In autumn of 1904, I turned 70. By now I was not only a 49er and an honored Civil War veteran, I was a great grandpa! ‘Course I still thought of myself as a rugged, youthful adventurer, so I was constantly crestfallen to glance in my shaving mirror, and find a silver whiskered ol’ prospector glaring back!
I’d pretty well retired from the freight service by now. I still rode shotgun once in a while just for old time sake, but for the most part I just relaxed and enjoyed my celebrity. During all my years out in the workforce, my fondest dream and greatest aspiration was to have a position where I was paid exactly what I was worth. Well I’m finally there, and I ain’t makin’ nothin’! Becoming absolutely worthless is the one and only area where I consistently and continuously improve!
On November 17th I’d slept in just a tad. Around eight o’clock I crawled out of the sack, slipped on my moccasins, and sauntered into the kitchen in my red long johns. “Well it’s just about time you were up!” Mariah chided jokingly, as I collapsed in the rocker by the wood range, “You’d think an ol’ codger like you would make better use of his remaining time!” Mariah smiled as she poured my coffee and kissed me on the forehead, “What would you like for your birthday dinner?” “Holy smoke!” I exclaimed, “I’d forgotten today’s my birthday!” Rubbing my eyes and consulting my stomach, I quickly concocted a menu. “I’d like butterfly pork chops, buttered parsnips, baked potatoes, and cheese cake!” “Alright.” Mariah replied smiling, “but that’s going to require a trip to Forni’s Market.” “I believe I’ve got one more shopping trip left in me.” I answered, “If you’ll fix me a soft boiled egg and some toast for breakfast.” “I’ll have your breakfast ready in about ten minutes,” Mariah replied, “but you’d better get a move on! You have to be back home by one o’clock.” “How come?” I responded, fidgeting with my mustache and stretching. “Did you forget about your afternoon appointment?” Mariah asked, eyeing me with that skeptical expression that was more and more the norm. “I don’t remember forgetting any appointment,” I responded with a chuckle, “To which appointment are you referring?” “The reporter from the Mountain Democrat is coming out to interview you about turning seventy.” Mariah answered. “Oh yeah,” I said, feigning recollection, “You don’t think I’d forget a thing like that?”
Finishing my breakfast, I made a hasty trip to town for groceries, and picked up Mr. Kinney before returning home. Shortly after lunch, the journalist arrived. He was one of those smug young men, with a fancy tie and a turned up nose, just slightly out of joint! He’d brought along a notebook and a photographer. “This shouldn’t take long;” he said following introductions, “What I’ve got in mind is a human interest story, with a bit of history and a nice photograph. We’ll need to know what you’ve learned in seven decades, what you remember of ’49, and what kind of plans you’re making for tomorrow.” Well he’s right about one thing. This shouldn’t take long at all! At this point in time, my plans are grandiose but tentative, my memory unreliable, and my tomorrows becoming a mighty speculative commodity!
The reporter posed Lidge and I hunkered over with our gold pans in the crick, while the photographer exposed a couple plates of the two of us grinning and pretending we’d discovered a nugget, and then he got out his notebook and began asking questions. The exchange began pleasantly enough. “In my experience, Mr. Camp, you garrulous ol’ codgers tend to be notoriously sentimental and nostalgic. Fare enough?” “Fare enough.” “Okay, with that in mind, is there anything in particular that you miss about the old days?” Well that was a good question, and I meditated on it briefly but earnestly before replying. “Bells.” I chimed in melodiously, beaming with satisfaction at my reply. “I miss bells.” This response gave the gentleman pause. “Bells.” He responded, scribbling contemplatively in his notes. “Why bells?” This hadn’t actually occurred to me before; but it was true. I do miss bells. “Well,” I says, “years ago, the world rang with bells! There were cowbells, school bells, dinner bells, train bells, doorbells, ships’ bells, fire bells, church bells, hames bells, jingle bells, Christmas bells; every single season tolled melodiously with bells. These days you rarely ever hear a bell, and I miss ‘em.” “Well, that is insightful, Mr. Camp; insightful, perceptive, and quite true.” The reporter and his photographer both smiled thoughtfully at each other, nodding their concurrence with my assessment, and then the interrogation continued. “How have you managed to live to such a ripe, old age, Mr. Camp?” was his next query. “One day at a time,” I answered matter-of-factly, “Just like the good book suggests.” The reporter feigned a smile and replied ingeniously, “How quaint. Let me ask you this Mr. Camp; what, in your opinion, is the most blessed aspect of old age?” “That’s easy!” I answered spontaneously, “its brevity!”
