I ain’t as good as I once was,
That’s just the cold hard truth.
I still throw a few back, talk a little smack,
When I’m feelin’ bullet proof.
So don’t double-dog dare me now,
‘Cause I’d have to call your bluff.
I ain’t as good as I once was, but I’m as good once
As I ever was.
-Lyrics to Ain’t as Good as I Once Was by Toby Keith
Sunday morning around 9 a.m. Fog beginning to burn off in Round Bottom Valley. Bits and pieces of blue sky peek in and out until the fog finally gives way to the beginning of what you know is about to evolve as a spectacular day.
My thoughts quickly turn to a few weeks just ahead. Days like this are numbered, and we’ll enjoy the warmth of a wood fire, protected from the cold, Ozark winds of January. Ah, but yes, there’s a missing ingredient. We need wood to make that happen.
The good news is I have a supplier. And it looks like a great day to haul some wood.
I throw on some overalls and a flannel shirt. This seems appropriate attire for wood hauling in the hills. Dana comes along. And we are bound for somewhere near Fox with my pickup and trailer in tow feeling like real hill people on a mission. This is only my second time climbing Timbo/Fox Mountain, and I’m imagining doing this in an ice storm, or in a heavy snow where you can’t see the shoulder.
We find our appointed turnoff winding and twisting down into the holler, past several abandoned shacks, through the gate and over the cattle guard before arriving at my friend’s farm where he has three ricks of perfectly cut oak stacked and ready. While stacking it on the trailer we enjoy some pleasant conversation making short order of the work before heading back toward the more urban confines of Mountain View.
All that just to say I was in a pretty good mood, feeling pretty good about myself that day. But this is where the story really begins.
It’s actually the day of my twelfth wedding anniversary with Dana. We’d enjoyed a big day having lunch with friends Dr. Kevin Reed and Patty Carpenter at their cabin on Spring River the day before, so we didn’t feel a lot of pressure to “do” something.
Windows down, I’m singing along to Elton John’s Rocketman just as we enter a panoramic clearing where it seems you can see the country forever.
“I’m glad we had a little breakfast before we left,” Dana said. “I’m getting hungry.”
It strikes me that in about 20 minutes we’ll pass right by the new Pizza Inn.
“Happy anniversary, darlin,” I replied with an extra shot of testosterone. “I’m taking you to Pizza Inn.” Somewhere off in the Ozarkian distance, trumpets blared at this magnanimous gesture. Pizza buffet for anniversary lunch. What a prince.
For the record, I love our new Pizza Inn, and like so many, anticipated good lunches there during all the long months of construction. I’ve been a half dozen times now. The food is hot. Salad bar fresh and clean. Good service. It’s a great addition to town.
I proceeded through my normal Pizza Inn routine – two or three slices of pizza to get warmed up, then a nice big salad, followed by more pizza. Just as I returned to complete my routine with two slices of dessert pizza our server brings the check. I never look at a restaurant check. Dana peruses them meticulously. She let out the kind of laugh where you know she thought something was really funny.
“What?” I inquired savoring the first bite of that delicious apple pizza on the dessert line.
“I don’t know if you want to know,” she said, holding her hand over her mouth as if a bit in shock.
“What could be so funny about the check?” I was getting to the really good part of that slice.
“They gave you a senior discount.”
I nearly choked.
Senior discount. The words echoed through my spirit. My first senior discount. What am I supposed to feel at this moment?
After the initial shock, I rationalized through it. Some organizations define seniors at 55. Perhaps I am finally looking my age, I reasoned. I am exactly 55 years old.
Then I decided to have a little fun with the server, so when she came over for a refill I told her we’d just shared a milestone.
“What’s that, sir?” she asked, pleasant as could be.
“You gave me my first senior discount ever.” She responded with a bit of a sheepish grin, not quite knowing where to take the conversation.
“Well, I really didn’t know. I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt.”
“By the way,” I continue. “At what age does senior status begin here?”
I am now clutching my chest at the idea of being surveyed and assessed as 65 years old.
I tried to be a good sport about it, and she played right along.
“Do you think an elderly old gentleman could get a drink to go?” I asked.
“Well, do you think you can get out of here without spilling it?”
See you in next week’s newspaper.
(Steve Watkins is a staff writer and columnist for the Stone County Leader. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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