"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age."
- Lucille Ball
It happens every year. My birthday comes around and I start thinking about past birthdays: My first party at age 8, engagement ring at 21, beach party in Turkey 15-20 years ago, and many loving, family gatherings - including this year - in between.
Then there was the year I became vividly aware of how many birthdays I'd already had - and perhaps of my equally advancing paranoia. Here's what happened.
I had just begun my morning walk when a group of middle-schoolers waiting for their bus snickered as I huffed by. Was it my rundown Reebocks, my mismatched socks and top, my far-from-middle-school-girlish figure? Whatever the reason for their amusement, my mood started to sag just like the rest of the stuff gravity has been coaxing downward for years. I managed to shuffle home, change into something a little more fashionable and head to the grocery store.
"Do you get the senior discount?" asked the cashier.
Never had, but by now I felt more than entitled to the 54 cents off. I thought about using my fistful of change to have someone carry my groceries to the car, but the only "bag boys" on duty that morning looked more qualified for the senior discount than I did. Not wanting one of them to collapse on the pavement and break an egg or leg, I struggled to the car alone, drove home slowly, and lay down for a long nap.
Reading shouldn't take much energy, I told myself upon waking, and scanned the bookcase for something to comfort the aging.
Ah, just the thing: Passages: Predictable Crises Of Adult Life, a popular, best-seller by Gail Sheehy. I curled up with my shawl and slippers and began to read:
"I have reached some sort of meridian in my life... a back side of the mountain, and I have only so much time before dark."
Nice description of the "latter years," right? I checked to see which "passage" Sheehy was describing and read: "Deadline Decade - Mid-Thirties."
Yipes! If 35 is the meridian of life, then I was almost off the scale. Now I was really depressed.
Fortunately, some of the books on my shelves were written by over-the-hillers like me. Bartlett's Familiar Quotations should have a section on aging, I thought. If not comforted, at least I'd be inspired or amused.
- A nice soliloquy from Walt Whitman: "So here I sit in the early candlelight of old age, I and my book casting backward glances over our travel'd road."
- A quip from Lord Byron: "A lady of a certain age means certainly aged."
- Something for the musician in me by Thomas Lehrer: "It is a sobering thought that when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for two years."
- And the writer, from George Herbert: "And now in age I bud again, I once more smell the dew and rain... I live and write."
Finally it hit me. At my candle-lit, "certain age," I can walk, carry my own groceries and use my still functioning brain to read, make music and put words on page or screen for someone else to read. Hang the middle-school perception of life! Decline the senior citizen discount! Forswear anyone's age meridian but my own!
The 20th-century poet James Ball Naylor, who lived and wrote until he was 85, charmed me with this final entry from Bartlett's:
"King David and King Solomon led merry, merry lives
With many, many lady friends and many, many wives:
But when old age crept over them, with many, many qualms,
King Solomon wrote the Proverbs, and King David wrote the Psalms."
(Barbara Seaborn is a local freelance writer. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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