“Alright!” responded the reporter, grimacing and rubbing his temples, “And why is that?” “Well, since you’ve asked, I’m gonna tell ya exactly what I think of old age. In my humble opinion, maturity is highly overrated and esteemed old age comparable for old folks and apples! Both can figure on bruising easily, going all soft and squishy, and drawing flies! When I’m in church, I most always fight an exasperating tickle in my throat; when I dine with friends, I can generally rely on choking, going all glassy eyed, and assuming an unflattering shade of hemorrhoid blue, and except on the warmest of occasions when I’m sweating profusely, my feet are so cold that my fingers ache!”
Our dauntless correspondent mopped his brow with a crisp, white sleeve and endeavored to persevere. “My resources indicate that you two gentlemen are a couple of honored Civil War vets. Are you and Mr. Kintie proud of your service to the Union during the war?” Lidge just grinned, lowered his gaze, and stared musingly at his feet. “About the only service the two of us provided during the war,” I responded, “was to afford a mighty tempting target to the Confederate artillery.” “Well, were ya successful at that?” He enquired dryly.” “You bet we were!” I responded with a chuckle, “We got blown all to hell!”
Scrutinizing me over his spectacles and squirming uncomfortably, the exasperated reporter opted at this point, for a change of subject; “I’m certain, Mr. Camp, that our readers will be interested to know whom you consider your favorite author.” “I’m confident that you won’t be surprised to hear that, like most folks, my favorite writer is Mr. Clemens. You may be surprised to hear that I take exception to one of Sam’s quotes. Mr. Twain suggests that God made man because he was disappointed in monkeys, and I’m absolutely certain it’s the other way around.” “Yikes! That’s a pretty provocative statement Mr. Camp. Can I quote you on that?” “You bet!”
“You may be surprised, Mr. Camp, to hear that your partner in crime here seems to be of the opinion that you’re quite a phenomenon yourself, right up there with Mr. Clemens and Christ. What do you say to that?” “Well” I responded, “Mr. Kinney is a bit biased because he and I have doubled The Horn together, and been to see the elephant, but, in truth, I have at least one thing in common with both Mark Twain and Christ, neither Twain nor Christ could tolerate cheap cigars, religious fanatics, or watered down wine, and I share that sentiment.”
“Is that a fact? Well that is remarkable! “Speaking of your accomplice here, would you say that you and Mr. Kintie panned out a pretty respectable poke back in your day?” “Nope!” “Fare enough Mr. Camp.” The reporter responded, clearly annoyed, “and how would you like to be remembered?” “By whom?” I fired back! The newspaperman grunted irritably, bore down with determination, and busted the lead right out of his pencil! “What does it matter who?” He enquired, sighing deeply, and struggling to remain calm. “Well,” I responded in all seriousness, “I’d like the Lord to remember me as a good steward, who set out each day to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly, with God, through Christ.”
This answer struck home and provoked a pregnant pause. He stood in silent contemplation, eyeing me meditatively as I continued. “I’d like history to remember me as a good Christian, a proud American, and a genuine 49er, with freedom and the wild Sierras in my eyes.” “So you’re of the opinion that there is a God, Mr. Camp?” “Absolutely! And I know that God loves you.” “And how is that, Mr. Camp?” “Because God loves cheerful givers, good losers, and compassionate conservatives, all mighty speculative commodities!”
I had him vapor locked and speechless now, and I should have let it go and called it good, but a big job’s never finished till you’ve entirely fouled it up! “Would you like to take a look at my journal?” I asked expectantly, anticipating the praise of a fellow journalist. “Why not!” the reporter responded smugly. Quickly perusing several pages, he handed it back, smiled patronizingly, and announced, “It’s an innocuous little diversion, passionate but unprofessional.” Finding myself suddenly persecuted and temporarily possessed, I suggested curtly that the same was true of his mother!
That concluded the interview! The following Thursday the Mountain Democrat featured an intensely edited excerpt of the interview, next to the obituaries and a photo of a poisoned cat!