05 March 2015

My 66th

Today is my birthday. I will have finished my 66th year of life when I go to bed tonight. I never thought I would end up living to such a ripe old age. I guess it’s time to take stock.

In my life I’ve had half a dozen or more long-term relationships with special people, and dozens of other happy friendships. I’ve gotten married three times and divorced twice. My longest and in many ways closest relationship is with my mother, Mary Allen, who’s now 85. I’ll be flying to North Carolina to see her next week, and my sister Joanna, another long-time friend.

I’ve been lucky to have two very good friendships that started in the mid-1970s with Cheryl and Sue, who came from Illinois but live in California. They, Walt, and I spent many great weekends and holidays in California together over a 15-year period. As you might know, I also have a long-lasting friendship with CHM, a 90-year-old Parisian who has lived in the U.S. for more than 40 years now. We first met and worked together 32 years ago.

And then there is my long-time partner and now spouse, Walt. He and I have been a couple for 32 years, and I’m not sure what would have happened to me if I hadn’t met him back then. I would have been much less happy with my life, that’s for sure. Alone, I wouldn’t have been able to do a lot of the things I’ve done. My existence would have become pretty bleak as the years passed, I think.

Over the course of my 66 years, I’ve lived in at least 15 apartments and 4 houses, counting only those where I spent more than three or four months. The longest times I’ve spent in one house or apartment are the 18 years I spent living in my mother’s house in North Carolina at the beginning of my life, and the 12 years I’ve now spent in this house near Saint-Aignan. Walt and I lived at five or six different addresses between 1982 and 1992. We got really good at packing up and moving our furniture and other belongings from one place to the next — including across the North American continent.

I’ve lived in three major cities over the years — Paris, San Francisco, and Washington DC. I’ve also lived in many smaller cities, including Rouen and Aix-en-Provence in France, and Durham NC and Champaign-Urbana IL in the U.S. And now Saint-Aignan for 12 years.

Speaking of Paris, Rouen, and Saint-Aignan, I have to say that France has been one of the biggest mysteries and joys of my life. I say it’s a mystery because I don’t know how or why it began. It just did. We had some French friends for a few years when I was growing up in North Carolina. I was fascinated by them and the fact that they spoke French to each other.

Then I studied French for four years when I was in high school because I wanted to get a university degree afterward and American universities back then had what was called a language requirement. I ended up majoring in French at Duke U., because it was a good way to justify coming to France to live and study for a while. My first trip was in 1970 when I was 20 years old — six months in Provence and Paris, including my 21st birthday — and the fascination has never ended. I’ve always just been happier in France. I have a master's degree in French literature, though I'm not a literary person. I'm more interested in linguistics. I've been known to say that the greatest accomplishment of my life has been mastering the French language as well as I have.

Since that first trip in 1970, I have flown across the Atlantic Ocean more than 75 times. I haven’t counted recently, but my upcoming trip might bring the total number to 79 or 81. It’s an odd number of crossings because I started in America and have ended up in France. In all, I’ve lived in France for about 20 years out of my 66. Even when I was in the U.S. from 1982 until about 1992, I was working in French (with CHM in DC) and I was was moonlighting as a teacher of French language classes evenings and weekends (at San Francisco City College in California). Starting in the late 1980s, Walt and I came to France at least once a year for vacations and travel.

The way I look at it, I’ve had three distinct careers since I started working for a living at age 22. I was a teacher for more than a dozen years. I taught French in the U.S. and English in France. Then I became a writer, editor, and translator. That lasted a good dozen years, in Washington and in San Francisco. Then I became a manager in a series of software companies in Silicon Valley. After about 10 years of doing that work, which was rewarding but exhausting, I threw in the towel at age 53 and Walt and I moved our life to France.

I’ve never broken a bone, had major surgery, or spent a night in a hospital. I had debilitating pollen allergies when we lived in California. Those have greatly diminished since I moved to France.

I’ve owned 10 cars since I got my first one, a Ford, when I was 22. Two were Japanese, three French, and four German. The car I’ve owned the longest is a French Peugeot. So far, I’m very happy with my ‘new’ Citroën. I’ve had three or four minor car accidents in my life. The worst one happened in Florida when I was 25 years old. Nobody was badly hurt, and the car was repaired.

I've been writing this blog for nearly 10 years now. Blogging is perfect for me, because I love to take photos (a late-in-life hobby) and to write, but I don't have the self-discipline or focus to write long, organized material. Besides, I have made some really good friends through this blog — people I would never have gotten to know otherwise.

Some other highlights: I turned down a teaching fellowship at Harvard when I was nearly 30 years old. I knew I didn’t really want to be a teacher any more. What I wanted to do was live in France, not teach French in America. Similarly, I surprised a lot of people when I suddenly quit my job in Washington DC to move to California, because Walt wanted to go live there. I didn't have any idea what I'd do in California, but I figured things would work out.

