I remember being aware of time from my earliest days. Since I was born in 1940, it's always easy for me to remember how old I am, at least for half of the year (my birth date is July 1). So I inevitably thought of the year 2000, when I would become 60 years old. My father always used the phrase “if you grow up”, so I knew that making it through six decades wasn't going to be any bargain.
One day while I was playing in the street on 30th Avenue in San Mateo, California, another kid told me he was 14 years old. “Are you in college?”, I asked. So imagine what I might have thought about a 60 year old; hell, imagine what I think of a 60 year old right now!
The birthday that bothered me the most was my 23rd. I was with the U.S. Army Engineers in the jungles near Korat, Thailand when July 1, 1963 came by. I felt old and unaccomplished. I had completed two years of college at Villanova and squandered a year at Florida State, and here I was at age 23 with no degree and over a year left to serve in the army. My brother Jack was (and is) three years older and had a good job, a lovely wife, and two children. Obviously, I was on the wrong track.
I survived the army and was lucky enough to find a guide to keep me near the straight and narrow, not too near sometimes, but close enough. Cathy Fagan, whom I had known since I was 16 and she was 15, thought I was worth fixing up, so she helped me through my last two years of Villanova. On Graduation Day, Lawrence O’Brien, the Postmaster General was our featured speaker. I don't remember a single word that he said, but I'll bet he worked in “congratulations.” What I do remember about that day was that my parents and Cathy and I went to an early dinner and I remember telling them how important they were to the successful completion of my college education.
Cathy and I married on August 6, 1966 at Saint Katherine's church in Wayne, PA at high noon. In Washington D.C., Lucy Johnson, the President's daughter, walked down the entire length of the long isle of the cathedral for her noon wedding before Cathy arrived at our church. I know this because there was a radio broadcasting the Johnson wedding in the sacristy where my brother Bob and I waited. I had hoped to marry no younger than 30, but Cathy had other (and better) plans for me.
I started smoking at age 10, but gave it up when my family moved to Philadelphia in 1952. I began again at age 14 and continued smoking Lucky Strikes and Camels until I was 28. I write this to back up my claim that I grew in age and wisdom.
When I became 50 I decided to duck out of the country. So Cathy and I took a week's trip to Athens. On my birthday, I read a card from Katie as we sat on a boat touring a few Greek islands. That night, we dined overlooking the Acropolis at an outdoor restaurant high on a hill. We spent a couple of days on the beach at Mykonos with the temperature close to 100. Two days later we were hiking through the snow in Norway with brothers Bob and Jack and their spouses Shannon and Joann.
The year I was 55 we moved to Cape May Beach and took up residence on the shore of the Delaware Bay. I took an early retirement from Shippensburg University the following spring and finally realized some gain from my three years in the army. We had purchased my years of active duty into the Pennsylvania State Employees Retirement System and thus I qualified for early retirement without penalty with 30 years of credited service although I had taught for 27 years. I taught for three more years at Richard Stockton College in Pomona, NJ before finally putting down my chalk.
1. Cathy wanted to celebrate my 60th birthday in a grandiose manner. I pleaded for a smaller event just involving family. So, on the weekend of June 9,10,11, we hosted a wonderful family reunion involving most of my family. The list of participants:
Jack and Joann McArthur from Golden, Colorado
The weather cooperated all weekend providing hot and humid sunny summer days.
Cathy prepared a great feast for Friday's dinner on our deck with all participants in attendance. Chicken Piccata, twice-baked potatoes, and a spinach-artichoke casserole were featured dishes.
On Saturday morning, Jack, Julie, Joan, Phil, Tom, and I ran in the inaugural “Catch Your Breath” 5K race in Crest Haven. It was miserably humid even for the 8 AM start. We all survived the race and Tom and Jack brought back some hardware as they won medals for their performances.
Julie and I kayaked the six miles to the Cape May Canal and back after the race. We were accompanied by a friend, Linda Keech, who was taking her first trip in her new kayak. Others of our group played tennis or golf during the afternoon. Alex and I took Erin to the beach for her first experiences with sand and seawater. She took a serious interest in handling and moving sand, but she didn't like her encounter with the water. I remember that her mother didn't like the sea at first either.
We had a party at Cucina Rosa on Saturday night. We had a private dining area with an adults table and a kids table for those under 40. Joan issued commemorative T-shirts of her own design and made some gentle remarks about my past. I received some very thoughtful gifts including an amazing book of old photos and other items put together by Joann. My children especially were dazzled by the old photos. The favorite was a beefcake photo of me in Miami Beach taken on a Thanksgiving when I was 20. We had a very special birthday cake with some photos on it.
We had a farewell lunch at our house on Sunday. It was truly marvelous to have all of us together for the weekend. I'm grateful for the effort everyone made to come and especially the vision and work put in by Cathy.
