An Octogenarian Looks Back on His Path to Good Health If you’d known me when I was in my 20s and 30s, a hyper-masculine, self-indulgent, beer-swilling rebel (without much of a cause), you might have wondered if I’d ever reach the age of 40. I ponder ...
An Octogenarian Looks Back on His Path to Good Health
Shonnie, Gracelyn & me
If you’d known me when I was in my 20s and 30s, a hyper-masculine, self-indulgent, beer-swilling rebel (without much of a cause), you might have wondered if I’d ever reach the age of 40. I ponder sometimes if I even wanted to. But here I am at 80, in pretty damned good shape—healthy, vigorous, and strong.
Obviously, I didn’t consciously set out on a path to nurture my physical, emotional, and spiritual health. Hell, I rarely even considered arriving at this realm I once considered to be geezerdom (pardon the ageism). But despite overindulging in alcohol and dabbling in other drugs early on, I have since instinctively pursued a path that supported me to reach this age with almost all body parts in working order, no need for any medications, a resting heartbeat of 55, and at the weight I was as a junior in high school—165 pounds.
Though my mind sometimes wants me to believe I’m still 40 (and cracking jokes of a pre-adolescent), there are some effects of aging that are undeniable. My hair is gray, my skin has wrinkles, my energy level has slipped, and my spatial awareness and balance have declined somewhat. Of course, I’ve worn glasses since my 40s, mostly to read fine print and road signs. And I have a benign enlarged prostate, necessitating drowsily arising in the middle of the night to urinate. Finally, after a decade or two of postponing the inevitable, I was compelled to get my hearing checked following this interchange with my daughter Gracelyn a few years ago.
Me to Gracelyn: So, what’s the best thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to Mom, you can’t hear me.
Me: OK, well, what’s the worst thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to you, you can’t hear me.
And yes, I got the hearing aids soon afterwards. And, they’re pretty cool in that, besides hearing Gracelyn whisper, I can take phone calls and listen to music through them.
So that’s the overview, folks. If you want details, read on. If not, you’re welcome to skip to the final paragraph.
. . .
A timeline of my quest for good health
Me (4th from left) and my 5th grade pals.
Ages 6-18: As a boy growing up in the late Forties and early Fifties, I spent a great deal of time outdoors doing the usual kid stuff—bike riding, pickup baseball and football games, running, climbing trees, and more. I was called “sickly” by one of my elementary school teachers, and I underwent a tonsillectomy in 1949. Most notably, at age 13, I biked 50-miles in one day to earn my Boy Scout cycling merit badge. When I got to junior high, I entered the realm of organized athletics, playing on the basketball and football teams, suffering a broken collarbone during a football game And in high school, I took it up several notches, not only participating in those sports as seasonal pursuits, but running in the off-season and lifting weights year-round. My nose was broken in a junior varsity basketball game. To be in the best physical condition possible, I totally abstained from tobacco and alcohol. A footnote of this era: Sitting in my ’47 Plymouth business coupe, my feet on the ground as I changed from my school shoes to my camping boots, a bolt of lightning hit a nearby tree, and I felt the charge of electricity flow up my feet and legs through my entire body.
Ages 18-23: My hard work and intentionality paid off, and I was awarded an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Tennessee. While I was a starter at receiver on the freshman team, big-time football was not what I’d anticipated, and I eventually transferred to Sewanee, a small liberal arts college, where there were no athletic scholarships. If you played football at Sewanee, you did it for the love of the game. It was during my college days that I began drinking beer and, occasionally, hard liquor.
I was a teenage Vol!
Ages: 23-30: Not much going on in my physical life except a lot of pot smoking, drinking, and occasional pick-up basketball and touch football games. However, after reading a book on yoga in my late 20s, I taught myself to breathe diaphragmatically and have breathed in this manner ever since. According to medical authorities, this type of breathing improves muscle function during exercise, increases the amount of oxygen in one’s blood, reduces blood pressure, and reduces heart rate.
