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Crabby Old Lady and the Old Gray Lady

(For those who may not know, “The Old Gray Lady” is a nickname of The New York Times.)

For the past few years at that newspaper there has been a blog titled The New Old Age where almost exclusively the posts deal with decline, disease, disability and caregiving of elders.

If The New Old Age was all you knew about old people, you would be forced to conclude that old age – at least, the new kind The Times has staked out for itself - is nothing but misery, and Crabby has whinged about this stereotyping in the past.

In keeping with the paper's negative view of aging, a few days ago there appeared an essay titled, What, Me Old? that is an unrelenting complaint about strangers assuming the writer is older than she believes she appears.

”In the space of a day, three people offered me their seats on buses. I remember doing that when I last lived here in New York, three decades ago. But when I gave my seat away back then, it was to old ladies...

“The next day, three residents of my building raced past me to hold open the heavy front doors. 'What's their problem?' I thought. I mean, I go in and out, without assistance, many times a day...

“Then, not two hours later, I went shopping at the grocery store, seven blocks from home. As I was leaving with three bags of groceries, the 20-something at the checkout counter asked if I wanted a cab. I huffed out and carried my bags home. My shoulders are just fine.”

"Huffed out" of the store? Since when is kindness a cause for taking offense?

The writer of this story is 66-year-old Jane Gross, a long-time reporter at The New York Times. She is one of the few blog regulars who does not entirely toe the age-defeatist editorial line of the blog.

Two recent examples worth reading are Conversation with the Dead and Finally Taking Her Own Advice to Downsize.

On those two stories alone, Crabby expects better of Ms. Gross Instead, we find that like too many others in the final third of life she not only denies her age, she is aggrieved when others don't share her willful blindness of it.

Worse, she is a jerk about it. “Huffed out” of the store? Don't think that 20-something, who was being polite, respectful and kind, didn't notice. No wonder there are too many nasty “get off my lawn” jokes about old people.

Contrary to the position of Jane Gross in particular and The Old Gray Lady in general, there is nothing wrong with getting old. Crabby Old Lady is both disappointed in and ashamed of them both.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson: The Panhandler


I am always so appreciative of young people who are courteous and kind. I love seeing that stereotype of uncaring youngsters upended.

Okay, sometimes I am guilty of denial. It takes me by surprise when someone "mistakes" me for an older person and it takes me by surprise when I look in a mirror. But, on the whole, this is a wonderful time of life. There IS nothing wrong with life experience and the wisdom that comes with it.

As I have always said, we "Old Folks" tend to stereotype ourselves and, in doing so we get annoyed when others treat us differently. Take the micro-world of assisted living for instance. The majority of the people living here are in their 70's and most have minor disabilities. Unfortunately, many of these people have "given in" to their disability and have taken on the role of the stereotypical elderly person. They are cranky, manipulative and tend to fall asleep at the drop of a hat. They never leave the confines of the lobby or participate in any of the facilities activities or programs, in short, they are waiting to die. It is these people who have done the rest of us who may have a wrinkle or two or use a cane a disservice by being exactly what ageists want us to be, decrepit wretches so out of touch with the rest of the world as to make us redundant. Therefore, Ronni, maybe the blame does fall on the shoulders of the N.Y. Times, because as with any newspaper they tend to report what they observe and what they observe about old people is what many of us observe about ourselves, a bunch of creepy old people who have ceased to care.

I heartily applaud (and am grateful for) good manners and sensitivity whenever I find them, whoever is offering them. (Unfortunately, I don't get to applaud as often as I'd like.) JG and TOGL should look inside before commenting on the outside.
I understand Bruce's point of view, but I feel that people of all ages "stereotype" themselves, which is again a good reason to look inside before commenting on the outside.

It's your ego talkin. Now that I'm moving on in years I try to lose ego every day (not to the point that I don't take care of personal hygiene) but it is what it is. The other day I help my 40 something neighbor fix her shed I had to lay on my back to do it. Once it was fixed she asked me if I needed help getting up. Mister ego thought,"what you talkin about"? but old man Fred laugh and just said,"let's hope not".

We forget sometimes how much younger people (including our children) need our kindness.

I have always appreciated Jane Gross, even when I don't share her perspective. She's honest. The bit about "Huffed out" is just how she felt - she's not wrong to feel that way, perhaps not polite, but then, her "huff" may not be as obvious as some I've seen when people are insulted.

There is nothing wrong about getting old - but we all have our own perspective. And while aging a serious subject, I don't think we need to take ourselves so seriously.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Pogo got it right. "We have met the enemy and he is us."