2. I decided that I'd like to be in Bar Harbor on July 1 and also we wanted to visit my brother Bob in his new house in Auburn, Maine. So we left on June 27 and headed for New England. Bob and Marty, her son Andrew, and their daughter Julie live in a large, sprawling estate on the hills surrounding Auburn Lake. They have a tennis court and a nice pool area. Bob barbecued both nights that we stayed with them. One of my main missions for the visit was to capture photos of Bob and Julie for the Nose Gallery. Fred was jealous and made sure that we got his photo, too. Andrew, Bob, Cathy, and I spent the day on Wednesday on the sailboat Wager. Captain Bob allowed me and Andrew to take the helm as we sailed in Sheepscot Bay. Cathy also enjoyed the peacefulness of sailing and the beauty of the day. Marty's mother and father joined us for dinner followed by an impromptu cake and birthday celebration.
3. We left early on Thursday morning, June 29. Laura, Marty's niece from Athens, Georgia, who was visiting for a month, got up and saw us on our way. We decided to take the scenic way on Route 1 from Bath to Bar Harbor. There was little traffic and it was a beautiful day. When we got to Buckport we detoured to Castine, where there is a pretty coastal village. Then we went to Blue Hill, where we ate lobster rolls in a little place called the Pantry. Then we headed to the Park Entrance Motel in Bar Harbor. We've been staying there since our first visit in 1973. We registered and then drove the Park Loop road through Acadia National Park and walked the path from Sand Beach to Otter Cliffs. It was cool enough to force us into long pants and sweaters in the evening. We ate our traditional first meal at the Quarterdeck Restaurant.
It was raining lightly on Friday morning. We hiked in the fog on the Cadillac Mountain North Ridge Trail. When we arrived at the summit, it was cold, rainy, and windy; we were alone at the top. The weather turned worse as we ate lunch at Geddy's in Bar Harbor. I ate my last pizza before becoming a senior citizen. It thundered and poured throughout the afternoon; we went to Ellsworth and viewed The Perfect Storm on its opening day - great movie. We ate dinner at Anthony's on Main Street, where we enjoyed excellent food with generous portions. We had to run the heat in the room at night.
I awoke at 5:15 AM on the morning of my birthday. It was cool as the morning sun reflected in a smooth Frenchman Bay. We drove into Bar Harbor and ate blueberry pancakes at Jordan's Restaurant where the waitresses all look alike (they're Jordans). We went over to the town pier an queued up for our "deep sea fishing" trip on the Sea Hawk. The boat motored through the fog to a spot south of Mt. Desert Island. We were in 100' of water using diamond jigs with toad sculpin for bait. A few toad sculpin (look like sea robins) were caught but that's all. It was a very amateurish operation. The fog lifted and we saw two minke whales, some harbor porpoises, and two seals. We had a beautiful ride back in along the shore south of Bar Harbor. We ate lunch at Rosalie's where I had a calzone. We walked the shore path along the harbor before coming back to the room. We got dressed for hiking and headed for the Bear Brook Trail up the ridge of Mt. Champlain. The views on this trail are great! I got my official 60th birthday photo at the summit and we got a fellow hiker to snap our photo. We came down the East Face Trail. Then we drove to Sand Beach and did the Great Head loop trail. Back at the motel, I swam and sat in the jacuzzi. We ate a pampered, fancy meal at the Rose Garden. There was good food and lots of service - rose petals in the toilet! We drove up to the top of Mt. Cadillac and saw fireworks from several towns. Great day!
Sunday morning was sunny and warm. We breakfasted at the Log Cabin Restaurant on Route 3. Then we went to the National Park Rentals in Town Hill and rented mountain bikes. We had a hilly ride to the Eagle Lake carriage paths. We rode the lake loop which was also a bit hilly. Cathy complained. We returned the bikes after about three hours and 30 miles. We tried to sign up for a kayak tour, but they just filled up as we stood there. We ate lunch at a lobster pound on Route 3. Then we sunbathed (!) on the dock at the motel. We drove to the Jordan Pond House intending to hike the Jordan Cliffs Trail. We found that the Park Service had closed this trail along with the Precipice Trail and blamed it on the Peregrine Falcons. We drove to Bar Harbor and walked out the bar to Bar Island, where we hiked to the summit. We ate dinner at Starlight Oasis, a vegetarian restaurant on West Street. We had coffee on the verandah of Bar Harbor Inn and watched the sun set. The weirdest thing of the day happened when I discovered that we didn't have a room reserved for this night. Something had nagged at me while Cathy was complaining on the bike ride and I looked at our reservation form. Luckily I checked because we had to switch rooms.