Ages 30-40: When I was 30, I began playing handball and continued until I turned 80. I believe handball enhanced my agility and flexibility, muscle tone, stamina, and promoted my cardiovascular health. I also began weight machine workouts for building and maintaining my strength, and I have continued intermittently. And I played competitive volleyball—beach doubles and six-man indoors with benefits similar to those gained via handball. The drinking persisted.
Ages 40-50: I continued handball, volleyball, and weight workouts, and I began to run as well. Running helped me to build strong bones, strengthen muscles, and improve cardiovascular fitness. I also began a daily regimen of pushups and crunches, a practice I continue. In my mid-40s, I stopped drinking alcohol cold turkey and began eating an organic vegetarian diet. To expunge limiting beliefs and reawaken to my authentic self, I regularly participated in transformative personal growth workshops, including weeklong intensives featuring whitewater rafting, ropes courses, and solo camping experiences.
Virginia Beach doubles VB tourney –1980.
Ages 50-60: I continued handball, running, weights, and daily exercises. I also began training for marathons and lengthy trail races, and I completed several of each, along with some half-marathons and other shorter races. In addition, an effective stretching routine became an essential part of my post-run and post-handball regimen, a practice I continue to this day. Stretching in this manner has helped me remain more flexible and agile and maintain my range of motion. In addition, it increases the blood flow into my muscles and helps deliver nutrients that aid in recovery after a challenging workout.
Ages 60-70: I continued handball, running, weights, and daily exercises. I had arthroscopic surgery on my left knee in 1998 to correct a bouldering injury. And I began to pay even more attention to my mental/spiritual health through meditation, conscious breathwork, tapping, and EMDR. Whenever I meditated and did breathwork, I felt a powerful pulsating at my brow, an area some refer to as the third eye and the seat of intuition. I stopped eating foods containing refined sugar, I cut down on my caffeine intake, and I increased my filtered water intake.
Ages 70-80: I continued handball, running, weights, and daily exercises. I also began ingesting high quality liquid vitamins, minerals, and trace elements daily. And I took up intermittent fasting, which prompts an increase in human growth hormone (HGH), promoting cellular repair. I started paying more attention to my gut health by eating yogurt and fermented foods and ingesting supportive dietary supplements. I underwent a catheter ablation for SVT (occasional rapid heartbeat) in 2018. After being a devotee of the game for 50 years, at age 80 I quit playing handball, only because the pool of local players had dwindled to a handful due to injury, aging, death, relocation, and a dearth of younger players coming along. I persist in trail running (not as far, not as fast), occasional bike riding, and exercising every weekday, taking weekends off. I set aside my weight machine workouts during COVID but plan to begin again soon. Plus, my wife Shonnie is enthusiastically encouraging me to join her in the ranks of pickleball players, and it’s likely that I’ll succumb. Oh, and I eat a little fish from time to time and enjoy a beer with my evening meal.
Whacking the handball!
. . .
Despite all of this, I’m finally coming to grips with the fact that, no matter what physical/emotional/spiritual practices I undertake, time will ultimately have its way, though hopefully not for another decade or two. To paraphrase Mark Twain, I was not alive for millions of years before I was born, and I suffered no ill effects whatsoever.
How many of y’all remember that Sixties adage, “Don’t trust anybody over thirty.”? Well, now that I’m half a century past that imaginary line of demarcation, I can look back and see that the Universe had plans for me other than following the path most travelled. When I agreed to share my prose at today’s celebration, I began to consider the theme—Awake to Courage—and how courage was not my strong suit during my 20s, 30s, and early 40s.
Yes, I stood up to the class bully in the 5th grade. And I took a stand for peace during the Vietnam War. But for the most part, I went along with the edicts of the dominant cultural paradigm, including the belief that being a real man meant being tough, stoic, and macho.
Throughout the first few decades of adulthood, however, I kept getting wakeup calls:
Getting kicked off the University of Tennessee football team after a spring of partying, drunkenness, tomfoolery, and a 0.0 grade point average.
I was a teenage Vol!
