The view from ’22
When I was a kid, there were two ages in later life that were deemed to carry universal significance. 65 was the age when everyone was expected to retire from working, not only at Caterpillar Tractor where my Dad worked, but pretty much everywhere else in our middle-class, Midwestern world.
And then there was 70, which was when everything was supposed to be – well, y’know, over. Not that there was any serious expectation that everyone still around would keel over the exact moment they hit that age; after all, I did have a few friends with grandparents, not to mention a Grandpa of my own, who had cleared that hurdle just fine. Still, there were an awful lot of people who took seriously Psalms 90:10 (feel free to consult your Bible on that one).
All of this inevitably came flooding back to me during June of this year. That’s not surprising, given that month’s double whammy: I was retiring from Vassar College after 22 years of working there as a writer, and I was officially turning, you guessed it, “threescore years and ten.”
Yet how different it all looked from my youthful imaginings. First of all, I was retiring five years later than I’d supposed I would. And instead of the clichéd gold watch, I was presented with a gift of striking originality, and relevance to anyone familiar with my novel Flower of Iowa. The Special Collections of the Vassar Library now include a restored copy of the collected poems of Wilfred Owen, with an inscription by Siegfried Sassoon, no less, and a bookplate stating the restoration was done in my honor on the occasion of my retirement from the College. Those who have read the saga of Tommy Flowers and David Pearson on the battlefields of World War I will understand how much it means to have something dedicated to me involving the two finest poets of the Great War.
Making Vassar’s gesture that much more relevant, on the day after my (yes) 70th birthday, Chuck and I had seen the film Benediction, which I highly recommend for Jack Lowden’s shining star turn as Sassoon. Notice how I sneaked in the fact of reaching that fabled number? It was a bit anticlimactic. I am well aware that life is always unpredictable, but given all that’s been happening in my career as an author and a playwright, I was hardly feeling that anything was over.
That feeling got reconfirmed the last week of June, when I heard via the website from the estimable Ed Sparan, who heads the Epiphany Theatre, a non-profit based in Fort Lauderdale and dedicated to LGBTQ theater. That marked the beginning of a process scheduled to culminate in February with the South Florida premiere of In Love with the Arrow Collar Man, my play based on the true story of the great illustrator J.C. Leyendecker and his muse and life partner of 50 years, Charles Beach.
So that’s the next story – but that’s for 2023!