My buddy Spalding and I sat in the front seat of his suspension-sprung station wagon staring up at 347 steps leading to the top of Mt. Baldy and the platform overlooking Lake Michigan. Spalding’s nephew, Deeter, stretched his skinny adolescent neck between us trying to follow the steps into the cloud level tree tops.
“Neat!” he exclaimed. “I want to run up those stairs. See what’s on top.”
I felt a familiar, all but forgotten surge of masculine derring-do race through my veins. I was half way out the door before Spalding announced in his laid-back, voice, “Calm down, son. There’s a lot of time to do a lot of things in this life.”
I was about to remind him that I was no son of his—although fishing buddy is a mighty close tie—when Deeter said, “Yessir.”
Then Spalding called after me as I swung out the door, “Remind me to tell you about the old bull and the young bull.”
I chased Deeter up the steps; pretty much keeping even with him. Except when we got to the top, he had the advantage on me. He wasn’t on a knee-quivering boat facing a heaving horizon with salt water running down his face. Before my breathing could return to steam engine speed, Deeter bounded back down the stairs and I staggered after.
I could barely hear Spalding over the roar of his window defroster. It seems my heavy breathing was dampening not only his windshield but his personal philosophy as well.
“Whenever I feel an urge to exercise, I stay real still till it passes,” he muttered in a slightly aggrieved tone, as if I had somehow violated the dignity of all older men. Well, I wasn’t having any of it. I reached in back and high-fived Deeter.
The next day I stopped by Spalding’s for coffee. He watched me hobble up the steps to his front porch. “Don’t be stand offish now. Just set yourself down on my stoop,” he offered with a twinkle in his eye. I chose to remain upright in deference to my knotted glutei maximi.
“I saw Deeter come jogging by just a while ago,” Spalding allowed.
“‘Zat so?” I replied as my ham strings quavered in a silent symphony of pain.
“Uh-huh. He did jog by. He puts me in mind of how it feels to be limber and young. I just don’t feel any compulsion to act that way.”
He must have mistaken the spasms in my neck as agreement because he kept on talking.
“Yessir, a man’s got to learn how to age gracefully. Why every so often I get the urge to change the oil on my car or sweep the floor. But you know if a man does every little thing he possibly can do, why no one would have a job. Ask my wife. Hell, if I did the laundry she might have an identity crisis. Specialization. Division of labor. That’s what I’m talking about. You got to leave something for the other guy to do. So, the next time you feel a selfish urge to do for yourself, step back and give the economy a break.”
I could tell, my buddy was on a streak.
“Don’t snatch opportunity from the mouth of the young. How will they ever learn to do for themselves if us older and wiser generations keep jumping in to save their bacon.”
I groaned as I bent to put the coffee cup down. “Well, do you want to go fishing or not?” I asked. “Or are you going to sound like a newspaper editorial all day?”
Down at the river, the salmon were running—a lot better than I was it seems—as I hopped on one leg, massaging a cramp in the other, in a hurry to secure a spot among the fishermen jammed together below the dam. I beat the water with spoons and spinners and jigs for about an hour before I realized that Spalding was still tinkering around by the car getting his tackle together.
“Fish on!” someone yelled somewhere up the line of shoulder-to-shoulder fishermen. We all reeled in to avoid getting fouled as a twenty-pound hen salmon charged along the break wall. We all gasped as the fish cleared the murky water and hung for a startling moment, a silver athlete, caught in a shaft of sunlight. People crowded around to admire the trophy. Day-glo orange eggs squirting from her swollen belly drove us guys into a frenzy of casting.
I caught a look at Spalding as he bent over to pick up a salmon egg. I kept an eye on him as he slowly plodded downstream toward a quiet bend in the river. When I next looked back, he was knee deep in the water, rod bent double, face split in a silly grin. Half the fishermen raced over to help share his spot.
On the way home, I knew I could expect another sermon. Probably something about slowing down and taking my time. So, I tried to head him off at the pass. “Hey Spalding?” I asked. “Whatever happened to that story you were going to tell me about the old bull and the young bull.”
“Sounds like you might be ready to listen to a slow old man, huh?”
Good thing he couldn’t hear what I said over the thrashing of the twenty-five pound, hook-jawed, black sided King salmon hanging half out of the cooler.
“So, there was this old bull and this young bull standing on a hill. Cows down below. Says the young bull, ‘Hey, what do you say we run down the hill get us a cow each?’ The old bull stopped chewing, looked up at the youngster and said, ‘Why don’t we walk down and get them all?”