Totaling my car in a one-car accident while inebriated and spending the night in the drunk tank
Waking up hungover with no memory of the night before
But, time after time, I ignored the warning signs
More frequent, more intense the wakeup calls grew, until a rapid succession of events was so overwhelming that they could no longer be ignored. Out of my casual regard for dealing with money and my penchant for hellraising and strong drink, bankruptcy reared its ugly head. Now in my early forties, I lost my Knoxville construction business, my BMW, my snazzy condo, and ultimately, my marriage.
The message that something was gravely amiss in my life finally reached my inner consciousness. I hesitantly contacted a psychologist friend, who recommended a weekend personal growth workshop. The prospect of such an undertaking scared the holy crap out of me! However, in early September of 1986, I screwed up my courage and arrived in Houston for the More To Life workshop.
I participated in the workshop, but guardedly. However, during a meditation on the second day, a portal to another dimension swung open. The illusion of the hypermasculine façade I’d hidden behind for decades peeled away, and I saw what has always been there—the authentic me. I was overcome by a powerful sense of being deeply loved and accepted by the men and women around me and, at long last, at peace with myself just as I was.
I stopped drinking cold turkey, and over the next few years, I gradually stepped into a more genuine, more openhearted, more mindful masculinity. And I began to engage in acts of courage that had previously eluded me:
Leaving the comfort of home to seek locales that would serve my personal growth. I moved to Austin and became a part of the local More To Life community, whose members lovingly and intentionally supported me on my path. I then relocated to Asheville with Shonnie.
Following my true calling. After five decades of denial, I finally acknowledged that I’m a writer who supports the evolution of our culture toward greater compassion, justice, and sustainability. Shortly after this, I landed a long-term writing gig with a national textbook publisher, later wrote a biweekly column for the Asheville Citizen-Times, and , more recently, had a personal essay published in the Washington Post.
Cleaning up my past. I did my best to make amends with folks for my more egregious past behavior. And I paid off past debts, including my bar tab at the Roman Room.
Seeking true love. I became clear about the attributes I wanted in my next mate. And, in a marathon training group, I recognized Shonnie—her compassion, honesty,
Our Austin marathon training group
authenticity, commitment to personal/spiritual growth—as the woman with whom I was destined to be. In 1997, we chose to enter a committed relationship despite our 28-year age difference. Then, after marrying in 1999, in 2009 we decided to bring our lovely, loveable Gracelyn into the world.
Finding a spiritual home. When Shonnie and I first participated in a Jubilee! celebration and experienced the inclusive and welcoming folks; the eclectic four-piece band; and the charismatic, playful, wise minister named Howard Hanger who led the uplifting, socially conscious, exuberant celebrations, we knew we’d come home.
And now, having just turned 80, I find that more courage is required, specifically the courage to confront and accept my aging, an undeniable process with which I’m not fully at peace. For example, I kept denying my hearing loss until . . .
Me (to Gracelyn): So what’s the best thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to Mom, you can’t hear me.
Me: OK, so what’s the worst thing about having an older dad?
Gracelyn: When I whisper to you, you can’t hear me.
And, yes, after that little interchange, as humorous as it was, I finally got the hearing aids.
The Lavender-Mulkey Clan
There’s no denying that I have many more years behind me than in front of me. But I still have a lot of living to do—completing my work with Jubilee!, mountain trail runs with Shonnie and Michael, publishing my memoir, and lovingly supporting Gracelyn as she matures into adulthood.
And along the way, I’ll find the courage to accept death—the final stop on my mortal path. But afterlife or not, I do believe that my spirit will live on in the writings I’ve left behind, but most important to me, in the hearts of those who love me. And perhaps the ashes from my cremation can be placed in an hourglass so that I can continue participating in family game nights with Shonnie and Gracelyn.
[Friday, April 28 was my 80th birthday, and as part of my celebratory weekend, I shared this personal essay at the 4/30 Jubilee! celebration. You can view the entire celebration by clicking here.]
My time as a University of Tennessee football player
The University of Tennessee is currently one of the top five football teams in the nation, a far cry from my experience as a Vol football player some sixty years ago.
