The reaper comes knocking

"Old Mortality" was the title of a novel by Sir Walter Scott, one of the first bestselling writers, so early he even preceded Dickens. Scott is most famous these days for penning "Ivanhoe," which became a film in the early 1950s starring, I believe, Robert Taylor. I loved the movie - I was about 6 - and wanted to become a jousting knight for a year or two until the fireman bug bit me.

"Old Mortality" could be a precursor to "Old Yeller" for all I know, a 500-page epic about a Scots terrier who bites the paperboy. I've never read it. But I've been thinking a lot about the title lately mostly, because of my recent trip to Cincinnati.

Going back east for me is also time travel, as in going back in time. The main reason for this year's trip was to celebrate my mom's 87th birthday. She is having eye problems, and so, for the first time ever, I was allowed to drive the 1992 Buick Roadmaster she's had since my now-deceased stepfather bought it new 13 years ago.

But mortality didn't hop onto my viewfinder because of my mom. We started every day with a 2-mile walk, and she is still drinking her daily double Manhattan at the cocktail hour. But it seemed like almost everybody else was sick or worse.

My oldest hoops friend's 34-year-old daughter died of ovarian cancer in late September. He was quite naturally devastated. The girl was 13 when I last saw her, and trying to match the picture in my mind of this vibrant, pigtailed child and death nearly broke my brain. Not to mention the sight of my 200-pound friend's anguished face across the dinner table. I mouthed all the platitudes, but there isn't really much you can say.

My mother's last surviving brother, my Uncle John, is 84 and frail now. He's on a cane and seems very small. As a young man, he was an athlete. And even after he retired from the Post Office, almost 20 years ago now, he began every day with a 5-mile walk.

Now 5 miles would take him a day or two if he made it at all. He was hospitalized twice in just the two weeks I was back in Ohio.

Upon returning to Seattle two weeks ago, I learned that a woman who sold ads for one of the newspapers I'd worked for in Kitsap County between 1997 and 2000 had died of cancer. She was only 43.

Finally, one of my best friends 10 years ago, when I returned to Seattle from Idaho, an Irishman from Galway, hanged himself in the woods behind his longtime girlfriend's Malibu home. He'd started his own business and moved to Cali with the woman, four or five years ago, while I was living in Hawaii.

I heard after the fact that he had recently lost the business and the girl. But he was only 40, and one of the most alive cats I've ever known. I just can't reconcile suicide with him. But it doesn't matter whether I can accept it or not; James, too, is gone.

There are times in our lives when everything that happens seems to be positive - bright new girlfriend, golf scores in the 80s and all your friends doing well.

But there are other times when the beautiful women sniff at your approach, the little white ball lives in the rough and people you've liked and respected seem to be living in a time of almost biblical plague.

I've started calling and reconciling with folks I haven't seen or talked to in years.

I've been sort of surprised, and sort of jolted, by all the death and illness around me lately, even though I probably shouldn't have been. After all, Sir Walter Scott didn't call his book "Old Immortality."

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