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Rheta Johnson: Rich moments in my 59th year


Rheta Grimsley Johnson



PASS CHRISTIAN -- The week I became 60, I was on the Gulf Coast, the weather was balmy and life definitely seemed worth living. 


At a festival in honor of oysters here in the Pass, you could eat the heavenly mollusks raw, steamed, fried and in various stews, all on one ticket. With friends, I sat under a big tent at the edge of the pink-lit Mississippi Sound, not far from the reef where the oysters were gathered, and I pondered my good fortune. 


True, 60 is not 20, not even the "new 40," as many say. But in some ways it is better. At 60, you savor an oyster. You savor life. 


That same birthday week I watched "American Roadshow" with my parents and learned a new word, the one for "glassblower"; he is a "gaffer."  


I went to a green market and bought nine calamondins, a fruit I didn't know about till recently, to make a pie. As long as we're learning, we're living. 


The past year has been full of small, great moments, things I won't forget if I add 40 years to the 60. I feel compelled to share a few. 


In Natchez, Miss., I showed off a bit for two Colorado professors who were visiting. I drove them down Under the Hill, where Mark Twain used to drink when he worked on the riverboats. The Mississippi River sunset cooperated with a splendid show. 


I asked the bartender about the little dog who usually sits on a stool facing the bar. 


"That's Tippy," she said, not missing a beat. "He's my best customer." 


Later in the lobby of the elegant old Eola Hotel, we enjoyed a casual conversation with a couple from across the river in Ferriday, La. Not only did they know Jerry Lee Lewis, the husband was related. His mother, as it happens, used to sing with her cousins Jerry Lee, Jimmy Swaggart and Mickey Gilley when the trio was young. 


Mississippi is small in that good way. And talk about impressing some Coloradans.  


There were other rich moments closer to home. I sold my vintage Serra Scotty travel trailer to a friend and neighbor. I felt a little sad about giving it up, till Terry invited me over to show me how he'd dressed the trailer for Christmas. 


The old rig glowed with aqua and red lights. We sat snug inside it, drinking nog and admiring the nostalgic decorations late into the night -- or 9 p.m., anyhow. 


It was a year of good music and food. I heard a lot of Hank, naturally. A Wetumpka, Ala., library where I hawked my Hank book baked a cake with Hank and a moon done up in icing. 


In New Orleans I saw and heard the Pine Leaf Boys at the French Quarter Festival and ate the world's best po'boy at Sammy's. I attended a musical mass at St. Augustine Cathedral in honor of the great Satchmo, Louis Armstrong, replete with jazz funeral afterward. 


Spending time in New Orleans is one of life's greatest gifts, a French fix on the cheap. 


And yes, far from the rowdy crowd, there's the hollow I still call home, where floors creak and owls holler but otherwise the world is quiet. I touch base there often enough to stay sane in a world that seems, at times, to have gone the other way. 




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