* * *
Throughout my time as a dedicated football player at Tullahoma (TN) High School, I listened avidly to University of Tennessee football games on my car radio, envisioning myself as Cotton Letner, an end on the Vols football team. So I was ecstatic when UT assistant football coach Skeeter Bailey drove into town, wined and dined me, then offered me a full football scholarship to play for the UT Volunteers. Well, actually he bought me a hamburger, fries, and a milk shake at the Dairy Bar. Nonetheless, I gratefully accepted his offer.
My introduction to the University of Tennessee was jarring to say the least. Mom, Dad, my brother Butch, sister Nancy, and my girlfriend Lynn all accompanied me from Tullahoma to Knoxville on August 31, 1961. This was a momentous occasion for me. For the first time in my life I’d be separated from my family and living far away from the little town I’d called home. All of the adults were a bit sad, and Lynn was teary eyed, perhaps sensing that I was not only leaving Tullahoma, but that I was leaving her, too.
General Robert Neyland & Coach Bowden Wyatt
Our entourage pulled up to the jock dorm, East Hall, which was located under the east side of the football stadium—Shields-Watkins Field, now called Neyland Stadium. We unloaded and carried my clothing, toiletries, and other gear up to my room on the third floor of the dorm, where we met my roommate, Branley Owen. Branley would flunk out after the first quarter and later would hold the speed record for hiking the entire Appalachian Trail.
Back down in the parking lot, we said a long goodbye, they were off, and I was on my own, a situation I’d dreamed of, though now that it was here, was a bit unnerving. My first meal that evening in athletes’ dining hall on the first floor of East Hall did little to ease my anxiety. A hundred or so guys milled around, some weighing as much as two-hundred-forty pounds, many with five o’clock shadows, some speaking in unfamiliar accents. “These guys are men,” I remember thinking. “What the hell am I doing here?”
Number 86 on your scorecard, number 1 in your heart!
Two-a-day practices began the next day, September 1, 1961, the first starting at 9:00 A.M., the second at 3:00 P.M. In those days freshmen weren’t eligible for the varsity squad, so we practiced separately on our own field and played our own three-game mini-season. Several times a week, however, we went up to the varsity practice field where we served as cannon fodder for the first and second team offense.
At the time there was no limit on the number of athletic scholarships that could be given, so the coaches brought in fifty or so freshmen on scholarship and invited approximately another twenty to walk-on and possibly be offered a scholarship if they played well. While many of the freshmen showed great promise on the athletic field, a large percentage lacked the education and the discipline to be successful academically. During the first quarter of classes, approximately fifty percent of the freshmen football players failed to make the grade point average required to continue at UT. While I’d made the dean’s list, half of my teammates flunked out.
Our freshman coaches included former players who were finishing their degrees and those who hoped to move up to a varsity coaching position. One of our coaches was Bill Majors, a member of the famed Majors family who’d played at UT in the shadow of his brother, Johnny Majors, an all-star tailback who lost out (unfairly according to UT partisans) only to Paul Hornung in the contest for the 1956 Heisman Trophy.
The grueling twice-daily practices continued day after day, and I was ultimately named a starter at end on the freshman team. That meant I was one of the top eleven players on the freshman team since we played both offense and defense due to limited substitution rules in those days. It seemed that the coaching staff had high hopes for me. One day during morning practice the legendary athletic director General Robert Neyland, who’d coached at West Point prior before coming to coach at UT in 1925, came down to the freshman practice field and briefly spoke to head freshman coach Dale Haupt. Coach Haupt pulled me out of a drill and said, “The General wants to see you.” “See me?” I thought. “What the hell for?” I loped toward him, he looked me up and down, grunted, then turned, and without a word, ambled back up to the varsity practice field. To this day I don’t know what that little episode was all about. The fantasy I later made up was that, just as Neyland had hand-selected the current UT head football coach, Bowden Wyatt, as his successor, the General was checking to see if I was worthy enough to continue the lineage.
At the end of spring practice in 1962, as a rising sophomore, I was listed as the number three tight end on the varsity squad, which meant I was one of the top thirty-three players on the varsity team. If things had taken their normal course, I would have seen playing action my junior year and started by my senior year. However, destiny stepped in.
