Douglas Hill
opinion, humor and small town common sense
Saturday, May 17, 2008

Aging Gracelessly

This year I became a sexagenarian, which is not nearly as exotic as that might sound to some. In fact, to my mind, the word is the very definition of irony; the coincidence of ancient Latin and the modern idiom to produce what is effectively a one-word oxymoron.

I am not happy about it. According to my wife, I’ve been in a foul mood for the entire decade leading up to it. (I wasn’t too happy about 50 either, or now that I think of it, about 40.)

There are those who age gracefully. I am not one of them. Worse, I look the part, which is to say my persona screams, “past fresh date.” It does not help that I have white hair, which I have had for as long as I can remember – increasingly, a shrinking duration of time. I have taken to carrying a small notebook around in my pocket, for reasons I can’t recall.

I have even noticed that more people smile at me on the street, now that I am a non-threatening old guy. Behind the smile they are thinking, “Thank God I’m not that old.”

I have looked old since childhood. When I was in kindergarten my teacher would raise her hand to speak to me; and on the occasion of my first communion a parishioner asked me for my blessing.

It’s just that I have never actually been old.

Of course, I won’t technically be a senior citizen for another five years. Small consolation.

You’d think I’d be used to it. I have been passing for a senior with young people for decades, thanks to my premature gray-turned-white hair. Kids selling pizzas or movie tickets have been giving me senior discounts since my late 30s. To them anyone over 30 is old anyway; in my case, my hair cinched the “really old” deal. My wife always exhorted me to give the difference back, but my position was that the lie was theirs, not mine, and that it was small enough compensation for the insult.

I have passed for a senior with older people too. I got married at age 35, and when my wife and I were looking at houses, after asking my wife what she thought of a particular house we were viewing, the agent turned to me and asked, “And what does your father think of it?” Now, my wife was no child bride, being two years younger than I.

When my mother was being treated at Massachusetts General Hospital a decade or so ago, my father and I met with the managing physician. He was introduced to us as the Chief of Oncology, but I could swear I recognized him as one of the snot-nosed little [expletive] that had sold me a discounted movie ticket some years ago. My suspicion was not diminished when he asked which of us was the husband, and which the son.

More recently, as I was about to pull open a door to enter a store, a gentleman who was clearly 10 to 15 years my senior, bounded in front of me, pulled the door open, and said, “There you go, young fella.”

But I do not obsess about my advancing age, notwithstanding that each day I must grapple with the truth that I am one day older.

My old friend Bob Sweeney passed away this past year at age 100. Bob never gave in to age. He was my idol. From time to time we would lunch on the deck at the yacht club, and Bob would enthrall me with tales from the past, and of waterfront characters he had known. I never felt especially old around Bob – more like a peer.

I am patiently waiting for re-runs of the BBC productions, “One Foot in the Grave,” and “Waiting for God” on PBS, but clearly, I’m not getting any younger.

I have found some small solace in political correctness. While it is more convenient for me to buy my cigars at the liquor store here in Lanesville, I sometimes nonetheless drive down to Shaw’s to get them – they always card me to make sure I’m over 18-years-of-age.

Now I have to start planning for the big 70, which is only ten years away, so don’t expect me to be in a good mood any time soon.
Henry David Thoreau

Simon & Garfunkel

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