When we were very young


When A.A. Milne wrote his book of poems about the musings of a child named Christopher Robin, it was a world seen through the eyes of a young child. By the way, this was before Milne had written the books about “Winnie the Pooh.”

I loved his books. While the title, “When We Were Very Young,” holds nostalgic sentiments, what I have in mind here is turning this viewpoint upside down. I’m leaning into a hypothesis I have about aging, a world seen through the eyes of someone older.

Let me begin by saying that as a teenager, I felt like I was at the epicenter of life itself. I couldn’t imagine a world without me in it. That’s the emergent egotism and lack of humility that goes with being a teenager.

As life moved on into adulthood, I ran companies, an international foundation, and worked at a D.C.-based think tank educating rising corporate executives and politicians on how to understand and influence the political machinery in Washington, D.C. Those professional experiences led me to live in or operate out of cities like Denver, Caracas, Columbus, New York and Washington, D.C.

Which brings me closer to my hypothesis and to the likes of Hillsboro, Ohio.

I loved the pace of life and texture of big cities. It takes high energy and persistence to thrive in places like New York and Washington, D.C. When I was younger, I had plenty of that. But over time I had what my mother used to refer to as “my sufficiency.” Don’t get me wrong. I love tripping back to New York City for a Broadway show or the opera, to see the majestic mountains towering over Denver, or to revisit the monuments in Washington, D.C., and the endless historic attributes of a place like Boston, but there’s a difference between living and visiting.

Demographically, the United States is getting older, as I am. Earning a living and building the necessary reserves for retirement takes a high level of persistence and ambition, but then, in time that same purposeful and yearning soul wants to return to earth. For some of us, Hillsboro is just that type of place.

My father worked in New York City for most of his life, but when he retired he didn’t yearn for Wall Street or Washington, D.C., where he got his start after the army and World War II. He was drawn to the healing effects of the earth. He would unwittingly deploy the pun by saying that getting his hands dirty with his gardens was what “grounded” him after all those overwrought and stressful years doing battle with bureaucracies.

Like father like son, I guess, but maybe it’s a feeling that just comes with a broadening view of life. It comes with age. For me, the pace of necessary thinking is transformed by the vistas of fields, rolling hills and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. The satisfaction of what can be done with the dirt, hundreds of pounds of blackberries, apples and squash… amazingly satisfying.

The antics of Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore and Piglet are still great fun to read, especially to grandchildren, and reminiscent of the way things were when we were very young. But alas, we are all getting older, America is getting older, and places like Hillsboro happen to offer something valuable. It’s amazing how you can gaze at the rolling fields of corn, soybeans and wheat and be amazed at what worthwhile thoughts these pastoral panoramas can conjure up. There’s something to be said about country living, especially as we mature like fine wine, which by the way, cultivates in many of the sunny fields of Ohio.

On a final personal note — my wife and I lost a friend and neighbor this past week, Nick Oglesby, husband to his beloved Becki. Nick was an exemplar of what I would call an unassuming man, and by that I mean the absence of arrogance, unpretentious, self-effacing and as I’m sure many can attest to, a man with a playful if dry sense of humor.

I’ve heard it said that some of the most unassuming people are actually some of the most interesting people, yet humble enough not to show it off. That was Nick Oglesby.

Early in my connection with this quiet, hard working, cattle-farming man, I told him I was frustrated with trying to grow sweet corn with the greedy deer and raccoons and all manner of other creatures. Full disclosure, I’m just a hobby farmer. Nick looked at me and said, “Why would you want to work that hard to feed the raccoons and deer when you can just drive down the street and buy some sweet corn at West Family Farm?” After a couple more years of fattening the deer and raccoons I recalled the wisdom of his words, but he left it to me to learn the lesson.

Over dessert one evening a few months before he passed he tucked into some of my wife’s Swedish apple pie and I told him they were apples from our farm. He didn’t have any advice for us on growing apples, but I could tell he approved by the smile on his face as he finished off his second serving of pie. That was Nick Oglesby.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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