I was spending the summer of ‘62 lifeguarding and drinking beer when one evening in late July I got a call from Coach Wyatt. After a bare minimum of niceties, Wyatt asked, “You been running, Mulkey?”
“Yeah, coach, I have,” I replied, trying to sound like I wasn’t intoxicated.
“How much do you weigh?”
“Hell, you ain’t been running much!” (A pretty fair assessment since I’d put on fifteen pounds over the summer.)
Coach Wyatt then informed me that I was to report early for fall practice (though this ran counter to NCAA rules) and to get myself to Knoxville within a few days.
When I arrived, I found myself among four other players who were practicing surreptitiously in the old basketball gym. It seemed that a shortage at fullback had developed at that position when one player failed to recover from an injury and Jack Nichols got kicked out of school for stealing and selling textbooks for beer money. So, we were being trained to fill in. I also found myself on a steak and salad diet to get my weight down.
Having never played in the backfield, my switch to fullback was less than successful. But by the time the coaches had made that decision, the regular season was about to begin. So, I was redshirted and watched players at my end position move ahead of me.
Though football was more like a tedious slog at UT than a passionate athletic pursuit, life on the redshirt squad was pretty laid back. While the varsity did calisthenics at the beginning of each practice, we mockingly did wacky warm-ups of our own. Then we spent most of practice simulating the next opponent’s passing attack against the varsity defense, completing most of the passes thrown against the first and second team defenders. To join in the fun, I moved myself back to end. When a play was called on which I was the primary receiver, I inserted myself into the line-up. Otherwise I let a player further down the pecking order run the route. On one play as the primary receiver I was running a crossing route on which the football was underthrown. I stopped on a dime while the defender kept going, reached back, and made a challenging one-handed catch. Coach Wyatt, who had been standing nearby, looked at me, smiled broadly, shook his head in disbelief, and chuckled slightly.
In addition, we redshirts entertained ourselves by calling plays in the huddle such as “Get (Pat) Downey” (or whatever other varsity player had fallen into our disfavor). When the ball was snapped, everyone on the redshirt team, except the ball carrier, threw themselves at Downey, knocking him down and piling on until the whistle blew. It was a riot (literally and figuratively), though the coaches didn’t seem to be laughing very much, especially when our target was Pat Canini, the starting varsity fullback, whose jaw was broken during a similar episode.
One day while my redshirt pals and I were defending against the varsity first and second team offense, George Canale, the second team tailback, didn’t run the ball as the play designated. When the varsity players went back to the huddle, Coach Harvey Robinson expressed his frustration by walking behind George and kicking him in the rear. Canale whirled around and punched Robinson in the jaw. After the initial shock, practice went on as if nothing had happened, and there were no repercussions, probably because his brothers, starting end Whit Canale and reserve wingback Frank Canale, both threatened to leave the team if their brother were punished in any manner.
The fact that the coaching staff tolerated such misbehavior was symptomatic of the declining fortunes of the UT football program during that time. General Neyland died on March 28, 1962, and Coach Wyatt wasn’t hired as athletic director because he lacked a college degree. Wyatt was rumored to have a drinking problem, and when he shoved a sportswriter into the swimming pool at a Southeastern Conference athletic gathering, he almost certainly precipitated his termination as head coach. Plus, a losing season certainly didn’t help Coach Wyatt’s status. Running the outdated single wing offense and predictable 6-2-2-1 defense, Tennessee had gone 4-6 that season, beating only weak sisters Chattanooga, Wake Forest, Tulane, and Vanderbilt.
Spring quarter 1963, with things other than academics on my mind, including my girlfriend’s abortion, I made a 0.0 grade point average. Needless to say, the football coaching staff was not pleased and unceremoniously kicked me off the team. Actually they said I could come back in the fall and compete for a scholarship. Thoroughly disillusioned with big-time football, especially during this low point in UT’s proud gridiron history, I essentially told them, “Fuck you.”
Yeah, I’m cool.
I thought I’d try life as a regular student for a while. However, no longer enjoying the status I once had on campus at UT, I considered a return to the gridiron—for the joy of playing the game and the team camaraderie, of course. But primarily, though I was oblivious of it at the time, because my ultra-masculine identity was so inextricably linked with being a football player. I wanted a do-over, so I sought out a college where I could play football and receive the perks I’d become accustomed to for doing so.
