In the photo above, I'm in my mid-30s and have a bad haircut. One too brief family visit, on a lark I veered off the highway between Mt. Airy and Winston-Salem, when I noticed the exit sign for Holly Springs Church Road. Within minutes I found the cemetery where two dozen or more relatives were buried. The large slab of granite I'm standing beside was quarried only a few miles away, and placed there to mark the time my great-great-great grandparents spent on earth. Or to make it more confusing, my mother's father's great-grandparents. About all I know of them are their names.
I'm 39 today. It's O.K., really. The good news is I was 38 two years in a row, so I had ample time to prepare. If you're curious as to when people forget how old they are, evidently it's 37, as when I turned 37 I somehow thought I was 38.
For some perspective, when my Dad was my age, for two years already, his casket had been in the ground, underneath a brass and copper name plate, in the veteran's section of that too flat, newish cemetery built maybe in the early 1960s on Old Jamestown Road in Guilford County. When my Mom was my age, she'd been a widow for six years, was single mother to an eleven-year-old boy, and a fifteen-year-old girl. When Keats was 39 (everyone always remembers Keats on their birthday), he'd written some of the greatest poems in English and had been dead of tuberculosis for about thirteen years. But when Thomas Hardy was 39, he was still writing novels and ignoring his wife. He had almost two decades before he'd publish Wessex Poems. When Poe was 39 he was a year shy of dying, on October 7th, raving. Still, he was engaged to be married, and had just been awarded a plum new job. When Junior Samples was 39, he was a stock car racer, and his career on Hee Haw was a twinkle in the eye of Frank Peppiatt. I don't know when Mr. Peppiatt was born, but I'll say when he was 39 he was acting in Operation Petticoat, and had no idea he'd one day give the world the Sonny & Cher Show.
And when James Wright was just a little younger than 39 he wrote, "A Blessing."
I realize I haven't told you exactly why or how, but please trust that on the first day of my 39th year on this planet if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom.