“You know, son, I was born at the perfect time,” my dad used to say.
“I was too young for World War I, and when World War II came along I was too old, and I had a family.
“I’m getting Social Security even though I only put a few thousand dollars into it, and I’m getting Medicare.
“Not bad, huh, son?”
My dad lived to a few days short of 91, and until the prostate cancer that finally got him, he lived in his own house, which he cared for himself.
He had friends, two children who loved him, and a way of looking at the world that never left him too disappointed with life.
Mom, who died of cancer several years before him, used to complain that he saw the glass as half empty. But while that may have frustrated her, it gave dad the kind of detachment that let him roll with life’s punches.
And now that I’m commencing my 65th year of life, I see a lot of wisdom in what he said about the timing of his life.
Because Jim Brenneman was born at the perfect time.
He was in high school when the United States jumped into the First World War, too young for the draft. And by the time he reached 18, the war was three years gone and the draft along with it.
He received Social Security for more than a quarter-century, and Medicare handled his medical needs, including a successful cancer surgery and then the treatment for the second round of cancer that finally claimed him.
He’d lived through the Depression, in part by bootlegging. Not booze, which was never an indulgence for him, but salt and potatoes.
Back in those days, states had tariffs, with Kansas levying a duty on Nebraska potatoes and Kansas retaliating [or vice versa] with a fee on Nebraska potatoes.
Dad got to know the backroads, and would haul a truckload of good Kansas salt up to Nebraska and return with a load of potatoes and a small but helpful profit.
That was his only streak of buccaneering.
Before the Repeal of Prohibition, he did make one booze-smuggling run, at the invitation of a friend who had a car specially fitted with concealed tanks which they drove from or hometown of Abilene, Kansas, to Kansas City.
His pal had told him he could make a tidy sum from time to time running booze, but what he encountered at a Kansas City warehouse was enough to discourage him from any thoughts of violating the Volstead Act.
“There were guys there with tommy guns, really scary fellows,” he said. “That was enough for me.”
They guys in question were no doubt soldiers in the Kansas City Mafia family, the same outfit which would later be parsing out the Las Vegas casino skim during the day’s ensl worked as a young reporter in Sin City.
Later, dad built up a successful paint, glass, and wallpaper business in Abilene, selling out so we could move to Fort Collins, Colorado, where he became a partner in a furniture store.
Before selling his interest in that business, he bought a duplex, and later a fourplex, both later sold to provide the nest egg for his long and pleasant retirement.
His greatest love was fishing, or more accurately, the exploration of the mountain West he undertook in search of new lakes to troll.
We spent countless weekends — longer in summer — on long explorations, sometime with our 14-foot aluminum boat hitched on behind, sometime without.
More often than not, we set out with no agenda, following whatever roads