When I was 36 years old — 30 years ago this month — I traveled to Africa and Switzerland as part of the press pack covering then Vice President George H.W. Bush on an official trip to visit drought-stricken countries including Sudan, Mali, and Niger. Around that time, I was frequently in the White House and in the U.S. Senate chamber, working as a reporter and writer. I saw Ronald Reagan up close many times, and I even once sneaked into the Oval Office at the White House, pretending to be a photographer, for what they called a “photo op” with Reagan and some visiting foreign dignitary.

I once stepped on French President Jacques Chirac’s foot. He was campaigning on the street where I lived in Paris at the time, and as I pushed through the crowd I didn’t see him until it was too late. I’m not sure he even noticed. I also stepped on Senator Ted Kennedy’s foot once, in a hotel in Geneva. I was unaware that he was standing in line behind me, and I took an unfortunate step backwards for some reason. Kennedy was polite about it.

On a more positive and rewarding level, I once interviewed Coretta Scott King in Washington, and she already knew my name because she had read a magazine article I’d written about the Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change in Atlanta.

One of the most charismatic personalities I ever met was the late President Samora Machel of Mozambique. He died in a mysterious plane crash in South Africa a few years after that. Walt and I later met and chatted with the king of the West African Asante people when he visited Washington and New York in the mid-1980s. We also were in attendance in the House of Representatives when French President François Mitterrand addressed a joint session of the U.S. Congress around that same time.

I'm not musical at all, really, but there are singers who have been important in my life. Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, and Kate and Anna McGarrigle have been among them. Also, many French singers: Georges Brassens, Francis Cabrel, Daniel Balavoine, France Gall, Véronique Sanson, Eddy Mitchell, Alain Souchon, Laurent Voulzy, Patachou... I'll stop there. I like to say that I had two childhoods: one in America up to the age of 20, and a second in France up to the age of 30. French music was a great teacher for me back then, as I was learning the language.

Sometimes I say that I always knew I would meet Walt one day, but of course I didn’t know that. I recognized him as somebody special when I met him, however. It’s funny how a chance encounter or an seeming coincidence can change the course of a person’s existence.

I also think I have long known that I would end up living and probably dying in France one day. I’m enjoying the living part and not dreading the prospect of the dying part. As I heard a French journalist and TV host (the late Jacques Chancel) say in an interview not too long ago, everybody who has ever lived on Earth has also died. Death is an integral part of life. If you don’t ever die, that means you never actually lived.

54 comments:

Tim said...

Many Happy Returns Ken...
you appear to have lived a quiet life....
I don't think!!
So here's to you... I say...
raising a mug of tea!
Far to early in the day to be drinking anything else...
except coffee...
like you I am now far too long int'tuth to do the "hair of the dog" bit anymore.


Here's to many more interesting and informative "Living the Life" blogposts...
it's thanks to you and certain other bloggers in the vicinity....
I now know a lot more about France, its habits, habitants and language....
and have been willingly nudged by those posts into learning more....
so thank you informed & informative, interested & interesting Ken!
Waving mug in general direction of Sainted-Anyan!
LLAP... Waving hand in traditional Spock salute...
Thanks.

ladybird said...

Happy Birthday Ken and many, many happy returns. You've had a full and interesting life so far ... and it can only get better! Enjoy the day and your upcoming trip 'home' and back ...

Carolg said...

Happy Birthday Ken - enjoy your special day - Carol & Michael

Leon Sims said...

I think this may have been your ever longest post Ken but a great read. We have been aware of some aspects of your life and thanks for sharing some more - As for standing on toes, remind me not to dance with you. Enjoy you birthday from Sue and I.
We value the the memories we have enjoyed with you and Walt. Hope lunch is as good as we have had there!!!!

BettyAnn said...

Happy Birthday, Ken! You have had a wealth of special people come into your life and I hope you don't mind that I count you as one of the special people who have come into mine. Thank you.

Susan said...

Happy Birthday and thanks for the potted life history. It's lovely that you feel you can write about Walt that way.

Andrew said...

What a charming and delightful post to celebrate your birthday, and also interesting. I do admire people who can cut free from the easy, comfortable and what they know to stake a claim in a foreign land. This month my partner will turn the same age as yourself. How did we become so old? Best wishes for your birthday.

Travel said...

Happy Birthday!

Leon Sims said...

Happy birthday, Ken. I know Leon has already wished you many happies, but I needed to add mine in person. Wish we could be with you at L'Essentiel. I am so pleased we have got to know you and Walt over the last few years and have enjoyed both your blogs and your company immensely.
I hope the year ahead holds wonderful things for you and hope to see you again in a year or two.