I see it at the grocery store where I shop. My area is near several assisted living facilities and their buses drop them off en mass. Some elders are so thoughtless, rude and dour it makes you ashamed to be old. No wonder we get stereotyped. A few grouches can ruin the reputation of we happier elders. So for Jane Gross to huff out of the grocery store is to show a distinct lack of gratitude and she is contributing to the image of crabby elders.

Jane may be insulted because people recognize the fact that she is no longer young but she should be thankful that there are still considerate people in this world. Me? I'm grateful if someone comes to my aid and I thank them with a smile.

I treasure those thoughtful and well mannered people. I think if you look around they open doors and assist people of other ages. Could be Ms. Gross is working through her own issues.

Then there's the issue of being called "honey," or "Sweetie." Much to my surprise, I'm finding I enjoy it and smile back.

Is this all age issues or the perception that we are weaker or (heaven forbid!) frail? I do recall when a 43 year old brought me a 50 lb bag of bird food - I was 63 and my husband 68 - and the younger friend INSISTED on hauling it to our truck. I did protest a wee bit (but not overly). I have noticed of late that help with 50 lb bags is quite lovely.

I noticed that with my dad too - he didn't care how old he was - he just didn't want to be feeble or be considered frail.

I Googled Jane Gross in 'images' to see what this 66 year old looked like. That does seem a bit premature for being offered the kind of assistance she mentions, but I'm with those who would interpret those offers as kindness. Her kind of attitude does contribute to the stereotype of 'unpleasant' elders. There's some irony in her becoming the voice of the 'new old age' because denial just makes us look foolish.

At 71, I not only feel great but the quality of my life has improved -- physically, spiritually and emotionally. For the first time, I am able to focus on ME. And, daily, I am exploring new things and undertaking projects that I never had time for before. When Hubby and I first retired four years ago and moved to Florida thousand of miles away from our three children, ages 53, 52 and 47, their repetitive telephone calls throughout the day was annoying. Then, I realized they were dealing with separation anxieties rather than feeling we were "too old" to take care of ourselves.

A polite gesture deserves a polite response, IMHO. These days polite gestures are becoming a lost art. If we don't cherish and encourage them instead of ignoring or rebuffing them, they will disappear altogether. And for the record, women's libbers notwithstanding, I think offering one's seat to a lady (of any age), or opening a door for a lady (of any age) is just good manners.

I just want to clarify something. I do not mind if people are courteous towards me. It's alright if they open a door or help me out of a very low- to- the- ground car. What I do mind is when, just because I use a cane or a walker or some other mobility aid, people think that my mind has turned to mush along with my physical disability.
A couple of years ago I had to spend some time in a nursing home, in a wheelchair and, even though I was perfectly mentally healthy, people would talk to me as if I were an infant. "Would----you---like----to ---go---to---your----room---now----Mr. C. I would usually humor them and drool on my shirt. This seemed to make them happy.

I love when people offer to help in any way they can. It is lovely and graciously accepted. I will say, though, it doesn't happen too often.

I have found that in the South women of all ages are called Honey or Sweetie. Usually by sales people. It used to grate on me to hear that. Also the young nurses in Drs. waiting rooms who call for someone by her first name. That seems to have lessened. Now I think it is just an occasion to be nice to someone you don't know. Many people are too quick to take offense. I'm pretty old, but don't mind at all when a man - or woman- holds the door for me at the Y, Also if I'm in front, I will hold the door for whoever is behind. And, if I'm going in and see that someone ahead of me could use a little help, I'll jump ahead to grab the door.

I agree that Ms. Gross missed the mark in her recent column, but even at that, it illustrates how hard it is for some people to grasp their encroaching old age with grace.

However, I think The New Old Age does a great service in featuring columns from and about caretakers, and about old people approaching the end of life. We need to re-learn how to die in this country, and the NYT is helping to open up this taboo subject to discussion and debate.

Soo--Ronni, what sort of topics would you like to see the NYT column on aging cover? I think coverage of the Village movement would be constructive. Would there be anything else?

How about any- and everything this blog covers.

As a New Yorker who now lives overseas the NYTimes is of course the first thing I read every morning.At first I avoided The New Old Age.Then I started to read it and found it to be very depressing.Surely there must be a better way to deal with the topic of aging.

Something about these columns were too self-serving and negative, in my opinion.

I think Pat's comment that we need to relearn about dying, or at least about aging since many are living longer and it's often rough and tumble!

That said, perhaps we need to relearn how to love and be compassionate toward ourselves, our lives and others, more than ever

I also agree with your and Sulymo's suggestions.

