Reflections on Turning Sixty

In keeping with what has been called our superstitious reverence for the decimal system, I recently observed my 60th birthday. The world’s loveliest publisher, Fran Griffin, who has put up with me longer and more heroically than anyone outside my immediate family, made it one of the happiest days of my life by throwing the mother of all birthday parties.

I was so overwhelmed that when I blew out the candles I couldn’t think of anything to wish for. I had it all. Thank you, Fran! And the food! Thank you, Sue Neff!

Among the gifts I received was a medallion of St. Thomas More, made just for me by the man I regard as the greatest sculptor of our time, Reed Armstrong, whom I hadn’t seen for years.

Seeing dear old friends again was only one of the surprises; so was meeting a dear new relative, my six-month-old great-granddaughter, Christina. Needless to say, she was beautiful, and we seemed to hit it off very well.

Two of my children and five of my seven grandchildren came too.

Among the latter I must mention Elizabeth, now pushing ten. She is a mysterious dark little beauty, whom I feel I must already talk to like a grown woman. The quiet maturity of her speech makes me feel I should be listening instead of speaking. In her tender patience, she is like a second mother to her six brothers.

These were just the high points. By the time I got the last stunning gift, the complete works of Mozart on 172 compact discs, it was just the cherry on the whipped cream on the banana split, as I told some of our newsletter subscribers.

As far as I’m concerned, old age is off to a flying start. Bring it on, I say!

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The Real Enemies

Naturally, since the party I’ve reflected on aging and the approaching end of my career, at least in its present form. At this point I expected to be fairly settled, but things are still up in the air. This is also my 20th year writing for The Wanderer, another source of much joy, but, as I am reliably informed, nothing lasts forever. I only hope to continue for a while, as I try to peddle my new novel and stay afloat. At my age you have to think about little things like health insurance, which I always had when I hardly needed it.

In these 20 years American conservatism has changed remarkably. In 1986 I had no inkling of what lay ahead. The Cold War was winding up peacefully and happily, thanks to Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and I assumed we could turn to the long-deferred business of restoring limited, constitutional government.

At long last, political life could get back to normal.

It seemed a modest enough hope, but yearning for “normality” soon came to seem as utopian as “building socialism.” When Reagan retired, the elder Bush found reasons for war on Panama and Iraq — with the full support of conservatives who should have known better. Then came the Clinton years, then another Bush, who made his father seem like Millard Fillmore.

(And of course I mean that as a compliment to the old man. Don’t make Millard Fillmore jokes around me unless you’re prepared for a heated argument.)

One of the baneful side effects of the Cold War was to make “peace” sound like a left-wing cause and to identify conservatism with war. But warlike habits proved hard to break, and with the Soviet enemy gone, conservatives found new enemies who didn’t threaten the United States at all.

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