The benefits of turning 80

Echo Ridge sign

I’ve never been big on celebrating my birthday, not even when I was a kid. When I was working, I never got the day off and, frankly, it never seemed that important — at least compared to the Fishing Opener.

Last month, however, I turned 80 and I’m thinking this year ought to be special.

Call it mild cognitive impairment or a hardening of the arteries, but I’m feeling more respect from younger friends and strangers. Seventy-seven isn’t as impressive as 80, especially when they discover you can still walk to the store, get up out of a chair without a hand and drive to Brainerd without a pit stop.

During the worst of the COVID–19 outbreak, I got a lot of attention — texts, calls and online chats. A former student at the University of St. Thomas called me twice a week wanting to know how I was doing and whether I needed groceries.

My Northside nuns sent me a face mask from a Chinese sister who once lived with them. (She had mailed 20 of them to their Minneapolis monastery.) The teenage son of an old friend came over to help me carry out a sailor’s chest.

Befitting an 80-year-old, I moved to a seniors’ apartment — more vets, some pets, no cigarettes. I decided it was time when the 7-foot stepladder I was standing on — while removing snow from my townhome roof — started wobbling.

Luckily, I wobbled as the ladder did and came to a soft landing rather than a hard fall. Now I’m in a place where the roof is above, the parking below and the garbage down the chute. Although it’s hard to tell because we’re all wearing masks, the residents seem friendly, lively and sprightly, more inclined to be in the game than on the sideline. I also encounter considerably more diversity in the hallways of the new place than the greenways around the old one.

When I’m finally settled in the new apartment, I should also get a new phone — a “smart” one. I believe I’m the only one in my area code with a flip-phone.

I’m actually embarrassed to pull it out in public. I find myself palming the phone, turning my back and finding a corner. I look like a high school kid lighting up a Lucky Strike. With the old flipper, it takes me five minutes to send a five-word text. Yep, it’s time, and I could use the Uber app.

I also need a good cause, working toward a better future, rather than mourning the distant past. To prove I can do something besides siphon off Medicare dollars, I’ll continue to put out and speak up for Emerge and its North Four program.

The idea is to take young men off the streets, out of gangs, into school and onto jobs. My friend Will Wallace, who runs Minneapolis’ North Four, says in the past eight years, two of his 300 grads have been shot and killed.

A handful are in prison, but most are now working — getting a leg up because someone offered a hand up. To me at 80, that sounds like progress.

Finally, to convince myself I’m not on a slide to “the home,” I’ll take a hike to the bottom of Utah’s Bryce Canyon, with its hoodoos (columns of rock) that stick straight up from the canyon floor.

I’ve asked the son of my best friend, who died of pancreatic cancer, to accompany me. He’s a retired Air Force colonel, and if he can command a squadron, he can follow me down and, if needed, push an old boy uphill. I believe his father would be proud of both of us.

Dave Nimmer had a long career as a reporter, editor and professor. Now retired, he has no business card, but plenty to do. He’s even got a new book coming out. Stay tuned!