EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations recently. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com about Arizona Wildcats athletics. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.
BY ERNIE McCRAY
Special to AllSportsTucson.com
There’s something about the age of 76 that’s different than any other age I’ve had the pleasure of being. I keep thinking about it for one thing. Maybe it’s because 76 leans closer to 80 than those other yearly milestones along life’s way. As we get older, I think, we see ourselves as Grim Reaper victims every now and then in very brief moments. Briefer than the one just passed, for anyone interested in specifics. Thinking about something can be a lot different than dwelling on it.
Anyway, while pondering such thoughts on the night before I turned 76, I found myself clicking into flickr on the internet for something that might symbolize my reaching such an age, looking for something that screamed “Orale!” The Reaper doesn’t like such expressions of “liveliness.”
In my search I ran across a picture of a number 76 posing next to a depressing shadowed door that looked, as it stood against a dull pink background, as sad as a stanza in a down and out blues song. So I moved on through the rows of visions looking for that special one that would match the “76 Trombones Lead the Big Parade” disposition that was enlivening my spirit, flowing like life-giving lava through my heart and soul.
But it just didn’t seem that I would find any such thing to match how my heart was singing but I wasn’t about to quit, not this soon-to-be novice at being 76. I mean, hey, it was no big deal; it wasn’t like I had discovered that I was at a concert featuring Lawrence Welk’s classics when I was hoping to see Stevie Nicks – or like being a handsome prince who finds Cinderella’s slipper and then is greeted at her door by someone looking like they had been beaten with an ugly stick – or like taking my car to get fixed by some shady grease monkey who goes by the name of Slick Rick.
No, I was fully committed to finding me a fine specimen of a 76. I kept on scrolling, ever so careful to keep my cool and, in my view, there appeared the big orange globe that’s identified with Phillips 76. But, unh unh, that would never do the trick. So with that thought being immediately nixed and eclipsed and dismissed as what would be, for me, a drastic spiritual conflict with any symbols I might take on to honor my 76th, I went on to see a road leading to somewhere: Route 66? Route 76?
I saw a rustic wooden house weighed down by snow, a beautiful woman lying in the grass in a meadow, trees, standing tall and free before a lake at the base of a striking blue sky that gave way to a pretty yellow and orange sunset.
I saw fighter planes and battle ships, a soldier and his woman preparing a parting kiss, the Golden Gate Bridge; a 5th of Jack Daniel’s underneath a sign signifying that “The Secret of Happiness is…”
I saw a statement about religion that wasn’t the least bit ecclesiastic, guitarists, dancers and singers doing their thing for Show Biz, so vibrant and electric and stylistic, perhaps, even, altruistic…
There were no more 76’s, though. But, oh, the visions of life that rolled before me, the things going on besides the few I’ve mentioned, the emotions being displayed in so many ways, the range of attitudes copped, some frantic, filled with antics, some quiet and sublime, counter to our times. So much life being lived on this wonderful planet. So I gave into my eclectic tastes that were being teased and pleased and as my more sympathetic and empathetic and naturalistic self surfaced, I realized that the picture of the number 76, posing next to a depressing shadowed door that looked, as it stood against a dull pink background, as sad as a stanza in a down and out blues song – well, I realized that old 76 had the spirit that I wanted after all.
It was old like me. I am, like it, fortunate to still be around fulfilling what’s left of my destiny. Of course, as it is also with it, I’m not as spry as I used to be but just as ready, as I’ve been up to now, to make 76 what very year should be: lived enthusiastically as it can be.
I might be leaning towards 80 but I’m going to enjoy, as much as I can, these 365 days of being 76.
Note to self: try not to make it to heaven before 77 (smile).