At age 70, ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been’

Remembering: A son and a grandson visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. Their father and grandfather's name is on the wall. (Photo by Doug Thompson)
Remembering: A son and a grandson visit the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, DC. Their father and grandfather’s name is on the wall. (Photos by Doug Thompson Copyright © DT Media)

My father died in 1949 at age 29 — nine months after my birth — in an industrial accident at his job at U.S. Phosphorus in Tampa, Florida.

His brothers died before age 30.  My grandmother buried all of her sons and a daughter before she died in 1994.

At age 29 in 1977, I wondered if I would make it to 30.  With a father and four uncles who died before that age, a jinx seemed to be in play with the family.  Nine years earlier, I had spent more than a month near death in a hospital and wondered if the family jinx would strike.

It didn’t.  Birthday number 30 turned into a wild celebration.

A little over five years ago, I lay in intensive care again with a coma, brain injury and broken bones at age 64.  I turned 65 still in the hospital.

Today, December 17, 2017, I turn 70 — an age I never expected to reach.

Someone recently asked wife Amy how many of my “nine lives” remained.

“None,” she said.  “He’s on about his 17th or 18th year of those lives.”

I’ve cheated death many times over the last 70 years.  Some through reckless behavior, some through a profession that placed me in life-threatening situations and some for just being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

My 70-year-old body walks with a limp.  My left shoulder is frozen, which limits use of it and creates some problems for one who is left-handed. My right leg is three-quarters of an inch shorter than my left and contains enough metal to set off detectors in courthouses and airports.

Yet the body still walks.  It still rides a motorcycle and still roams up and down football fields and basketball courts photographing games for newspapers.  It still writes articles daily for various publications — some in print and others online — and lives one day at a time as a recovering alcoholic with 23 years, five months and 11 days of sobriety.

I’ve been fortunate to witness and photograph history — the horror of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at the Pentagon, the aftermath and investigation of the Columbia Shuttle explosion, Space shuttle launches and landings and so much more, crime in our streets, strife around the world and love in our homes.

The life that I was so sure would end before age 30 continued for another four decades, along with 38 years of marriage to my best friend, partner and love of my life. It has brought many times of happiness and some of sadness, including the deaths of people I loved and cherished.

Stonehenge in 1987. (Copyright © DT Media)

I’ve traveled the world in my work, including visits to all continents and both the north and south poles.  Amy and I walked through the historic old city of Jerusalem, visited the birthplace of Christ and the shores of the dead seas. We visited the Vatican, body-surfed off the black sands of Hawaii and walked the streets of London.  My work took me to the cartel-infested regions of Mexico and South America, the glaciers of Alaska, the concrete canyons of Hong Kong, the tenements of Manila and the deserts of the Mideast.

Slide trays in our closets and in still in storage in Northern Virginia tell stories of horrible conditions in war-torn foreign lands and incredible beauty in exotic locales.

Clips of newspaper and magazine articles over the past half decade tell about a young girl who sought abortions when she got pregnant as a high school student in Roanoke, Virginia, drug pushers and users in St. Louis and the Metro East of Illinois in the 60s and 70s and civil rights turmoil throughout the nation.

Others detail struggles of rust belt communities in the Midwest or violence in the slums of Washington, DC.

They also show beauty of our land and our world, the turn of a century and a celebration of America’s first 200 years. I’ve covered Presidents from Johnson to Trump and took a sabbatical to the dark side of life as a political operative that taught more than I should have about our warped political system and its government.

After returning to Floyd in 2004, I exposed a con-man who tried to bilk our community with a phony “data center” plan, wrote about a businessman addicted to child pornography and the horrific massacre at Virginia Tech.

The beauty and music of Martha Spencer of the Whitetop Mountain Band. (Copyright © DT Media)

Along the way, I’ve also been fortunate to write about and photograph the beauty of our county, from the music and beauty of the Crooked Road to the grace and athletic prowess of our high school athletes.

Amy and  I cherish our friends here in Southwestern Virginia as well as those we still have in the Washington, DC, area, Southern Illinois, Metro St. Louis and around the nation and world.

As Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead sang in their song Truckin’, “what a long, strange trip it’s been.”

Yes it was worth every minute of it.  With luck, we have some good years and times still ahead of us.


© 2004-2022 Blue Ridge Muse

© 2021 Blue Ridge Muse