Del Hayes Press

It Was a Very Good Year

 On June 29, 2023, I officially turned eighty-seven years old. And as so often happens, a few days earlier as I was having my first cup of coffee and contemplating that approaching day, a song from my past came to mind. The song was Frank Sinatra’s 1966 hit recording, “It Was a Very Good Year.” Once described as “nostalgic and melancholic,” those of us of a certain age likely recall the song as, perhaps, hauntingly poignant. Those of us who are now of “that age” can well relate to its thematic title, repeated in every verse.

The first verse begins,

When I was seventeen
It was a very good year…

and I thought, yes, when I was seventeen, it was a very good year. It’s quite outside the norm to not have a very good year, when you are seventeen. I was soon to graduate from high school, and doing well on grades. My two seasons on the Iola Mustang football team taught me to defend myself, be a team player, toughen up a bit. Dad had put me on a tractor at a very young age, and that experience led in time to having my permanent drivers’ license in my pocket, my ticket to freedom. I had overcome my natural shyness and was doing some dating. When you are seventeen, the world is your oyster, anything is possible. Any goal, regardless of what might be, or prove to be required, was achievable if only you applied yourself…when you are seventeen.

Then the song continues,

When I was twenty-one
It was a very good year…

Oh yes, twenty-one was a very good year. After two years of college classes and nights of studying together, after two years of wondering “would he/would she?” the cute blond from Bronson, Kansas had said yes, and I was soon married to the girl of my dreams. By twenty-one, I was halfway through college and on the way to an electrical engineering degree. Whether it was a wedding present, or perhaps revenge for some of my teenage years, Dad had gifted me with my own (very old, very worn out) car, and helped us get an affordable place to live while at Kansas State, via our beloved little “Buddy” home-sweet-home. Yes, twenty one was a very good year, but being twenty-one doesn’t last. Time moves on, as did the song.

When I was thirty-five
It was a very good year…

Thirty-five was a very good year, for us. A lot had happened, pretty much all of it good, in the fourteen years following our twenty-first birthdays. We both had seen our dreams of a college degree fulfilled, both having graduated from Kansas State. We moved to New Jersey, where I entered my first plunge into the world of electrical engineering, on the Nike Zeus Missile program at Bell Telephone Laboratories. After two years, we packed up and moved to Ohio, to enroll at Ohio State University. Three years, and our first two kids, later saw us moving to the mythical land of Texas, and a job with Texas Instruments. Thirty-five saw us in our first, for real, house, and me with both a Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in electrical engineering, and a family of three growing, lovable kids. Thirty-five saw me with yet another dream fulfilled, as I was a pilot, duly licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration. We had joined a local church we loved, with our kids beginning their school years. Yes, thirty-five was a very good year. However, the song does not end, at thirty-five.

But now the days are short
I’m in the autumn of the year
And now I think of my life as vintage wine
From fine old kegs
From the brim to the dregs
It poured sweet and clear
It was a very good year.

Yes, the days do feel short, now, in some vague way. A lot of life happened, between thirty-five and eighty-seven. Those three kids grew up, becoming much-loved adults with families of their own. My engineering career ended to start, and ultimately lose, two businesses. But thanks to the wonders of the Internet, I soon began, and continue now, to do part-time work for our Florida son’s business. The girl of my dreams, the light of my life, was called home after fifty-five years of being my Dear Companion. There were marriages and painful divorces, and much-loved grandkids joined us as the years came and went. Life-long friends left us for their Home Eternal. After losing my beloved, after fifty years living in my adopted home-state of Texas, I left to move to Maine, to live with our daughter and four very-grand kids. There, among many other experiences, I bought a tractor and reverted a bit to my life as a farm-kid.

As that song played through my mind, I could only admit that regardless of circumstances, good ones, painful ones, each in its own way was a “very good year.” When in the Springtime of our lives, when days are long and full of hopes and dreams, it’s easy to feel that they are very good years. But now that the days feel short, and I’m in the Autumn, or perhaps Winter, of my life, I have to admit that eighty-seven has been a very good year.

It’s not the year that marks the top of a calendar that plays any role in how that year will be lived out. Seventeen, or eighty-seven, having people who love and respect you, a beloved companion who stands beside you regardless of life’s circumstances, friends who care for and about you—having those make every year a “very good year.”