On Monday morning we arose early, dressed for the trail, and headed for the Sand Beach area. We started up the Beehive Trail at 6:44 AM. We finally got a chance to experience open ledges and iron ladders. The views were terrific. We went back down via the Bowl Trail and finished at 7:44 AM. Next we drove to Jordan's Restaurant and had breakfast in that busy, inexpensive restaurant. We went back to the room, got organized and were on the road by 10 AM. We made good time and were in Freeport by noon. Years ago I wrote a short essay about the reasons that I hated Freeport. This time I added the plethora of chinese-made items to my list. I don't think that anyone in town sells American-made goods. We ate lobster rolls for lunch at a restaurant filled with obnoxious patrons. When we got back on the road, I suggested a side trip to Gloucester. We found the waterfront and stopped for gas. Cathy asked the young man pumping gas where the Crow's Nest was located. He said that it was 80 yards farther down the road and that we'd "smell the drunks" when we got close. We parked in front of Rose's Wharf and took pictures of the Crow's Nest and some boats at the dock. As we stood there we saw a fishing boat coming home from a trip. A young guy was on deck with the dock lines and a young girl pulled up in her car excitedly calling for him. It was just like a scene from The Perfect Storm as life imitated art. We also found and photographed Hannah Boden as featured in The Perfect Storm and The Hungry Ocean. Then we got on Route 128 and headed for our hotel in Newton. Cathy called Sue Beatty on our cell phone and arranged for us to go to their house in Natick. Jack drove us on the scenic route to Scituate via Jerusalem Road where we spent the summer of 1978. We ate in a yuppified version of one of our favorite outdoor restaurants on Scituate Harbor. We finally arrived at our Holiday Inn next to Riverside Station of the "T" at around midnight. Just another routine day.
Tuesday, July Fourth, began as a hot, muggy day. We ate breakfast in the room. Jack and Sue picked us up at about 10 AM and we headed for Boston. We went up into Jack's building and his office on the 39th floor. We looked out the window and were astounded to see the USS Constitution backing out of her slip. This was that one day a year that the Constitution travels up the harbor and back to her slip. We left the un-airconditioned discomfort of the building and walked through Faneuil Hall to the waterfront where we ate lunch in Joe's Café. Then we took a harbor cruise which dropped us off at the USS Constitution which was just returning into her slip. We had a short cloudburst while we were watching sailors and park rangers (one with a big stogie in his mouth) tie the ship to the dock. We caught the next harbor cruise boat back to the Boston waterfront. We could clearly see Jack's building and office from the boat. Then we headed back to Natick for a cookout. We had a chance to talk with their daughter, Karen, who is moving to Manhattan this month. Jack and Sue dropped us back at our hotel at about 9:15 PM.
Wednesday was a milder day with drier air. Cathy and I ate breakfast at the hotel's restaurant; I was wearing a shirt and tie for an afternoon meeting. We walked to the Riverside Station of the MBTA and rode to Government Center. On the way we passed Crystal Lake in Newton Center where Katie learned to swim as a six-year old. I carried my laptop computer with camera inside the case. We walked to the waterfront and visited the New England Aquarium where I received my first "senior citizen discount." We attended the sea lion show where I took a short video of Guthrie, the main performer. I also shot a video into the main saltwater tank at the aquarium; there was a women beside me whose voice dominates the sound track. We ate lunch at the Faneuil Hall food court and sat next to some Shriner ladies from New York. Somehow I remembered that Dad belonged to both LuLu and Crescent Temples in Philadelphia and his father belonged to Jaffa Temple in Altoona. Then we went to the EPA offices at 1 Congress Street for my 1 PM meeting with Mike Hill of the EPA and Alison DeMong and others from the Mass Bay Estuary Program. Perhaps I will be able to convert some software I've developed for the Delaware Inland Bays and apply it to the Massachusetts Program. We had a two-hour meeting. Afterward, Cathy and I walked to the waterfront and took a harbor cruise to Georges Island. The conditions were perfect for another couple of hours on the water. While we were passing Logan Airport, I shot a video of a plane coming in from the south right over our heads. We walked back to Faneuil Hall and ate in Durgin Park where I ate for the first time in 1978 when the waitress said "What do you want?" as her rude request for my order. I remember that she threw my lobster down in front of me in an abrupt delivery. This night, the place had mellowed and I think I heard some "please"s and "thank-you"s. We sat next to a Shriner family from Arizona. We went to a sidewalk café for coffee and I shot a short video of the moment. We watched a juggler for a while and then took the "T" back to our hotel.
We ended this celebration on Thursday as we drove back to our mundane life on the shore of the Delaware Bay.
So, what does this all mean? The biggest shock came when I received
the "senior citizen discount" at the Aquarium in Boston; this was the official,
formal recognition that I've become an old fart. Does this mean that I
have to stop ogling the babes and acting like a child? I think not!
William G. McArthur