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Natural Wonders

Joe Holley

In his Salon.com column this week, Garrison Keillor describes dropping in recently on an old friend in Chicago -- old in both senses of the word. His friend is 96, "but with all his faculties intact, which makes him a natural wonder you could exhibit on the carnival circuit for 2 bucks a head, children under 10 admitted free with a parent. . . ."

Keillor doesn't name his friend -- he calls him "The Wonder" -- but it's surely the writer, radio personality and raconteur Studs Terkel.

"How does it feel to be 96?" Keilllor asks him.

"Lousy!" The Wonder responds. "I'd like to check out."

He doesn't though, in part because he wants to hang on long enough to see how the November election turns out. He tells Keillor that the only exercise he got -- I think he means ever -- was sex and carrying a suitcase."The irony is that when you're old you feast on your memories and if you spend too much time on exercise, you may get old and not have many," Keillor observes.

Keillor's visit with his friend reminded me of my own visit last week with an old uncle -- 101-year-old Uncle Clyde. Just a couple of years ago, Clyde Holley was making weekly trips in his big Cadillac up and down IH-35. He lived in Dallas at the time but went to church in Waco, 90 miles to the south, because he liked Brother Burt, the preacher. He told me not long ago about racing a storm back home one Sunday evening and glancing down at his speedometer. His speed matched his age.

Like The Wonder, Uncle Clyde has his memories -- driving a truck loaded with cottonseed cake twice a week from Lubbock to isolated ranches in New Mexico in the 1920s, following the wheat harvest up through the Midwest and riding the rails during the Depression, working into his 80s as a traveling hardware salesman. A few years ago, he had me spend a weekend with him and tape all his salesman's recollections, six decades' worth -- "so somebody'll have it right when the time comes."

The tape is safe in a metal box at my mother's house, although I'm a little worried that "The Wonder" in my own family will outlive tape players. I haven't mentioned my concern to Uncle Clyde.

By Joe Holley  |  July 10, 2008; 2:50 PM ET
Categories:  Joe Holley  
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