KEN STICKNEY — I’ll bring my best; it’s all I’ve got

Published 12:09 am Wednesday, July 24, 2019

NEDERLAND — Five pounds.

That’s as far as my six-month, self-improvement program traveled.

That includes six months of gym regimen — some visits were accomplished with unexpected vigor — and a self-imposed, no-junk-food diet. The latter failed from the outset.

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The goal six months ago was to be a better me when I attend my wife’s high school class reunion. It’s an important benchmark (OK, I confess: It’s 50 years.) I didn’t want her to be married to the lump in the corner.

Time’s up. Pleased to meet you. Call me Lumpy.

I haven’t seen these people for 30 years, the last reunion we attended. Before that, I’d only met a handful of them. They were nice enough, but here’s a confession: I wouldn’t recognize one of them if they were sitting on the next barstool. They wouldn’t recognize me.

So why did it matter so much that I not be this ordinary guy before people that, for the most part, are strangers? I’ll be the same ordinary self I drag elsewhere, every other day of the year. My wife is slimmer, but she was pregnant with our fourth and final child at the last reunion. So she had that advantage over me, see?

There is a danger, I suppose, in putting too much stock in a one-day event. There is a danger, too, in shortchanging yourself for a body that morphs with age. I earned the wrinkles. The expanding waistline? That is not my worst sin.

If it’s improvement I sought, I might say this for myself and for my bride over the last 30 years: Our kids grew up, graduated, found responsible jobs, got married. They contribute to society and to others, pay their bills, just as their parents do.

We have grandchildren now. They live a half-world away, but they are a source of unending delight. We visit routinely on Skype, they send letters and cards and their own artwork. Our daughter-in-law keeps us in the loop, for which we are grateful.

We’ve grown in some ways. With our children older, my wife returned to her first profession as a college administrator for several years. She did well. We bounced around with the newspaper business some, but never missed a paycheck. That’s saying something these days. In whatever we attempted, we tried our best. Always. So there’s that.

Our time on the Gulf Coast — Lake Charles, Lafayette, Port Arthur — has been splendid. We’ve met wonderful people, visited interesting places. We’ve been to Europe, then Asia, following our children.

We’ve seen lots here, too. We’ve stood on Janis Joplin’s front lawn, and Babe Didrikson’s, too. We’ve walked through the Rauschenberg Gallery, and stood on the seawall to watch the great tankers.

I flew over the ship channel and the Sabine Neches Waterway, too, courtesy of a friend. We walked through the Stark Museum of Art, and paused before the works of Georgia O’Keeffe and Frederic Remington and many other great, though lesser-known artists.

When Gen. “Tom” Collins, the test pilot, died, I visited his exhibit at the Museum of the Gulf Coast. I drove to his boyhood home on Thomas Boulevard, and parked out front. I drove past St. James — he’d gone to the high school there — and imagined him walking there. And I recognized this: Everyone comes from somewhere. They have stories to share. I’ve learned a lot by listening to them.

If I can’t be slender at the reunion, I can listen. If I can’t be handsome, I can be polite. If I can’t be rich, I can smile. If I can’t dazzle anyone, I can revel in my own bride’s glow. There’s a lot to be said for that.

Before dinner there’s a scheduled tour of the high school and Mass. I can be grateful for the things I have, and happy for those who hold their own treasures. I can embrace those things given to me, even when I didn’t deserve them.

And if I lean back on this scale, I’ve lost almost six pounds. Wait, it’s six.

So there’s that.

Ken Stickney is editor of The Port Arthur News.