Just before the funeral service, the undertaker came up to the elderly widow and asked, “How old was your husband?” She replied, “Ninety-eight, that’s just two years older than me.” “So, you’re 96,” the undertaker commented. She responded with a sigh, “Hardly worth going home, is it?”
I tell this grim-humored joke to introduce the topic of baby boomers like me growing older and to advise any younger readers to stop tip-toeing around the fact that some of us are 65-plus, and we’re perfectly at peace with it. So, stop patronizing us!
Recently, I was in a local department store, looking for a replacement gasket for my pressure cooker and asked at the customer service desk where I could find said item. The twenty-something clerk looked me over and then announced loudly over her walkie talkie, “Will someone from hardware please escort this young lady to aisle 12?”
I looked behind me to see the “young lady” she was trying to help; then, I realized her condescending attitude was directed at me. My graying hair, liver spots, and sagging chin must have given me away, making me the object of the clerk’s pity. She probably thought it was a miracle I was able to locate the store and shuffle inside to ask for help. Yes, I know she was just trying to be kind, but it hit me hard that day because it was the first time I had been treated in such an overly solicitous manner.
Up until that moment, I’d been feeling pretty good. I hadn’t parked in the handicapped space outside, and I didn’t require one of the scooters offered by the store for their “special needs customers.” Then came the clerk’s reminder that I must be old.
I admit to being thin-skinned, but I infer from such supercilious remarks the message that we must pretend nobody ever gets old. In fact, political correctness dictates that we say pretentiously polite things that aren’t true in order to avoid offending anyone about anything. Given my grouchy attitude, it’s best not to call me “young lady.” However, I don’t mind being called “Miss Mary,” as that’s a “Southern- speak” compliment for being mature, wise, or just plain eccentric.
Even at my age, I can still tie my own shoes and feed myself. I have no restrictions on my driver’s license, and I have all my own teeth. If I forget something, it’s just because I’m busy multi-tasking, and I can’t be bothered with “Where did I put my car keys?” And I think it’s kind of amusing that my body can make the same noises as my coffeemaker.
I was born during World War II, and I know about Korea and who Joe McCarthy was. I still remember where I was when I heard of President Kennedy’s assassination. I watched the Watergate proceedings on television. I’ve seen contemporary wars in the Mideast, and in my “hippie” days of nearly five decades ago, I lay down on a railroad track in front of President Johnson’s train to protest our presence in Vietnam.
Years later, God’s grace allowed me to see my MIA dad step off the plane onto U.S. soil after we feared he had died in Cambodia.
I don’t need to be reminded that I’ve experienced a lot of American history. And I don’t need the insincere flattery of those who refer to me as a “young lady.” For me, the term is not a compliment.
And for heaven’s sake, don’t give me platitudes like “You’re as old as you feel” or “Age is just a number.” The truth is that on some mornings, I feel a great deal older than my “number.” But, as the mortician says, “Any day above ground is a good one.”
I enjoyed my youth, but I don’t fear growing old. True, I cringe a little each morning when I look at myself in the mirror, but I don’t feel the need to be surgically enhanced. What I see is who I am now. Every wrinkle, scar, and laugh line comes with an interesting story behind it. I’m enjoying my journey through life, and I don’t need someone who is embarrassed by the thought of aging to pretend that I’m still 29 by calling me “young lady.”
Now, let’s all say the SENILITY prayer together: “Lord, grant me the senility to forget the people I never liked anyway, the good fortune to run into the ones I do, and the eyesight to tell the difference.”
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.