Methinks Crabby Old Lady is being a tad too crabby about Ms Gross's blog post, especially given that the other two posts by Ms Gross are quite realistic about the changes wrought by age, without any huffing at all. I have to agree with Bruce Cooper's admission that old people sometimes seem to try to live up to the "decrepit wretch" stereotypes and remain deliberately out of touch with modern culture and ideas. I do not mind physical help---in fact I welcomed it at any age---but, also in agreement with Bruce, I resent people thinking that I have somehow regressed mentally and need their help in thinking and problem-solving as well.

I do identify with Ronni's Crabby Old Lady persona, but I reserve the right to take it outside the venue of Old People World and speak my mind when I feel I am being patronized by younger folks. For me, patronizing includes being called "honey" or "sweetie" or, worst of all,"young lady." I know there are many older women, and some men, who accept the lavender and old lace that the world wants to impose on them, but I am not one of them, and one of the few perks of old age is that I don't give a rat's ass about being thought of as sweet or lovable. I want to be respected for my greater age and far greater wisdom and sometimes the only way to get that respect is to speak my mind loud and clear and let the chips fall where they may.

I love it when young people jump up and offer me a seat on the downtown bus.

On a trip to Rio, we used the bus daily.

Before we were even in the bus, someone would get up and insist on giving us their seat.

Also, if there was an empty seat at the back of the bus, everyone would help us push our way to it.

Brazilians treat seniors like gold nuggets.

I am starting to see more respect for seniors in Montreal.

That's okay with me.

But at the same time, I help open doors and offer to hold parcels for bus standees.

It goes both ways.

I have often thought that the New Old Age column is seriously misnamed. And its name does imply that aging is just about decline and illness. I have seen some good pro-aging articles in the NY Times, including Oliver Sacks essay on the joys of aging. I am sorry that Jane Gross was upset about being perceived as old. She is in a good position to educate and raise awareness about the positive aspects of aging. As it is, we have to rely upon Ronni Bennett, Ashton Applewhite, Carol Orsborn and other pro-aging activists (many do seem to be women) to give us a look at the experience of aging in ways that include its beauties.

I just returned from a trip to the P.O. and grocery store and I feel compelled to add a postscript to my previous comment. As I was placing my items on the conveyor belt, two pretty teenage girls asked me if needed help. I have to admit that my empathy for Jane Gross went way up. I didn't huff---I would never huff about help---but I was a wee bit insulted. Among my purchases were beer and Fritos, so it was obvious I was not yet on an Ensure diet, and the few other items weren't heavy. I wasn't using any assistive device, so there was no reason to think I was an invalid. They were obviously making assumptions because I looked "old" to them, and that is none of their business. My reaction was to laugh and reply, "Thanks, but I've been doing this by myself for a long time." But I huffed internally.

When my husband became disabled in his late 50s I was shocked at how polite and helpful people here in West Michigan became. We couldn't go anywhere without someone offering to help us transfer him in or out of the car, load or unload his wheelchair and open doors for us. Now that he's passed away I have been able to go back to being anonymous in public with few people offering me help with doors, etc. I would much rather live in a society that on occasion erroneously offers help to someone who doesn't need the gesture than to live in a society where those who do need help are not treated the way we were for those 12 years of our lives. Most times I didn't need help but I found a way to show my gratitude for the offer just the same. I don't understand why anyone would treat kindness in a rude way! What kind of a society to you want to live in---polite and caring or rude and lacking empathy? If you look older than you feel, that is your issue to deal with, not some stranger's who wants to hold a door open for the elderly.

I wonder if grocery clerks and baggers are not trained to offer assistance. When I am in FL I have often been asked if I would like help, and often from a person a good ten years older than I. No matter the age, I always smile and say, "Thank-you, but I'm good."

I'm still at a point where I'm shocked when people treat me like I'm old, or assume I'm retired. I'm trying to learn to expect it, but it's hard to make that mental shift from thinking of my authentic self as 25-ish to my real-time age of 62.

Looking back to when I was young and helpful, I know how little thought or assessment goes into offering brief help to a stranger in need. I thought everybody over 40 was old, so when I went to help somebody it was a impulse to help because they needed a hand, not because of age. I helped young people as well as old people and it was a brief encounter of a kind nature.
That writer may have been, in her younger years, somebody who never needed help and so never received help and so she has not yet learned to say "thank you". Maybe experience will teach her to express gratitude for gifts freely given, ie , the milk of human kindness. It's a new experience for some people and it turns out to be ...HELPFUL!!!! Life affirming.
Now that I am old, I still help people but I usually lag back to see if anybody else is going to lend a hand, because that works for me ! Usually somebody does step up and help.

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