When Executive Editor John Drescher e-mailed me that he was including a few words about my longtime journalism career and my recent birthday in his well-read column, I was flattered.
“But, John,” I joked, “If you mention my age, all those nice ladies over 70 are going to stop paying me any attention.”
“No,” he said, “When they read what I’m writing, you’ll get even more attention.”
Although I’ve never been particularly age-sensitive, I’ve never broadcast my age either. Generally, one’s age when he passes 60 is rarely discussed.
My older sister was very secretive about her age. A longtime spinster, while a nurse in Chicago, she married a much younger man without revealing her age.
Many years later, their adopted daughter threw a birthday party for her mom. We attended.
As we were all singing “Happy Birthday,” the daughter brought forth a large, handsome cake, decorated with life-size number 80!
The stunned, heartbroken honoree came close to weeping – and not for happiness. Throughout the evening, her face was more downcast than brightened by smiles as it should have been.
My older brother, who lived to be 97, was proud of his age and his remarkable agility. He often bragged about his longevity.
When his wife and daughter went shopping, they often took him along and parked him on a bench, also occupied by other men left there by their shopping spouses.
One day, my brother turned to a craggy-looking guy from far back in the foothills and said, “I betcha can’t guess how old I am.”
“Mister,” grouched the codger. “I don’t give a damn how old you are!”
Long widowed, my attractive mother-in-law enjoyed having breakfast at nearby fast food outlets.
Nevertheless, when she paid for her food, the server would inevitably return some change and say, “Coffee is free for senior citizens.” And Miss Kitty inevitably would snap, “When I need charity, I’ll ask for it.”
Ah, yes, I’m vain enough to have been tempted to sometimes lie about my age in recent years.
When someone recently learned I’d reached the big “Nine Ought,” he quipped, “Why A.C., you don’t look a day over 89!”
I think you’ll agree that women are far more sensitive about their age than are men.
Many men no doubt feel like humorist Will Rogers, who said he chose not to worry about his age.
“I want people to know why I look this way. I’ve traveled a long way and some of the roads weren’t paved.”
There is a key reason why people are reluctant to reveal their age. After we reach three score and 10, our culture tends to assign degrees of senility to us, although in our minds we may still be in our 20s or 30s. The body betrays us with outward signs of aging, but some minds may still be as nimble and explorative as they were at half their ages.
Once at the supermarket, the gentleman ahead of me in the checkout line was gray-haired, stooped and as fragile looking a corn stalk in a windstorm.
When the checkout girl asked, “Would you like some help with those?” indicating three or four bags of groceries, he flared, “No! Why do you ask?”
Fortunate indeed are those who mentally can shed their years as easily as a dog shaking the rain from its coat after being caught in a thundershower.
I thank all of you for the birthday messages that John’s column prompted.
None was more flattering than one from Baron Adams of Durham who wrote, “You sure do not look or write like a 90-year-old.”
Even when the gods of time favor us in the way I’ve been favored, few less fortunate oldsters, beset by illness or handicap, will agree with Poet Robert Browning’s conclusion:
Now that my age is a matter of public record, I have informed my wife that when she ventures out in public, she’s welcome to wear a sign reading, “I’m not nearly as old as he is.”
Which, fortunately for me, is true.
Snow: 919-836-5636 or firstname.lastname@example.org