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Perspective: The View From 50

Breja Fink

When I was a teenager and beginning to take an interest in my parents’ inner lives, I summoned some nerve and asked my mother if she was a happy person. She was in her late 50s then, and I remember her rolling out the dough for a batch of egg noodles on our long kitchen table. I can still see that old wooden roller coated with flour and stuck with little bits of good egg dough. “Happy,” she said, and that was the end of that. I couldn’t tell if she was answering me or repeating the question.

I tried an open-ended approach on my old man, who was about sixty then, shooting baskets out back in his cut-offs. “What was the happiest time in your life?” I asked. He had this home-cooked, left-handed hookshot, and he banked one in as he pondered the question. Finally, he said, “My forties were a good stretch.” Forties, I thought. Jeeze. By your forties you’re all washed up. I couldn’t imagine anybody’s forties being the pinnacle of anything. But, like I said, I was a teenager.

This week I said so long to my forties, my old man’s finest decade. I don’t usually hold much truck with birthdays, but 50 seems worth remarking upon. To celebrate my dotage, I rode my bike for fifty miles in the countryside west of Beloit, toward the Driftless, out where it gets hilly. It was a tough ride! Some of those roads, there’s hardly a flat stretch. Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you that 50 is the top of any hill. It ain’t. But it’s still a pretty country, and from here you get a decent view most ways you look.

I'm Chris Fink and that's my Perspective.

Chris Fink is a professor of English and Environmental Studies at Beloit College. He is the author of Farmer's Almanac, A Work of Fiction.