we all enjoyed cooking, we now have a circuit of good restaurants that we makes the weekend much less complicated. Lights out is late if it’s past 10:00 pm. And a lot of toilet flushing goes on in the dead of night.
On the lake, we used to have a couple of fishing boats, a pontoon and one or two wave runners employed at any given time. During the past few years, we’ve cruised the lake piled on the pontoon, discussing real estate prices, retirement, medical procedures and, yes, even old times. Imagine eight old men staring at a rocky shoreline, lost in their own thoughts, with the occasional interjected “Have you thought about…?” or “Do you remember that time when…?”
Recognizing this, we’ve made a concerted effort to shake things up. A couple of years ago, we went para-sailing on the lake; last year, a rousing bowling tournament followed; and this year, it was a zipline canopy tour. And yes, we are all still within the cable weight limits! Next year might be trap shooting or who knows what? Skydiving? Spelunking? Rock climbing?
North of sixty, we’re obviously at that point where a certain urgency consumes the bucket list. And good for that. It’s time, and Life is short and precious.
I think that each of us recognizes that our bond – creeping up to a half-century now – is unusual, and to some, enviable. When we get together, we are long past trying to impress or improve each other. We know how each of the others’ corners got knocked off, and when. The broken dreams, the failed marriages, the career setbacks, the health issues – these are ever-present, but not front and center. We spend time in the Now, despite our links from the time when LBJ was in the White House. It’s the only way to keep it fresh, and for us to stay relevant, in our own way. But it seems to get more difficult, the longer we go. Where we used to aspire to “Stud,” we now settle for “Cute.” Maybe that’s why people think we’re Grumpy.
Next time you encounter a Grumpy Old Man, take a moment to remember that he once had a full head of thick dark hair, a trim waistline, a purposeful gait and more than a few good ideas and ambitions, fueled by a cup-runneth-over supply of you-know-what and vinegar.
If he’s really, really blessed, he’ll also be carrying an Ozarks Weekend behind his eyes…