I’ve written previously about memorable contacts with my elders. I’ve always had a tremendous respect for all seniors, and relish hearing those revealing snippets of their lives and early Amateur careers, and actively seek out those QSOs. And so it was that another delightful contact came my way again today.
I was adjusting a ramshackled Vibroplex bug after spending time removing decades of detritus, and was using my transceiver’s side tone to help achieve a proper ratio of dits and dahs. And as I worked to restore this old Vibroplex to health I heard a booming signal suddenly appear over the air. It was an unmistakable bug fist, and one rich with character … just the sort of signal that always piques my curiosity. And so I paused to listen.
The sending was rhythmic and melodic and blazingly fast too, easily 30 words per minute or more, and with impeccable form. And the sender’s inflection was delightful to copy with an added space here and the occasional extra dit there, carefully chosen to embellish a laugh or add gravitas to a comment. This was a veteran I was listening to, no doubt.
And I was impressed as well with the flow of the content. It’s tough enough to maintain 30 words per minute using a bug, but to also have a mind quick enough to provide interesting conversation at the same time is a rarity. I closed my eyes and lost myself in pleasurable dialog, catching something about working for Collins and then more about time spent in Australia, and then about having retired in 1979. I suspected I may have misheard the date of retirement, though, as that would have been too long ago it seemed.
And then I heard this: “My age is 97 and I’m shooting for 100.” And I realized I had copied that retirement date correctly after all.
I immediately flushed with excitement at the thought of a near centenarian pounding the brass so exquisitely, and hoped I might have a word with him when he and the other station finished. And I listened on, now with a heightened sense of admiration, as two speed key operators went at it with each other in perfect harmony.
I heard the other station remark that he had thoroughly enjoyed the QSO but must now retire as his XYL had chores for him to tackle. And I knew my opportunity was approaching.
And after each station had shared their 73s, and when the concluding dit dit dits had been exchanged, I called.
K5AY K5AY de WA4FAT WA4FAT PSE K
A broad smile spread across my face as K5AY came roaring back to me, even stronger now than before, and still maintaining that enviable high-speed pace that most can only dream of.
“You have a good signal into Richardson, Texas”, he said, “The name is Bob and I’m running a complete K3 here.” “So how copy OB?” and he passed it back to me.
I struggled to maintain the same high level of sending expertise that Bob possessed as I replied, “Very happy to meet you, sir. This is quite an honor.”
By now I had pulled up Bob’s listing on QRZ and saw that he had matriculated at my alma mater, so I passed along a Roll Tide as I read further. I should have known better than to attempt to steer my bug at high speed while reading Bob’s QRZ biography as I missed a character here and there and finally apologized for my sloppy sending.
Diplomatically, Bob pretended not to notice as he barreled along.
I learned that Bob lived at home alone now, along with his loving canine pal Muffin, having lost his wife a few years earlier. “A girl comes each morning to fix breakfast and lunch”, Bob shared. I inquired if he had children who visited and he said he had a daughter some 50 miles away and a son on the west coast who would be visiting after Christmas. “I’ve already bought a case of wine and half a gallon of his favorite booze”, Bob revealed, showing just how much he was anticipating the time with his son.
And we swapped a few details of our ailments, Bob mentioning that he relied on a walker and hearing aids now, although they weren’t needed with headphones and his K3, and I lamented the arthritis that has stiffened my fingers. I asked if his radio friends in the area came to visit, and he replied that he “wasn’t contagious”, displaying a sense of humor that has surely fortified him through the years.
And I silently wished I lived closer so that I might be one of those visitors.
I made my ubiquitous remarks about still having a childlike passion for QSL cards and promised mine would be winging its way in the morning, and Bob suggested it was time to rest, having given his sending fist a marathon workout that would challenge the very best of the best.
And so I concluded a 40 meter CW contact that I would long remember with a gentleman from Texas who I would likely never meet. And I had been touched in a multitude of ways. I felt a sense of exhilaration at having been a part of Bob’s world for a few minutes that afternoon, and gratitude that the radio gods had brought us together for a while. I also felt amazement and hope … amazement that it was even possible to possess such incredible Morse alacrity at 97 years of age, and hope that it may be possible for me and others as well.
But most of all I thanked my lucky stars for an Elmer’s kindness some 50 years earlier that had paved the way for a lifelong passion. I pledged to redouble my own efforts to sing the praises of the world’s greatest hobby and do what little I might to promote the joy of Morse. As Bob so clearly illustrated, CW just might be the fountain of youth.