At age 11, when I shot my first news photo for a newspaper, I was considered by more than a few as “someone who did what he did at an early age.” I graduated from high school a year early, skipping my junior year and going from sophomore to senior.
My first full-time job was as a reporter and photographer for The Floyd Press, while still in high school, which I started at age 15 until I graduated in 1965, and I went to work for The Roanoke Times as their first-ever newspaperman at 17. I won my first statewide writing award with a first-place column at age 18, then first in the news category at 18.
I left the Times and became reporter-photographer-columnist for The Telegraph in Alton, Illinois, in 1969, at 21, again the youngest member of the staff.
Same for Congress, when we moved to the National Capital Region in 1981. A story in Roll Call noted that, at age 33, I was the youngest Chief of Staff for a member of Congress. The same claim followed as a Special Assistant for the ranking member of the Science and Technology Committee at age 35 and, at 36, the Division Vice President for the National Association of Realtors,
I turned 40 at the Realtors and, suddenly, realized that I had become older than most of my contemporaries in Washington. Bill Clinton was just a little older when he became president. Barack Obama was younger and I figured that I would be older than future occupants of The White House.
Then Donald John Trump came along. He was more than a year older, followed by Joe Biden, who will be 80 when his first term expires in 2024.
When we left Washington in 2004 and moved to Floyd County, every funeral except one — for my mother in 2012 — was for someone younger. Classmates from the 1960s, including best friend Gary Shockey — died at younger ages. Same for Republic of Floyd owner and friend Tom Ryan.
The one older was my mother, who died at age 89 in 2012, two months before an encounter between my Harley-Davidson with a black steer on U.S. 221 between Cave Spring and the bottom of Bent Mountain, had members of the rescue squad betting I wouldn’t survive the ambulance ride to Carilion-Roanoke Memorial on Nov. 9, 2012. When I walked out of Community Rehab on Christmas Eve three months before they predicted I could leave, the doctor in charge noted, on the discharge papers, that the “patient is a walking miracle.”
I turned 65 in the hospital in 2012. Today, Dec. 17, 2022, I turned 75.
In my teen years and into my 20s, I tried to cram as much living as I could before age 30, because my dad died at age 29, when I was nine months old, as did five of his brothers. The feeling among that side of the family was that no male would hit age 30, so I worked hard and partied even harder.
My cousins and I beat the odds.
I fathered a child — a precocious daughter — to a woman I never married — in 1977. She’s a successful attorney, aspiring novelist, and married to another lawyer. She stays in touch. Her mother doesn’t.
At age three-quarters of a way to the century mark, I consider myself a fortunate man. Amy, my wife of 43 years and partner and lover of 45. provides health and strength. We’ve traveled the world together. In my profession as a photojournalist, I have witnessed conflicts, wars, tragedies, triumphs, and more. In service to my country, I have been to places and done things I never imagined and, in too many cases, regret.
I limp because of several compound fractures of my right leg, am stiff from severe arthritis from too many bones broken in other parts of my body or things replaced from accidents like a helicopter crash in the 1970s, and a few other things that can’t be mentioned.
Amy estimates that I have used somewhere between 25 and 30 of my nine lives, but who’s counting? The only number I keep tabs of the number of years, months, weeks and days of sobriety after taking the first step away from booze on June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
On the 17th of December of 2022, I have been sober for 28 years, seven months, and 11 days and I’ve counted each of those 24-hour periods, one day at a time.
And, for the record, I have been alive for 75 years, or 900 months, or 3,900 weeks or 27,393 days (including Leap Years), or 93,600 hours or 5.6 million minutes, or 333.9 million seconds.
Damn No wonder I’m tired.