Kathleen Talbot said...

Happy Birthday Ken. I hope you enjoy a wonderful 67th year.

Nadege said...

Living a meaningful, happy life is enhanced by a wonderful family and amazing friends. Happy birthday Ken, hoping you will have a wonderful trip back "home"!

Seine Judeet (Judith) said...

What a great and interesting post, Ken. A few things in there that I didn't know -- how many famous people's toes does one normally get to step on?! You've made an interesting life for yourself, and I, too, admire your willingness to make big changes to experience the life you want. Happiest of years to you!

chm said...

WOW! And I thought I knew everything about you! Happy birthday, Ken, and have as many return of this day as you feel like having.

melinda said...

champagne in order for the b'day celebration......isn't it odd to think of all the chance encounters in our lives and how they can have such lasting effects? I met my husband in a very random way (cocktail party to which i was not invited but tagged along with a friend reluctantly), likewise our daughter met her future husband (bar in paris) and son met his now fiancee (in front of a burrito stand in DC)

GaynorB said...

Ken,
With our very best wishes for a happy birthday. We hope the day is a special one for you and Walt.
Thank you for sharing with us personal information about you, and your life, thus far. What a varied and interesting life you've led! We loved the tribute to Walt. We share your love of Linda Rondstat and Emmylou, but I have a softer spot for Rufus Wainwright than I have for his mother.
Joyeux Anniversaire

Carolyn said...

Happy birthday, Ken, from E and me. What an interesting life you're having. Thanks for sharing it with all of us on a daily basis.

Dean France said...

Happy Birthday, Ken!

Tom S said...

Happy birthday, Ken! Hope to see you and Walt "soon."

Sheila said...

Happy Birthday, Ken. I learned from the news this morning that
today is also the birthday of the longest-living human we know of.
She is 117 years old, a Japanese lady. Just imagine living another
51 years.

Ohiofarmgirl said...

happy birthday, Ken! i loved this very much. thank you for sharing it with us.
:-)

C in California said...

Joyeaux anniversaire Ken! Thanks for sharing your life with us all on your blog. I get know France, as well as more about you (and Walt) as I open your blog in the mornings. Merci

C (& A)

Galestorm said...

Wishing you a very Happy Birthday! You have lived a very charmed and interesting life. I also would like to thank you for all of your wonderful photos. I am seeing places that I would never have the opportunity to in person. The villages and buildings are totally enchanting and your narratives are very informative.

Wanda

The Beaver said...

It's not midnight yet so here are my birthday wishes:

Une autre bougie s'ajoute….
Les années passent
Mais n'ont pas prise sur vous
Vous pouvez célébrer ce nouvel Anniversaire
Sans crainte - being in France, you will be celebrating for many more years to come :-)
Amusez-vous bien…
Joyeux Anniversaire Ken
( un petit verre en votre honneur ce soir)

Thanks for sharing a couple of surprising info in your life so far and for this blog -otherwise I wouldn't have met you , Walt and CHM

Evelyn said...

Wow, wonderful surprise for us from you at age 66! You live in a remote hamlet in France, yet you make new friends from all over this world. I remember well the day I met you, right here on this magical internet. You just appeared on the francophile forum with no danger of toe damage lol.

Our days are numbered, so let's enjoy each one of them- especially our birthdays. Here's to you, Ken (a toast to you from Lewis and me)

Mary said...

Wow! Only 66 years spent on the planet and you've accomplished so much this soon! We can only guess with the news we hear everyday about ways to live longer what is in store for you in the future! I enjoyed reading about the celebrity personnages you have encountered during your working career and even though you stepped on a few toes, you didn't in order to improve your position (!)

Many many more years are waiting in the wings for someone with such energy, such inspiration to share your knowledge and a fantastic cook (I can only imagine that, unfortunately!!!) I look forward to many more blogposts (that is with a cooperating computer).

Mary in Oregon

Kristi in the Western Reserve said...

Happy Birthday and thank you for this gift for your readers in your blog post today....Your life and Walt's seem rather enchanted.

Cheryl said...

Happy birthday, cher ami. What a wonderful post. Thank you for allowing me to take many segments of the ride with you. Especially on the hills of Champaign. ;-)

Gosia k said...

Many Happy Returns

Gosia k said...

Many Happy Returns

Niall & Antoinette said...

Happy Birthday Ken! Have a great day with Walt and here's to many more days! Thanks for sharing -- you packed a lot in those 66 yrs.

Linda from Alabama said...

Happy Birthday and best wishes!

goodfoodgreatdesign said...

Happy Happy Birthday Ken!! I've enjoyed reading your post, and have enjoyed reading your blog from its very start. May you have a wonderful day and many many more wonderful birthdays to come.