So I contacted Coach Shirley Majors, the head football coach at Sewanee: The University of the South, a small men’s liberal arts college located on a domain of 13,000 acres on the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee. After visiting the campus at Coach Majors invitation, meeting with him, and getting to know some of the players, I decided to transfer to Sewanee for the fall 1964 semester. But that’s a story for another time.
My longtime friend Stewart Horn was born on July 3, 1942, and he lived a long and full life. He died on September 23, 2022.
I first met Stewart when, at the age of 12, I joined Boy Scout Troop 112 in Tullahoma, Tennessee. Stewart, Pete Mulloney, Fred Hollenback, Chuck Millard, Carlton Sivells, Bucky Jackson and I, among others, looked forward to the fall and spring Camporees with great anticipation. At these campouts, troops from around the region met for fellowship and to compete for “Best Campsite” and other camping awards. To be out in the forest on our own for several days was a true godsend at the time. Through these experiences we learned that we could take care of ourselves and compete on an even footing with other boys our age. In that environment we began to feel more at home in the wilderness and more at home with ourselves.
I don’t recall consciously choosing Stewart as my role model, but there’s no doubt that he was. When Stewart achieved the highest rank in scouting—Eagle Scout—I followed in his footsteps. And when he was initiated into the Order of the Arrow, I was too.
While recalling our days in the Scouts, I thought of the Boy Scout Law, which, after more than half a century, I can still recite from memory:
A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.
As I reflected, it became clear to me that Stewart did his best to follow those admonitions throughout his life and inspired me and others to endeavor to do so as well.
Most of the boys in Troop 112, including Stewart and me, went to Camp Boxwell for a week or two each summer along with scouts from other troops throughout middle Tennessee. Camp Boxwell was located near Rock Island on the Caney Fork River outside of McMinnville, Tennessee and consisted of six campsites, each equipped with a circle of a few dozen canvas-walled tents with wooden floors.
Our favorite activity at Camp Boxwell was the shooting range, where we shot .22 rifles at targets, hoping to win National Rifle Association marksmanship awards. Though we occasionally did some arts and crafts, our next favorite activity was the snack bar, where you could buy ice cream sandwiches, candy bars and Cokes. A limited amount of spending money was the only thing that held our sweet tooths in check during those glorious weeks.
Of course, juvenile high jinks were part of the camp experience too. One summer night Stewart and I, along with two others, picked up Carlton Sivells’ bunk and carried him from his tent into the surrounding forest, where he later awoke with quite a start. Then there was the timeless camp tradition known as the “hand in the bucket of warm water gambit.” The idea was that immersing a sleeping camper’s hand in warm water would induce him to urinate while in his sleeping bag. I don’t recall that these efforts were ever successful, but we persevered summer after summer.
Onward For God And My Country
In July 1957, the National Boy Scout Jamboree was held in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, and Scouts from our troop, including Stewart and me, joined more than 50,000 others in the festivities. “Onward For God And My Country” was the theme, but left to our own devices for the most part, we were more into tomfoolery than God or country.
At the end of the Jamboree, we took a side trip to New York City, an amazing experience for our small-town entourage. We threw paper airplanes from the top of the Empire State Building, saw the Statue of Liberty, toured the Museum of Natural History, and ate hot dogs and pretzels from the ubiquitous food carts.
Boundary Waters Canoe Trip
The most exciting adventure we ever undertook as Scouts was the 1958 Boundary Waters Canoe Trip on the Minnesota-Canadian border. I was fifteen and Stewart was sixteen, both pretty seasoned campers. But nothing could have prepared us for the ten days in pristine wilderness, during which we paddled long distances each day, portaged across land from one lake to another, stretched our food supplies to make them last, and of necessity, supplemented our diet with fish we caught along the way. We also had to fight off swarms of huge mosquitoes at dusk that necessitated early bedtimes behind the protection of the mosquito netting of our tents.
