The first time I heard the term “bucket list” I thought it was some sort of new hobby. People collect coins, stamps, matchbook covers, bottle caps so I figured that buckets were the new hot collectible, as in: “See here – that’s a 1937 Sears Allstate Portable Pond 150. The one with double-riveted flanges for the handle attachments and the sealed seam. With a minimum of scratches, it could go a hundred bucks easy on eBay!
I eventually discovered The Bucket List was a movie starring Jack Nicolson and Morgan Freeman as two older men with a list of experiences they wanted to go through before they “kicked the bucket” (died). It’s not a new concept – while I haven’t used that specific term I had been keeping a similar list the summer of 1967 when I vowed to one day French-kiss Diana Rigg…and I have learned in my life that any goal-setting exercise can alternately be a good or bad thing – achieving a goal on your personal bucket list isn’t always as fulfilling an experience as it appeared to be when you first thought of the goal.
Some things change.
In the fall of 1972 the second and third leading items on my bucket list were the Lord of the Rings saga and the Washington Redskins (spot #1 being firmly locked up by my Best Friend). Every spare moment would find me with one of Tolkien’s works in hand and totally engrossed in the saga of the Fellowship of the Ring – and while my classmates were drawing still life compositions and Western landscapes my sketchbooks were filled with orcs, elves and halflings…
…and despite being very well-read I couldn’t tell you much about current events or even campus activities, but I could rattle off statistics for the “Red-Rams” at the slightest provocation; “Red-Rams” being a short-lived nickname the Washington team acquired when head coach George Allen did some fast talking/trading to acquire a large number of veteran players from the Los Angeles Rams, the team he coached before moving to the Redskins.
Then Life happened and my fascination with both the Redskins and the works of J.R.R. Tolkien were sidelined by the challenges and rewards of:
- continued academic studies
- missionary service
- work in an oil field
- service as an army officer
- teaching college
- freelance illustration and design
Working in # 8 is what indirectly led to this post: in the summer of 1995 my good friend Robbie Reeves was able to obtain a pair of tickets to a Washington Redskins exhibition game in Knoxville, Tennessee, but oddly enough from the very minute he told me about the tickets I struggled with mixed emotions. To be honest my ardor as an NFL fan had cooled quite a bit after watching a particular New York Giants / Washington Redskins game in 1985 – when Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor fell on Redskins quarterback Joe Theisman’s leg and created a second knee joint.
However, there was still enough residual ‘skins mania left in me when Game Day (or rather night) arrived to compel me into crowding through the stadium with a ba-jillion other fans to take our seats before the game started. Unfortunately, there were no real seats but rather little numbered spots on raised cement rows the size of a sheet of typing paper – and with no back support whatsoever. The weather was also very hot and muggy and people around us were already getting drunk through their efforts to “keep hydrated” but as parched as I felt there was no way I was going to drink anything; liquids work their way through me very quickly and with everyone crammed on those little squatty seats getting to a bathroom was a wish more than a reality.
We left at half-time.
The next day I was back at my desk, working on a project that also took me back to 1972, namely a collectible card game based on Lord of the Rings. I was a late but fervent convert to the works of JRR Tolkien, when I was stuck with a dog-eared copy of The Hobbit as my sole diversion on the Anchorage-to-Seattle segment of my journey to enroll at Ricks College.
I had been spending the previous couple of years hiking through works of a more gritty nature; books by Robert Howard and H.P. Lovecraft so Tolkien’s work seemed at first to be on a level like Robert Heinlein’s juvenile SF novels …. but as I read further I began to appreciate them as the literature that they are. My Best Friend and I spent the balance of the semester racing each other through the trilogy, and when I finished my drawing class homework I’d turn to decorating insets in her basement apartment’s suspended ceiling with scenes from the books.
It may have been that my fascination with Tolkien was fueled to a large measure by my Best Friend’s interest in Tolkien, but even if my hobbit mania cooled a bit after our break-up I was still interested enough to enjoy the subsequent publication of the Silmarillion and the animated adaptations in the late seventies. There was enough lingering interest for me to consider submitting a portfolio for work when Iron Crown Enterprises announced plans for their Middle-Earth role-playing game in the mid-1980’s, but with a powerhouse like Angus McBride churning out cover work I conceded defeat.
So, it was a stroke of luck when Lori and I were asked to work on their collectible card game project and we soon became the “go-to” people for saving cards that had less than desirable paintings submitted. However, when ICE started soliciting bids for work on the follow-up booster set we held off; the polite term is “a lack of confidence in their business model” which basically meant I wasn’t sure we’d get paid.
When I voiced my concern to Lori I surprised us both because it wouldn’t have been the first time I’d taken work on under hinky conditions…but while there is something to be said about working on something you love, by 1995 Middle-Earth was no longer something I loved enough to risk a loss.
So what happened?
Had the Washington Redskins and the Lord of the Rings been replaced by other avocations and interests? Not really; I’m not one to jump from hobby to hobby; when I develop an interest, I tend to hang on for a long time. My cold reaction to added Tolkien-related work was due to something else in the equation, something that wouldn’t have been any kind of influence or factor at all 10 or 20 years earlier.
I’ve been told that your forties are the old age of youth and your fifties are the youth of old age. I was 42 when these two “bucket” topics re-entered my life, a life that was less wrapped up with entertainment and hobbies as had the case been in earlier years. By the time I was 42 I was much more concerned with making a living for my family, making sure that their needs were taken care of and making sure they all knew they were loved. Do I miss those days when nothing could get me more hyped than a new Moody Blues album or a blockbuster movie like Star Wars? Kind of…. but movies come and go, and the Moody Blues haven’t had a decent album since Seventh Sojourn….
….my wife, kids, and now grandkids?
They’re for keeps.