Old man turns 40

PHOTO: Anssi Koskinen, Flickr CC
Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

When I was a senior in high school our band went on a field trip to Chicago. One of the stops was Six Flags Amusement Park.

The park had one of those “Guess Your Age” booths where you won a prize if the carnival worker failed to guess your age within four years. I was 18, which is a tough age to fake your way out of. But my friends all agreed that I was the one who should try this game.

It wasn’t because I had a thick, manly beard. Nor was it because I possessed above-average confidence or a suave demeanor. No, the reason I was the ideal candidate was because, at age 18, I looked like a middle aged man.

It started with my shape, like that of a pear. Those who knew me then might say that I look like more of a pear now and that is true. But back then I looked like a firm, supple young pear — underripe, but promising.

Then there was my hair. It was darker then, but easy to comb down to accentuate my high forehead.

These were genetic factors, the lottery numbers I drew in life. But my real ace in the hole was my wardrobe. For most of high school I wore a polo shirt tucked into a pair of khaki pants cinched with a black faux leather belt. I wore off-white sneakers, like a dad perpetually ready for a round of suburban lawn mowing. My Timex watch was analog, the clasp a well scratched mock silver.

Oh, but there’s more. When you’re shaped like a pear you have a choice. You can snag that belt on the south side of the belly or the north side. If I took the under I looked like a guy who sells commercial grade vinyl siding. If I hitched them over I looked like Herbert Hoover on vacation. For this, I went full Hoover.

So here I am, in the prime of my life, walking up to the Six Flags “Guess Your Age” booth. If I had to guess, and it would truly be just a guess, I’d say the age guesser was about 26, give or take four years. I paid my money. He looked at me like I was a jar full of jelly beans. And, in just a moment, he rendered his opinion.


For some reason I was so very happy. “HA HA! I’m 18,” I laughed. He didn’t believe me. I had to show him my driver’s license. He winced. I walked away with some kind of prize. Perhaps a jar of vitamins or a no-kink garden hose. My friends and I laughed and laughed. And laughed.


So anyway, I turned 40 this weekend. By actuarial tables 40 is half way. In terms of Bob Dylan albums, we’re well past “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited.” Moving into “Blood on the Tracks” territory. “Not Dark Yet,” but getting there.

It’s funny how people perceive age differently. I’m researching early Hibbing history right now. In 1914 the state redrew legislative districts after the 1910 census. For the first time in history, the Mesabi Iron Range would be the center of a large state senate district that didn’t include Duluth.

Naturally, many candidates clamored to run for the seat. But the one that Claude Atkinson at the Mesaba Ore liked was Old Bill Brown.

Atkinson said that the Range didn’t need some young pup to serve in this Senate seat. This was a real opportunity to get things done. To do so we needed a mature, experienced man to put his chapped hands on the tiller. Women couldn’t vote, you see, so they talked this way.

Old Bill Brown was the man. The picture didn’t reproduce very well on the microfilm, but you could see in his blurry visage that Old Bill Brown was quite the weathered fellow. He wasn’t like the guys in the other pictures, young bucks wearing angular fedoras with wide eyes and cheeks like plow blades. Old Bill Brown, he had seen a thing or two.

As I’m watching the campaign unfold, sudden tragedy struck. One day, Old Bill Brown just up and died. I suppose that is the unavoidable downside of experience. Too much is fatal. Old Bill Brown’s obituary extolled his many virtues, his unprecedented accomplishments. But then, a few inches down the column, I read this clause that began an ancillary paragraph. “A man of 40 …”

That’s right. Old Bill Brown was just a few months older than I am right now.

Times have changed, I suppose. Antibiotics. Insulin. Now 40 isn’t over the hill. It isn’t a number to be feared. For me, 40 the realization of a teenage dream. Finally, I am what I set out to become.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and is the creator of the Great Northern Radio Show which aired for eight years on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.