Finding our way, with or without GPS

Opinion: John Rice

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Monday marked my 65th birthday. According to Social Security and Medicare, I am officially old. AARP has been telling me this for years. Becoming old definitely snuck up on me. I feel like I woke up to find my hair gray and my children grown. I'm not complaining, just trying to adjust to a new reality. 

Frankly, I didn't see it coming. In the detective business, we avoid expectations and it carries over to my personal life. I didn't anticipate having "kids" in their 20s and 30s and four delightful grandsons. 

I also didn't foresee the pleasure of moving to Forest Park. It seemed a trivial decision 35 years ago but it shaped our lives. The people we've met, the places we love: my appreciation for the community continues to grow. It's the town where our kids enjoyed an old-fashioned childhood, roaming freely and making life-long friends. No wonder they turned out so well.

Neighbors became our dear friends. We still see them — not at schools or parks anymore — but at restaurants, stores and festivals. I forever appreciate the closeness of this community and the privilege of walking home after a night of fun. 

My wife and I continue to explore new gathering spots. After close to 40 years of marriage, we still crack each other up. Last weekend, we escaped to Galena. She thought my milestone birthday deserved a three-day celebration at a resort. Plus, we were both burned out.

My wife had just survived the tumultuous start of the school year and I was sick of driving around the South Side. We decompressed, surrounded by the beauty of a rolling autumn landscape. We enjoyed a country festival, browsing at quaint shops and partying at an Irish pub.

We not only celebrated 65 in style, we observed the 20th anniversary of this column. It was a small party, just cheese and crackers. It's difficult to comprehend — I've written over 1,000 columns but I never tire of focusing on Forest Park. The town has an inexhaustible supply of stories. I have more column ideas than ever. 

I've also been lucky to have the guidance of wise editors. They assign fascinating features and improve my prose. (If that sentence doesn't get me a raise, nothing will). The column allows me to vent and challenges me to make readers laugh. 

Although I'm officially ancient and use archaic words like "stocking cap," I've never been happier. I can't complain of an ache or pain and the strongest pill I take is aspirin. I've even healed some emotional pain. I love writing more than ever. I look forward to the future, when I can spend my days working on novels, instead of searching for witnesses.

It was difficult just to find my way around in the old days. I was reminded of this, when we were cruising through the countryside. I used to be an expert reader of maps and concentrated hard while farmers gave me convoluted directions. Thanks to GPS, these skills are no longer in demand. 

But during our trip home, I was determined to drive along the Mississippi, and Siri was no help. I used dead reckoning instead, driving south on two-lane highways, a panoramic view of the river on our right. Finally, I was forced to ask directions and listened to a lengthy recitation. Driving down a gravel road in the middle of nowhere made me deeply worried, when suddenly an entrance ramp to I-80 East appeared. 

I don't know if that's an analogy for how we blindly find our way through life but it does lead to some pleasant surprises. 

John Rice is a columnist/private detective, who has seen his business and family thrive in Forest Park. He thoroughly enjoys life in the village and still gets a thrill smelling Red Hots, watching softball and strolling through cemeteries.

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