End of the Year

Rather than write about what might be happening in the year ahead, I thought it might be appropriate to review the year that’s closing.  Who would have thought we would see gasoline selling at less than $2.50 per gallon or record job creation in Oregon in 2014?  The Dow Jones Industrial Index just hit 18,000, and building permits in Albany are approaching levels we saw before the Great Recession.  Crime levels continue to decline locally and nationally as do traffic fatalities.

I have spent a few days in the hospital over the past couple of weeks having some kidney stones removed, a procedure that is almost guaranteed to darken one’s view of the world.  I am glad to report that I received great care throughout the ordeal, and I was really impressed with the customer service at Albany General Hospital.  I think the greatest gift I receive this year will be a pain-free holiday season.

2014 provided me with some reminders that productive life does not end at 60.  One of my closest friends completed and published five or six novels this year after a hiatus of about 30 years.  He published three novels in the 80’s and then took over a bookstore which demanded most of his attention.  The bookstore remains open; but now my friend has time to write, and he’s doing it with a vengeance.  If you are looking for a unique gift, purchase Led to the Slaughter: The Donner Party Werewolves or Dead Men Spend No Gold by Duncan McGeary.  I am just finishing a local treasure entitled The Gem of the Willamette Valley, which is a history of Albany written by Edward Loy.  This book provides a great picture of how Albany has grown from its beginnings to the present day and does so in a well-written and interesting way.

Albany celebrated 150 years as an incorporated city in 2014, and I think it’s safe to say that the community and country are in far better shape today than they were in 1864.  The violence and horror of the Civil War is long past; and, although race relations remain divisive, much progress has been made since the days of slavery.  Vast improvements in education, health care, transportation, working conditions, life expectancy, infant mortality, and every other indicator of quality of life are now taken for granted.

As 2014 closes, I can think of many more reasons to feel good about the year than I can to feel badly about it.  My family, like Albany, has had its share of losses; but it has mostly been a good year with many reasons to celebrate.  I hope the same is true for all those who find the time to read this column and will remain so in 2015.

Merry Christmas

Today, an unnamed city employee stopped by my office and pointed to some pictures of my wife while asking the question, how did someone as pretty as my wife end up with someone like me?  It’s nice to be held in such high esteem by my colleagues at City Hall.  I responded to the question by noting that I haven’t always looked like a 62-year-old city manager and my wife likes my personality.  Considering that we are about to celebrate our 43rd Christmas together, we obviously found something attractive in each other.

Our first Christmas we set a limit of three dollars on gifts for each other, which my wife completely disregarded by buying me a nice sweater.  I, of course, honored the bargain by purchasing a candle in the shape of a turtle.  It sounds pathetic even now, but I learned an important lesson from the experience.  Never attempt to be frugal when buying gifts for your wife.  I have also learned that I usually forget the gifts I receive from year to year, while never forgetting the person who was kind enough to remember me.

Evelyn and I have celebrated the holidays in many different places with many people over the years.  We have lost people we loved while gaining many new ones as our family and circle of friends have grown.  I received an early Christmas present this week when I arrived home from work to find three of my grandchildren running down the hall to give me a hug while shouting, “Papa.”  It’s been a long time since my children would give me a similar greeting, and I had almost forgotten how good it feels.

Experiences, it seems, are really the best gifts and what we both anticipate and remember most.  Right now, I’m looking forward to traveling to Gateway for Christmas and spending some time with my wife’s parents.  The Gateway Valley is a beautiful place and has been a family gathering spot throughout our marriage.  We hope to have a few grandchildren join us during the course of our stay.  I’m sure I will remember this experience far longer than anything else I might receive.

I hope everyone who takes a moment to read this column has a memorable, peaceful Christmas.  I am most grateful for the blessing of my wife and family, and I’ve even learned to appreciate the occasional barbs from friends at City Hall.