Our trip leader paddled solo, I was in a canoe with Stewart and Fred Hollenback, and there were five other canoes with three Scouts each. As usual, Stewart, Fred and I were fooling around, and we fell far behind. Failing to sense the urgency of the situation, we continued to mosey along, eventually losing sight of the rest of our group. We desperately picked up our pace, all three of us paddling at once (usually the guy in the middle rested), but to no avail. To this day I’m not sure how we found the rest of our party, but after night had fallen, we spotted a campfire on a bank up ahead. We called out and were greeted in return with hoots and catcalls. Dinner had been prepared and devoured a couple of hours before our arrival, so we went to bed with bellies that were empty and minds that were filled with the exigencies of accountability in the wilderness.
In the days that followed we kept up with and sometimes led the pack, paddling with grit and determination along with a measure of good humor, frequently accidentally splashing other canoeists as we passed them. To the chagrin of our trip leader, who was something of a purist, we rigged up a sail with one of our ponchos and, with no paddling at all, crossed the open lakes at high speed propelled by the wind alone.
I don’t know that this trip turned boys into men, but it was an adventure that tested the wit, intellect, willpower and wisdom of all who participated in the Boundary Waters adventure. We’d come to a wild place that was, in many ways, unfamiliar, but that at some level, each of us recognized as home.
At the conclusion of the canoe trip, we rode on our bus from Ely, Minnesota, to Chicago, where we spent two exciting days entirely on our own. Ready for the pleasures of a big city after our time in the wilderness, we ate our first pizza ever and saw every Bridgette Bardot movie in town, And God Created Woman and The Night Heaven Fell among them. We returned to Tullahoma with a greater awareness of the world beyond the city limits of our little hometown, an enhanced sense of self-sufficiency, a stronger awareness of a primal attraction to the wilderness, and with tales for friends and family, not all of them tall.
Stewart with his daughter Rachel
You gotta be a football hero!
Fast forward to high school. My junior year, I joined Stewart, a senior, as a starter on the 1959 Tullahoma High football team. Stewart was team captain, and again, I visualized myself in that role when I was a senior. Our team was 7-0 and ranked number one in the state at mid-season. Unfortunately, we lost two of our last three games, the final one a 26-0 loss to cross-county rivals Manchester. This loss probably cost our team a bid to the prestigious Clinic Bowl in Nashville. On top of that, on the way to the locker room after the game, some of the Manchester players roughed up Stewart, an act that infuriated us all.
Surviving the Sixties
During the late Sixties an era of psychedelic experimentation began during which we tried LSD, peyote, psilocybin, pot, hashish, opium, morning glory seeds and, various other drugs. Our boundaries began to shift and expand, and we started to look at the world, at life differently. Everything we’d been told, everything we’d taken for fact, each of our versions of reality were up for grabs.
Fortunately, Stewart and I avoided being drafted during the Viet Nam War, a military adventure that we considered both immoral and illegal. And with our friends, we took a stand against the war participating in local and national protests.
Deborah & Stewart Horn
While Stewart and I didn’t make it to Woodstock, we were at the Atlanta International Pop Festival over the July 4th weekend in 1969 with 150,000 other celebrants. The event took place at a stock car raceway south of Atlanta where there was no shade, and temperatures hovered around 100 degrees. Fire trucks were brought in to spray the crowd, and needless to say, everyone welcomed sundown.
The festival showcased an amazing array of performers, including Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, Chuck Berry, Booker T. and the MGs, Canned Heat, Spirit, The Staple Singers, Joe Cocker, Chicago Transit Authority, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Al Kooper, Led Zeppelin and the Dave Brubeck Trio.
After I moved to Knoxville then to Texas and Stewart settled into Keel Hollow, near Huntsville, Alabama, we saw each other less frequently. However, we stayed in touch with one other, and were deeply grateful to reconnect in Asheville, where we hiked, enjoyed delicious meals at Mela, relived old times, and delighted in the joy and splendor of Rachel and Stephen’s wedding.
So long for now, old friend. Who knows, maybe our paths are destined to cross again one of these days.
Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep
by Mary Elizabeth Frye
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the soft starlight at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.