When I was eighty-seven,
It was a very good year…

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7 thoughts on “It Was a Very Good Year”

  1. Hey Del,
    It’s so great to read your thoughts on how truly mysterious our feelings are when it comes to those times we reflect. I’m about in the middle of those years between 35 and 87 and though I can’t speak from experience about 87, I get feelings from time to time that are similar to what you’re describing.

    Huge kudos for working those magic lyrics so well in the story. Happy to have shared some to those years with you.

    1. Sean, so glad to hear from you, and appreciate your comments. I have found, as the sands of my hourglass have been trickling through, that I never think of myself as a particular “age.” As Popeye famously said, “I yam what I yam, and that’s all that I yam.” Thus, internally, in my mind, at age 87 I am still just “Del Hayes.” My body thinks differently, without doubt, but my mind doesn’t. We do become more prone, as we age, to become more reflective about out lives. And that is a good thing, I think. Stay in touch.

  2. A very good year, indeed. Your post resonated with me; here of late, I’ve pondered the fact that I have more years behind me, than left in front of me. Time really does seem to move faster, now… an event that I first think occurred “a few” years ago in fact will be ten or more years past. Truthfully, I’m more than a little alarmed, each time I glance at the hourglass and see less and less sand left to run. I am making an effort to believe that it is never too late to become the person you were meant to be, that at 53, there is still enough time left to do some good. I’m putting in the work, because I’m stubborn and prolly a bit ornery. Rage against the dying of the light and all that. And I hope that I not only make it to 87, but that I will still be able to string some words together that will inspire someone a few decades my junior, as you have me.

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I will say, there is always time enough to do “something good.” If you discount the first, say, 18 years of our lives as being the time required to simply mature to a point where we can begin to function as adults, then you likely still have about as many potential productive years ahead of you as there are now behind you. I am now trying to live my life on the assumption that we have no “best if used by” date, and just move forward, doing as much as I can each day. Then, when I do reach the end of my trail, I won’t have to feel regrets for all the things I did not do because I was “too old,” not enough time left. I have friends, contemporaries, who seem to have essentially given up on doing much of anything with their lives, and who may very likely outlive me. I don’t want to end up, like that. And believe me, the generation coming up behind you can use all the support, and guidance, that you can offer.

  3. Wow, maybe your best post to date…might want to consider being a writer (oh, yeah, you are)! But perhaps just recency bias, as if I went back and re-read prior posts then I might change my mind. There really is no substitute, in my mind, for focusing on each day as it comes w/a goal of making it the very best it can be. Keep stacking good and positive thoughts w/good and positive habits and leave the results to God…knowing that He is always with us, whether stormy or fair.

  4. Oh Del, what a GREAT blog. As you can see I’m way behind in checking my messages as my 76 years and all the issues I’ve had to deal with (body, mind and spirit) kept me busier than I would have expected. It is always fun reading your FB posts and seeing the photos from long ago to the more recent days. I considered Colleen a friend as we had so much in common, particularly the love of our children. She was the real deal and I know God benefited from her life as well as her rejoining Him on the other side. And at the end of the day, it was your mutual love that transcended any and all hurdles along the way. Your tenderhearted care of her in her final years and months touched me more deeply than you will ever know. I thank God for the time I spent working with Clint in Colorado Springs…was it 30 years ago?–which led to my expanding my family to include yours. Who would have believed we’d all become fast friends and that you would become my book publisher…and a great one at that…as well as an awesome writer yourself! Sending love now from California my Friend! – Jeannette

    1. Jeannette, I won’t even attempt to fabricate an excuse for being so tardy in replying to your comment. What I will say is that it was just the tonic I very much needed this particular day. Most of us are fortunate to get to have a variety of friends in our lives, as we progress through the years. Some are sunshine friends who somehow don’t seem to be around when the clouds gather in our lives. But if we are lucky, we’ll get to have a friend such as you have been to me and Colleen, and our family. My early blog, Brighten the Corner, written not long after losing her, spoke of the one thing we all remember of Colleen, and that was her trademark smile. That is the one thing I always think of when reading any correspondence from you, and that is you are the only other person I’ve ever known who in that way reminds me so much of her. You always brighten my corner, wherever it may be and whatever the circumstances. Thank you for being who, and what, you are and have been for me and my family. God bless you.

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