On a warm summer evening in late August 1947, young Phyllis Maxine Boehmer Fuglie stood on the platform of a Chicago train station and kissed her husband, Whitey Fuglie, goodbye.
Just 22 years old and heavy with child, she boarded a train for North Dakota, where her mother and his mother waited to help her with the birth of her first child, something they had been through about 15 times between them.
That child, born early on the morning of Sept. 5, 1947, at Mercy Hospital in Devils Lake, N.D., where Phyllis had been born, had taken her nurse’s training to become a registered nurse and had worked when she met, fell in love, married and ran away to Chicago with Whitey, where she would work as a nurse to support them while he was in optometry school, was me.
Today I am 75 years old. Tomorrow I will be closer to 100 than to 50, exceeding everyone’s expectations, including mine. My mother lived to see me turn 62, the age Whitey died, and had hoped to live to see me turn 63, the first in the Fuglie family to do that. Sadly, she died in 2009, just two week short of her 85th birthday, surrounded by her children on an early September morning, and we all said, “Here she is dad, she’s all yours again.”
Seventy-five. How about that. I’ve had a great life, so far. I hope to have more of it. When I say my prayers at bedtime, I pray for God to watch over the three important women in my life: my wife, Lillian, and her two daughters, Rachel and Chelsea. So far, He’s doing that. And then I get selfish, and I ask for just one more day for me. Not a week, not a month, not a year, just one more day. So far, it is working. As long as I don’t forget some night.
But really, what more do I want from life, besides one more day? I’ve never made a “Bucket List” of things I’d like to do before I kick the bucket, so I thought I might just do that today.
Early Sunday morning, when sitting alone in the Bad Lands, I made a mental list of things I’d really like to do in my time left here. (I’ve given myself permission to skip Mass on Sundays when I’m in the Bad Lands. I can talk to God just as easily there as I can from a church pew.) These are no big dreams, like World Peace, or a Democrat in the White House from now until I die. These are reasonable endeavors that I think can happen. I came up with about a dozen. I’ll see how many I can remember this morning.
- Learn all the lyrics to “Miss American Pie” – in order. I pretty much know them all, but I couldn’t sing the song without it playing along — there’s just too much of it. I can make this possible. I will just listen to it over and over and over. I won’t cheat and study Mr. Google.
- Visit all the national parks but five. There are 63. I have visited 50. I hope to do eight in the next year or two. The trips are mostly planned. I will likely never visit the four fly-in parks in Alaska and the one on American Samoa, halfway around the world. What were we thinking, putting an American National Park down by Australia, anyway? This is going to be possible with Lillian’s help.
- Attend a World Series game. This is only possible with help from the Minnesota Twins, and God. Forget about the Super Bowl, not even God can get the Minnesota Vikings there.
- Hold in my hand the finished product of the book Lillian and I have been writing for 10 years, the biography of North Dakota poet Paul Southworth Bliss. This is possible with help from Lillian and Dr. Suzzanne Kelley, publisher at North Dakota State University Press in Fargo.
- Grow more tomatoes and eat more bacon. Possible with help from the seed house Tomatofest and the Crow Butte Store. The bacon hasn’t gotten me yet. Why stop now?
- Get my friend, Tracy Potter elected to then North Dakota Senate, in November. Tracy, his wife Laura, and the voters of District 35 can make this possible.
- Canoe the Little Missouri River and the Upper Missouri River Breaks one more time each. My canoe partners can help me make this possible.
- Climb Bullion Butte one more time, making me the oldest person to do this. My friend, Bill Knudson, has volunteered to help make this possible. Probably a couple of more of my canoe partners will help boost me over the steep parts.
- Lose 15 or 20 more pounds, so I can look svelte (yeah, right) on the beach in Hawaii on our December family vacation. My VA nutritionist, Holly, can help me make this possible. I know, I know, the bacon …
- Help send a pro-choice North Dakotan to Congress. The North Dakota voters can make this possible.
- See the remaining 40,000 “Suitable for Wilderness” acres in the Bad Lands become real Wilderness, with a capital W, or at least a National Monument. Congress, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland and a whole bunch of dedicated North Dakota conservationists can make this possible.
- Stay healthy and out of the hospital. My doctors and I can make this possible.
- In spite of that, bury no more siblings. I’ve buried one, but I’m the oldest of the remaining six, and I need to go next.
That’s enough. If I could do all that, I would die a happy man. I’m going to do a bunch of them, but I’m not sure I can do ALL of them, in the next 12 months, given all the medical problems I’ve had this year, which might be a precursor of things to come. I’ve been admitted to hospital six times since June 4, but lucky to have lived to be discharged the same number. I hope that is over. I think it is.
I’m starting with trips to national parks in Maine and Indiana in October. Then in Hawaii, California and Arizona in December and Florida and the Virgin Islands in the spring. That’ll take care of eight more national parks. I might be too tired by summer to get to Alaska next year. We’ll see.
It’s kind of an ambitious Bucket List, but not too ambitious. Oh, I suppose I’d take World Peace and a Democrat in the White House if that came along. But I’m not holding my breath. At my age, you want to take very breath you can when they are available.
So, today I’ll celebrate my birthday. It’s a holiday That’s a lucky omen. Hey, everybody take the day off for Jim’s birthday! I think I’ll spend the day picking tomatoes and cooking bacon, and trying to remember what comes between “A long, long time ago …” and “They took the last train for the coast . . .”
And if I’m lucky enough to still be around a year from today, I”ll report back on the progress of my list.