A promise kept

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The author and his nonagenarian dad Jim Peterson at the site of their bungee jump in celebration of Jim’s 90th birthday.

Hey Dad, they’re playing your song.  “What song?”, my dad shot back quizzically.  “This one.  Here, turn it up.”

Off our rockers, actin’ crazy

And with the right medications we won’t be lazy

Doin’ the Old Folks Boogie, down on the farm

Wheelchairs, they were locked arm-in-arm.

Paired off pacemakers with matching alarms

Give us one more chance to spin one more yarn.

 And you know that you’re over-the-hill

When your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.

Old Folks Boogie, and boogie we will

‘cause to us, the thought’s as good as the thrill.

“Ha! That’s a good one”, my dad says.  “But I promised myself that I would jump off that bridge and I have every intention of keeping it.”

We were traveling south on I-65 from Culver, Indiana to Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.  In the car was my dad, two of my brothers and me, part of a caravan carrying 11 of us to our destination, and we were listening to the radio while we passed the time.  It was the occasion of my dads’ 90th birthday and we were headed to Lawrenceburg because there, from an abandoned train trestle, my dad intended to jump 240 feet toward the Kentucky river with his ankles tied to a bungee cord.

“He wants to do what?” was the reply of most people when they were told. But those of us who know him weren’t surprised at all.  On his 80th birthday he jumped out of an airplane.  Always an athlete, he played tennis well into his 80’s.  Typical of stories he’s told over the years is one in which he climbed to the top of the state Capitol in Springfield, Illinois when he was a state Senator there.  He and a colleague crawled out a service window in the dome and made their way up to the very top where the Illinois flag was anchored to the peak.  I expect he would have climbed up the flagpole itself if there was a way to do it.

I didn’t make it to the parachute jump a decade earlier, so I wasn’t going to let this event pass by without being there.  As I would joke to many a close friend, “Well, if this is where it all ends, then I suppose I ought to be there.”  COVID had kept me from visiting my parents and siblings for almost two years, so not only was I happy to be with my dad, but I was also surrounded by family and that made the trip all the more exceptional.  It was a whole weekend of sightseeing and dining, in addition to the main event.  All of us had signed up to jump ourselves.  There was no way we were going to let a 90-year-old show us up.  “All for one, one for all.”

We were scheduled for Sunday morning at 10:00 am.  After a light breakfast, we made our way to the site.  The adventure was hosted by Vertigo Bungee, a national outfit that operates a half dozen bungee jumping excursions throughout the United States.  The session consisted of 30 jumpers, so we were part of a larger group.  There was a 20-minute safety orientation before we even proceeded to the bridge.  Once there, we were given more safety instructions and oriented toward the harness and other gear we would wear for our jump.  It gave us all a sense of relief to know that this was a professional outfit with 30 years of experience and a stellar safety record.

The bridge was crowded, and we got to see a number of people jump before anyone in our group had their turn.  My nephew, Michael was the first of our group to go.  He made it look easy and we all had a good cheer when he was hauled back up to the top.  As the session went on, word got around that there was a 90-year-old man who was going to jump.  Some stopped by to give well-wishes and encouragement.  Little did they know, my dad didn’t need any encouragement.  He was ready from the start.

I don’t know if the team at Vertigo Bungee planned it that way, but my dad was the last of our group to go.  Tension began to build as his turned neared.  One last safety check and he was guided to the platform.  “On three, Jim”, said the Jump Master with a hand on his shoulder to steady him.  “One, Two, Three.”  Dad never hesitated.  He jumped as far forward as his old legs would propel him and plunged downward – not exactly a swan dive but an inspiring sight nonetheless.

It took him a little time to get the hoisting cable attached to his harness.  I had the same trouble myself.  Imagine hanging upside down and having a cable lowered to you.  You have to find it, then hook it to your harness.  Not an easy thing to do when your world is upside down and blood is rushing to your head!  When he was safely back to the top, the whole crowd erupted in cheers.  The team at Vertigo Bungee expressed their thanks and admiration for the old man and the proud family that surrounded him.

“ . .. so you know that you’re over the hill when your mind makes a promise that your body can’t fill.”

“Not me.  Not yet.” my dad said gallantly.  “I kept my promise.”

We can’t wait to see what promise he’ll keep on his 100th birthday