celeste conner me and phil

Undeniable genes: Celeste and son Phillip

Daddy King was working on 96 when he died. I never heard him admit his actual age, except on each Nov. 22. By the day after his birthday, he was working on the next number. He wanted to make it to “I’m working on 101,” but “I’m working on 96” was as much as life allowed.

I’m not going to tell you how old I turned Friday, but if I live as long as Daddy King, I’m several years past halfway done. I’m sliding down the backside of the hill. If middle-aged means the middle adult years between 40 and 60, I ain’t got long to profess it. I better claim it a lot in a hurry.

Mama never made it to middle-age. Oh, she lived long enough. She just chose to stay 39. I was 35 when she died, so I never caught up to her. We never had to have the heart-to-heart conversation, “Perhaps it’s time to start counting again, Mama.”

Like Delta Dawn, my favorite age was 41. All year long, I sang, “She’s 41, and her daddy still calls her ba-a-by.” I’ve never particularly minded aging, but I hated turning 42. What a letdown. Nobody celebrates 42.

The next year, I caught up with Daddy. He died when he was 43. I always knew he was young, but I didn’t realize how young until I turned 44. After all these years, it’s still curious to be older than a parent. He’s forever on the young side of middle-age, while the circles under the eyes in my mirror get darker and deeper with every wrinkle—uh, laugh line. He never buried a parent or finished raising a child. I’ve marked all of that off my list. I’ve experience more of life than he. That’s bananas.

I was pregnant with my son for almost the entire year that I was 32. I pronounced loudly and repeatedly that he was going to be born on May 31st and that I would proudly, yet humbly, give the day to him and, therefore, remain forever 32. My husband Chuck said, “You are setting yourself up for disappointment.” I pooh-poohed him. “I’m just playing!” Alas, I turned 33 and cried myself to sleep. “I DON’T WANT TO BE PREGNANT EVEN ONE MORE DAY!!!!”

The next day, my water broke, and the day after that, my son was born. It was his first act of disobedience. Pure defiance. He didn’t accept the offering of my birthday, so I gave him my face, just for spite.

On this very day, that boy who looks like his mama turns 21. A full-fledged grownup. I have plenty of pondering to do about that. How can my baby (named Phillip) be a man, while I’m more than a decade older than my daddy (named Phillip)? How can two likeable fellers, two generations and a lifetime apart, be so similar? Why didn’t my son get to grow up in his granddaddy’s shop learning from him about woodworking and welding? WHY DIDN’T THEY GET TO GO FISHING? My two Phils bookend me. Each holds me up from his side. I am grateful that when life took one Phil away, it gave me another. Life is ugly, exhausting, and unfair. And it is brilliant, circuitous, and hopeful.

Oh, Lawdy, I’m not thinking about all that today.

My older sisters grew up in Dothan but haven’t lived here since the last millennium. Longtime friends inquire, “How are the other King girls?!” I confess, “Honestly, they’re getting old.”

“In her younger days, they called her Delta Dawn. Prettiest woman you ever laid eyes on.”

Next year, I’ll be a speed limit. As of yesterday, I’m working on 55.

Celeste King Conner is thankful for all the candles on her birthday cake. Ponder the speeding years with her at celestekconner@gmail.com.

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