Kim

chm said...

I just reread the entire post, and I am amazed at how swiftly you pass from one subject matter to the next. It flows so naturally. As I mentioned on the phone yesterday, you should collect many, if not all, of your posts into some some sort of an anthology or memoirs . They are worth it.

Cheryl said...

So right, CHM!

Bob F said...

Such a treat to read your blog today. Happy 66th! A life is made up of so many events that then become treasured memories. As I read your reminiscence, I thought back to 1979 (?) when you were living in Stan and Lorraine’s house in Champaign that summer and the sad day we learned of Jim’s death in Paris. Why did that memory pop up first? There are so many more joyful times we shared in France, in Boston, including my marriage to Norma, meeting Walt and visiting you both in St. Aignan. Thanks for detailing so well the road less traveled by that you followed.

Stuart said...

Bonne anniversaire, Ken ! That was a wonderful synopsis of a life that I assume is just getting into its prime. So much of what you wrote struck so many chords with me, and I'm sure it will my wife who followed a somewhat similar path, that we're just gonna have to get together sometime to swap life stories. In the meantime, party hardy !

Jean said...

Happy birthday Ken, I hope it was a good one!

Harriett said...

Happy Birthday, Ken! I remember a good many parties in C-U with the group at Stan and Lorraine's when they were away! We have had a lot of good times with you and Walt in C-U, Paris, and Saint Aignan! Glad you are finally my age! Let the parties continue.

Lynn said...

Happy Birthday!! I loved loved loved reading your autobiography! What wonderful experiences you've had and what positive energy I felt while reading it. Hugs and smiles to you and Walt.....

Joel said...

Happy Birthday my friend from all of us in Az: J, L, H and R What a lovely entry you wrote about your 66 years. I tis an honor to know you and Walt. Love all of us................

Ginny said...

Happy Birthday, dear Ken, a wonderful friend. What a great post--I knew a lot of it, but not all of it (especially not the toe stepping part, but I enjoyed that!). I'm so happy you and Walt found each other and started a beautiful life together in France. Although I miss your wisdom and great support, I am content knowing you are where you should be and leading the life you were meant to live. Much love, Ginny

susan said...

Forgive me if this is a duplicate, but happy, happy birthday, dear Ken, and many happy returns of the day. So much of what Ginny said applies for me. Ted Kennedy stepped on my foot at the Capitol building, so that evens it all out somehow. Wishing you great happiness in the years to come.

TerryM said...

Very best wishes Ken. Live long and prosper.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Sue and Leon, we really did enjoy the lunch we had at L'Essentiel in Feings yesterday. I had an oeuf poché en meurette as my starter course, and it was delicious (CHM, are you reading this?). Walt had a seafood terrine that he said was terrific. Then I had a tajine of chicken in a lemony sauce (citron confit) with black olives, and Walt had a sauté of tender beef with a green peppercorn sauce. We were both happy. The wine was a Côt red from José Marteau in Thenay. Thanks for the restaurant recommendation.

Ken Broadhurst said...

BettyAnn, : ^ )

Ken Broadhurst said...

Nice to read you, Nadege. I leave for North Carolina on Sunday... Hope you are doing well.

Ken Broadhurst said...

Oui, nos jours sont comptés mais le nombre reste un grand secret. I agree about the miracle of the internet. I remember the first times we made virtual contact, and the first time we all met in person. Good times...

Anonymous said...

Encore tous mes voeux d'anniversaire ! Tu as écrit ton "purple patch/morceau de bravoure ! Bravo ! J'adore ta façon d'écrire ;-) !!!
Quelle belle vie !!! Que de belles rencontres !!! Puisse cette 67ième année et les suivantes être aussi bien remplies !!! Bises à vous 2 ♥♥Mary qui ne sait pas pourquoi elle est apparue comme son fils dans le post initial...

Anonymous said...

Hmm, je peux supprimer, mais pas corriger, donc il faut lire : "puisseNT"... ;-)

Mary said...

Ditto for me, too!

Mary in Oregon

Claudecf said...

Happy birthday, Ken and many happy returns. Quel bilan!
I turned 70 last September and could say many things about my relationship with English that would echo yours with French.
As they say, getting old isn't for sissies, but it can't be helped, so let's go on trying to take it as best as we can.
Wish I could still drive and visit, but it can't happen. So happy birthday to you and may you and Walt keep on with your personal love story and the love story you have with France

Ken Broadhurst said...

Hi Claude, this summer, when I come to Paris to stay for a day or two with CHM, I'll get in touch and we'll see if we can get together. Hope you are well and happy...

Claudecf said...

It would be good to see you again. Meanwhile, have a good trip!

Cristina said...

Happy Birthday from someone who aspire to move someday to France!