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Friday, 21 December 2012

Happy Birthday

By Carol Skahen

This week I did something pretty much unforgivable in our culture. I crossed an unspoken boundary into a dark place where fun ceases, vigor dissipates like fog over the San Francisco bridge and youth is but a distant memory clouded by the dementia that is, no doubt, circling my muddled brain like the Indians around the wagons in the old westerns.

I committed the sin of turning 70. I’m sure in four or five years when the ubiquitous baby boomers enter this decade, it will be declared the “new 50” but for now for lack of a better word, it’s just old.

I remember the joke cards when I turned 30, 40 and 50 but this time it was different. Since I am the oldest of my friends, I was flooded with cards from people who never send them — cards with pink roses and pastoral scenes rather than wine glasses and jokes about getting old. This is, after all, the real deal.

Family and friends treated me as if I’d just gotten a terrible diagnosis that shouldn’t be spoken of. Congratulations were doled out like condolences and “Happy Birthdays” in subdued tones reflecting the relief of those not so afflicted.

In our youth-drenched culture, it’s as if those of us who are older have somehow lost control of ourselves like guests who drank too much at a party. How did you let this happen to yourself? Surely there is some remedy. I certainly won’t look like this when I’m your age!

The most laughable are the back-handed compliments. No doubt meant in a spirit of kindness, they come across as condescending and patronizing at best. “You don’t look 70.” What does 70 look like?

“You’re my role model,” this from a woman pushing 60. I’ve been called an icon and a treasure. I’m just waiting for legend.

The encounter that gets to me like no other is with the male contemporary with the dyed comb-over and the sagging potbelly who calls me “ma’am.” I’m tempted to ask if he has a magic mirror but I always respond with a brisk, “Sir.”

Fortunately for me, I am healthy, agile and mentally alert. You don’t need to take my arm and I can drive myself thank you. I enjoy life just as much as you do albeit possibly in different ways. I am not disabled, crotchety or dysfunctional. I’m just 70.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


The one behavior that drives me crazy is the slightly higher pitched tone of voice and forced enthusiasm. Like I am a child that doesn't quite get it and needs a little encouragement. The sad part is that I don't think people know when they do it, and I wonder if I was guilty of doing the same in my "youth". I do enjoy the stunned look when my verbal performance or physical ability far exceeds expectations, but then, the expectations have certainly lowered as my hair gets grayer.

When I turned 70 five years ago, I howled and screamed in horror. To sublimate, I took up yoga, golf, watercolor painting, and (in order to delay dementia) began learning Italian. I continue to pursue these with varying degrees of success.

When Guinevere asked King Arthur to identify the figure coming out of the nearby woods, he replied, "Oh that's Merlin. He doesn't age, he youthens!" Perhaps at your next cocktail party, a friend will introduce you as follows: "This is my friend Carol. She doesn't age. She youthens!"

Great little narrative Carol. You are right about "youth-drenched culture." It seems that the only way an older person in validated is if he looks younger; "you don't look 70..." We are, whatever we are, at whatever age we are.

Old age is like a backroom craps game. Everybody knows it's going on, but nobody wants to talk about it; after all, it IS illegal!
There's no question that our society puts a premium on youth and ignores, or deprecates old age.
The irony, of course, is that everyone gets old; if they're lucky.
Excellent piece.

It's wonderful when people say, when they hear you are 80, "Why my dear, you don't look your age." I am sure they are thinking you look 90 instead. Whatever, be it 80, 90 or more; just smile and be your own true self.

When I turned 70 last March, my dear friend advised me not to mention my age. Did I listen? Of course not. I found out the hard way what happens.

People become uncomfortable and feel they have to say the usual nonsense things such as…you’re kidding/you look good/I can’t believe it, etc.

How awful! So glad they can’t read my mind!

Great piece and wonderful add-ons..my grandparents died very young and then my parents died in their 40s, so I think I had LOW expectations for a long life..I tried to do everything in a rush, not miss anything, etc..mostly good things, but some risky behaviors to be sure..Here I am about to be 72..I get some of the same "slings and arrows" as you do, but chuckle through them..my daughter gave me an ipad as a learning tool, it's ok, but I type too fast and think too fast to use it a lot, thank God for typewriters..Our lifetimes were more and more youth oriented, and again, not in the best ways..we did get the best of it I think or maybe I am so happy to be here, healthy and sort of sane that I know age doesn't matter..you can never teach that to young people and I must say I went back to my pixie haircut of l962 and I love myself more for it..white as can be, like Marc Leavitt, I feel really lucky to be here...Happy Christmas and healthy new year to you all...

I call 70 young. I never mind telling my age now but when I was working I did. I found then that if I told my age, I was automatically labeled whether or not I looked my age. Enjoy being 70. Women's life expectancy now is 81.

I have to comment on elder-speak. It is very common among healthcare workers. They speak louder when addressing an older person. I find it annoying and somewhat insulting. Of course, when the current headphone generation comes of age, elder-speaking may be essential. Time will tell I guess.

Carol, Done that, been there. I guess I'm still there. At the bank the other day, I got a condescending offer of help when I went in to deposit a sizable check in person rather than using the ATM.

No, I don't remember the 12-digit account number for any of my four accounts; no, I don't want someone to write them down for me when I can access them online; yes, depositing the check in my checking account is OK. I can always go online to transfer it into a savings account.

Clearly, your story struck a chord, and your writing is wonderfully perceptive and humorous. The first paragraph alone is pure brilliance.

Happy Birthday!

Me too, 70. Imagine my horror when the minister asked me the other day if my brother-in-law aged 71 was my son! I reacted badly, very badly and embarrassed both of us. I should have just said, "No, _____ is my son." I'm still wondering about what he was thinking.

Oooof, Nell, I'll bet that minister went around kicking himself all day. I get a chuckle out of this because my father turned 96 last summer and like toddlers, everything now has gotten into half-years. When you are small, and people ask your age, you say, "Three-and-a-half." or whatever. It's the same thing when you go over 95. Now he's 96 and one half. The other ages? Not nearly as interesting.

I see this post was made in 2012. I was 65 1/2 back then. Now I get calls from Medicare telling me I qualify for a back or knee brace and a wheel chair. They tell me I can get help with all my prescriptions. They want to come by and show me what's new. They should stop by when I'm pulling off on a thousand mile trip with my motorcycle group on my Honda Goldwing.

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