Francis at 80
Today is my 80th birthday. That by itself is quite an achievement. Many years ago, I would never have guessed in a million lifetimes that I would make it this far what with the drinking which probably should have killed me in a car crash or something worse like falling off a cliff and the many irate husbands all wishing to do me harm for messing around with their women.
But, be that as it may, I am 80 years old which got me looking back on some of the high and low points of my life as best I can remember.
It was the 20th of January, 1936 when I came kicking and screaming into to this world that was shortly to be involved in another World War. Growing up in a little place called Old Heathfield, we were right in the flight path of the German planes and Doodlebugs as they came over in swarms at the early part of the war. When that was over, my next memories were of thousands of troops all massing for the invasion of Europe and all located around the neighborhood that I lived in. I even got to meet my future stepfather although I was too young to know it at the time. I can remember being on Spotter Watch at school when we had to ring the handbell if we spotted any German planes.
I was the youngest by 10 years of a family of 4, 3 boys and 1 girl. Being that much younger and it being wartime, I never really grew up with a family as all 3 of them were serving in the armed services somewhere in the world.
I was a bright kid, much different than later in life when I thought school work was a bore. I took and passed what was known as the 11 plus exam which sorted the smart kids out from the rest and then the smart ones got to go a Grammar School. Prior to taking my place at the Grammar School, my mother left my father and I didn’t see her again for 20 years as she made the trip to marry her G.I. across the water in the USA.
Things went from bad to worse as my father re-married to a lady who really didn’t have much time for me and that ended with me moving in with one of my Aunts and Uncle for a few months. It wasn’t long before I moved again, this time to live with my sister in Hailsham. In the meantime, my Aunt lost her husband who had been sick and she couldn’t live with the guilt of her nagging him all the time and stuck her head in a gas oven.
I graduated early from the Grammar School as I was wasting my time there and went into the construction industry as a Bricklayer Apprentice. The man who was teaching me the job, contracted T.B. and died and I moved around a couple of other companies as I continued to learn my trade. I was smart enough and had a gift for building things and learnt as much as I could about other trades as I possibly could. I was always watching and asking questions and this proved very helpful later in life as I was never out of work.
At 20, I got married to the love of my life and we had two beautiful boys. Being present and watching their births was probably the most wonderful and awe inspiring thing I have ever witnessed. A bit messy though…That marriage lasted 4 years and she left and I hit a bad spell for a while. I worked for a pipe line company and travelled around a lot and apart from the boys who hardly saw me, had few responsibilities.
Then I got involved with a married woman with kids whose husband was a sergeant in the British Army. It didn’t take long for him to put me in hospital and I deserved it. The saving factor to that whole episode is that we eventually got married, gained custody of her 3 kids and had one of our own, a daughter than we named Leslie.
The biggest thing in my life was the choice and opportunity to emigrated to the USA at my mother’s urging. As it happened, although the entire family embraced the idea, as the years progressed, it turned out not to be a good move for the family as my wife was very homesick and we were having difficulties. We were stuck there and had to make the best of it and eventually, the pressures got too great. In truth, I didn’t want to move back which didn’t help the situation. That marriage finally ended 15 years after we got married.
Then I met a much younger woman and we eventually got married and moved to Texas. We never had any kids as she preferred dogs and horses which was fine by me. Needless to say, one day she announced she was leaving and that was the end of that after another 15 years. Talk about 3 strikes and you’re out. On the other hand, not having someone to care for or be responsible for has its benefits. No honeydews for starters and I don’t have anyone telling me what to do or how to spend my money and the only bad and grumpy people are me.
With the move to Texas, I did land a good job at the University of Texas which set me up for when I retired and spent 22 fairly happy years working there.
It seemed that I was never destined to be a married person. After 3 attempts I never tried it again and now it is way too late. I am way too selfish and stuck in my ways for any woman to put up with me. Now, I live with my dogs and cats and spend my time looking after the ponds that I built in my garden and in between, hike as much as I can at the various parks around Austin. I have even built a website for the local Pond Society which is where most of my friends and acquaintances are now and have totally embraced the age of computers, cell phones and men on the moon.
Years ago, I was quite the athlete and a very good soccer player. That was my main interest in life and I played until I was 72 and the knees gave out. I also was very interested in helping to run and organize the different leagues and teams that I coached from the youth all the way through an Adult women’s team that made it to the National Finals, twice. Now, the only soccer in my life is watching the English Premier League on the TV and supporting my main team, Manchester United.
When I look back over my life, it seems that I have done an awful lot in the time I have been alive. I have had good jobs and have always stayed busy. I have kept myself fit and quit drinking almost 10 years ago. I work out and I hike a lot and eat right. I plan on staying alive as long as I can but when that time comes, I won’t be happy but there will not be much I can do about it. My Mother lived until she was 94 and my sister in Florida is 90 in May so I’m hoping I have their genes.
Right now, I am looking forward to the next 10 years. Happy Birthday.