“For us,” announced John Stalick, gently laying a plastic bag containing fresh-from-the-oven peanut butter cookies he made from a recipe on the table in the coffee shop. I’m impressed that my friend would go to the bother of creating a confection from scratch. At the same time, I’m not surprised by it. That’s because early on in our nascent friendship, I detected a pattern in John’s lifestyle, his choices, that extend far beyond his way with a bowl and a spatula.
Along with the myriad other talents that keep John in the game, he could be the poster child for aging well, immersive aging. I never dreamed I would say this, but here goes anyway: John makes 80 look good. All 960 months which becomes a depository for the wear and tear we all endure and store.
John is in good company. Marking the big 8-Oh in 2022 are President Biden, actor Harrison Ford, songstress Barbra Streisand, and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney. Is that possible? In my mind, the whole lot of them are frozen in time. I remember I was in the audience when a 31-year-old Biden bragged he made history as the youngest person elected to the Senate.
John does a good job demystifying the chronological achievement. “I don’t think there’s a secret to it,” he says, munching on a cookie. But before he starts his day, he faithfully follows a ritual. It’s highlighted by making his bed – he was inspired by a book he read on the subject by a retired Navy admiral – and eating a hearty breakfast.
“Attitude is important. I can do anything – except lose weight,” he laughs. That can-do approach helped him build a good resume. Tracking the evolution of the digital age, he built a successful business in the Washington, DC area. Clocking 60-to-70-hour work weeks was the norm.
His labor-intensive ways afforded him the means to own a plane he keeps at the local private airport. He likes his motorcycles, and follows a regimen of lifting weights with his grandson every Friday at a gym in Boulder. And he adores globetrotting.
“In May, I’m going on a genealogical tour to Slovenia,” he enthused. “I’ll be researching for 10 days in the archives. Before that, I’m going to northern Italy and hopefully to the island of Sardinia. Then there’s another tour in the South of France I could join.”
John’s penchant for hard work was forged as a boy around Casper, WY. The mental picture he paints conjured scenes bubbling with bobby socks and Brylcreem. “I grew up with rock and roll in the 60s, for God’s sake! I drove around all night listening to KOMA in Oklahoma City. It had 50,000 watts. I shoveled walks and mowed lawns. I was a busboy in high school.”
Earlier, in elementary school, John, “a bookworm,” discovered the glories of the public library in Casper. “I had read all of the good books in the children’s section,” he recalled, such as Swiss Family Robinson, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. He enjoyed “being alone in my fantasy world. That’s what a book does.”
Politically speaking, age, too, has a way of changing us. It did for John. As a young man, he voted for John F. Kennedy. “He wanted to go places, do things,” he declared. “And he did. He got us to the moon. When you’re young, you’ve got nothing to lose.” During that time, same time, with the help of a Democrat Senator, John landed a job as a U.S. Capitol policeman. He served in the military and worked as a radio intercept officer for the NSA. His college years were a grueling balancing act featuring a fulltime job and taking 21 credit hours, all the while maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
Nowadays, he watches the deep polarization of America, and shakes his head at what it’s wrought. While the world condemns Vladimir Putin for invading a peaceful country, John urges me, us, to peel back the layers of the geopolitical onion and ponder the subtext. “Too many Democrats are embedded in the system. Nancy Pelosi needs to go out on a low. She’s caused enough damage. She’s American royalty.”
As we dunked the last of the cookies into our coffee cups, John shared a short, simple recipe for a good life. Drawing on his days as a naval airman, he claimed it’s really basic. “You’ve got to get up, make your bed, put the uniform on and show up for duty.”