Cambrian: Opinion

Cambria man turns 100, inspiring a look back at our own lives

Robert Lyons with three generagions of descendants. Counter-clockwise from Lyons are son William (Bill) Lyons of Watsonville; son Robert W. (Bob) Lyons of Watsonville, wearing the Camria sweatshirt; son Nicholas (Nick) Lyons of Cambria; granddaughter Julia Neuman of Arcata (daughter of son Bob); grandson Max Lyons of Oakland (Nick’s son), and great-grandson Lincoln Neuman of Arcata (leaning on back of chair).
Robert Lyons with three generagions of descendants. Counter-clockwise from Lyons are son William (Bill) Lyons of Watsonville; son Robert W. (Bob) Lyons of Watsonville, wearing the Camria sweatshirt; son Nicholas (Nick) Lyons of Cambria; granddaughter Julia Neuman of Arcata (daughter of son Bob); grandson Max Lyons of Oakland (Nick’s son), and great-grandson Lincoln Neuman of Arcata (leaning on back of chair).

I’ve been on this planet for 54 years, which sounds like a long time to my own ears. Like most folks, I don’t feel any older than I did when I was 18 or 30 or 40 (at least on the inside — my body will tell you a slightly different story).

Oh, I’ve learned a few things — more than a few, I hope — and grown a little more jaded in some ways, but I’m still me. I remember my father telling me, before he died at age 86, that he didn’t feel any different, either. In some ways, he acted more like a carefree kid in a retirement home than he had at any time I’d known him.

They still called him “The Professor” in homage to his lifelong occupation, but he wasn’t quite as serious anymore. It wasn’t that he’d lost a step mentally, just that he’d shed the need to take society’s expectations quite so seriously. He still delighted in talking politics, but he’d just as likely wax philosophic about Frank Sinatra or Fresno State football or how much he’d enjoyed “The Carol Burnett Show.”

Where we came from

Reflections on a lifetime of experience and achievement can yield impressive results — especially when you’ve been around a long time. They also tell us how far we’ve come.

I’m reminded of those birthday cards you see at truck stops and in bookstores. You know the ones. They announce the year of your birth in a big four-digit numeral on the front, then contain a brief synopsis of everything that happened in that year.

For me, that would be 1963, when the Dodgers won their second World Series in Los Angeles, JFK was assassinated, and the Beatles hit No. 1 with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” A new house cost less than $13,000, on average. A gallon of gas was 29 cents. “The Avengers” (the British duo, not the Marvel superheroes) and “Mister Ed” were popular on TV.

For my father, the year was 1930. A gallon of gas was a dime, more than 1,300 banks had failed since the start of the Great Depression a year earlier, and nothing was popular on TV because TV didn’t exist. Heck, talking motion pictures had only been around for three years at that point, and FDR’s radio Fireside Chats were still in the future.

Then there’s Robert E. Lyons of Cambria, who celebrated his 100th birthday Jan. 27. During the year of his birth, Babe Ruth was still a pitcher (and a damn good one) playing for the Boston Red Sox. Germany signed the armistice agreement, ending World War I. The Bolsheviks rose to power in Russia, and the ruling Romanov family was executed. Lyons was born in Cambria when Burton Drive was still called Lee Street and grew up in a house on Bridge Street.

What we’ve done and who we are

When you’ve been around that long, a lifetime of achievement can be an impressive.

Lyons was named Coast Union High School’s athlete of the year in 1936 before moving on to earn his associate’s degree at Gavilan College and taking a job with Pacific Bell. His family ran Lyons General Store on Main Street.

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Robert Lyons with his parents and brother in front of Lyons General Store on Main Street in Cambria, 1943. Courtesy photo

Lyons served in France and Germany during World War II as part of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army, taking part in the Battle of the Bulge. He was awarded the Bronze Star.

After the war, he went back to work at Pacific Bell. But just as I remember my own father as the man behind his achievements, Robert’s son Nick made it a point to mention who his father was in his younger life … not just what he’d done.

“Robert was an avid outdoorsman, enjoying hunting, fishing and camping,” he wrote in an email. “The family spent many summer vacations in the Sierra Nevada, including pack trips high into the back country. In later years, Robert spent many days fishing on Monterey Bay with his son William, even fishing commercially for a time. Robert and Burnis (his wife of 65 years) were avid gardeners who filled the large family backyard with flowers, fruit trees and rows of seasonal vegetables.”

Twenty loved ones came from as far away as Salt Lake City to celebrate his birthday. Robert Lyons reported that he’s “hanging in there,” despite being hard of hearing these days.

Said Nick Lyons: “When asked by someone how old he was, Dad replied, ‘Delicious.’”

Still, he wasn’t wrong. Life can be full of notable dates and accomplishments, but in the end, a life well-lived should be just that: delicious.

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