When I grow old ...

I had an epiphany a few days ago.


That is the fancy word for “It’s about time. What took you so long?” I have finally surrendered to the fact that I am “the older generation.” I suppose it has been obvious for a while. We (that’s one of my brothers and I) are almost the oldest in a very large bunch of relatives. An aunt-by-marriage and one of Mom’s many cousins are all that remain of that generation in a really big extended family that covers two counties and beyond in the Pacific Northwest.

And one of my kids IS a grandparent, but I chalked that up to youthful indiscretion, although the great-grandkids are pretty cute and smart as heck, but hardly grounds for shoving me into the “old” category.

Besides, I still had a grandmother when my great-grandkids were born, so “older generation” was definitely two layers away at that time.

Maybe I should have copped to the fact of the impending age status when Granddaughter No. 5 e-mailed me for directions on how to make a pie crust (she could have picked up the phone and asked but that thinking is only one more indication of my dinosaurhood). When I asked her why she didn’t ask someone closer she said, “No one I know can cook.”

And then there is the reality I am faced with daily that even my young friends are not 35 anymore. They even emphasize it with comments like “Getting old is not for sissies” or “What’s gold about the Golden Years?” You’d think I hang out with a bunch of old geezers the way they carry on sometimes about aches and pains and pills and “remember whens.”

Unfortunately, I find myself matching them pill for pill and with memories of DeSoto cars and Lonzo and Oscar (look them up).

Even the realization that some of the granddaughters are old enough to buy beer (legally) didn’t make it dawn on me. The actual understanding of the obvious was when I went to get my haircut at one of the local places the other day. When I described that I wanted the back shaped in a “modified DA” and the young lady said “A WHAT?” the light bulb went off over my head and I said “Never mind. You’d never understand.” I actually got a very nice haircut, and she did a good job of shaping the back, but not quite like the back end of a duck.

I’m not a baby-boomer. My generation is the so-called “silent generation,” the place-holder between the “Greatest Generation” and the Me-Generation (that’s Baby-Boomers to those of you who are one). We’re the ones our parents experimented on so they could spoil the younger siblings rotten. We’re the ones who smoothed the road in the 1950s so the sibs could go crazy in the 60s.

In short, we’re the ones who get blamed for everything because we are “disciplined, self-sacrificing and cautious” (according to some sociologists who write about those things) clearing the way so other, less responsible generations can run with the ball. When they stumble at the goal line, it’s our fault because we didn’t carry them across. (Do I sound petulant enough for a constantly put-upon older sibling?)

My generation is one of the only ones to not have a president elected from its ranks. George Bush Sr. was from the “Greatest Generation,” and we jumped right to the Boomers with Bill Clinton. I’d like to think it is because we’re too smart for that, but in reality it is probably because we are too busy cleaning up after the Baby-Boomers to launch a viable campaign.

Age does have some perks, I’m discovering. I can wear anything I want because people expect me to be eccentric. (Remember: “When I am old I shall wear purple…”) If I forget something I’m forgiven “because of my age.” I can even eat dessert first. They age wine and cheese for the same reason the president has to be 35 (although whoever thought 35 was mature might be rethinking it now that the Baby-Boomers have had their day and we’re coming onto the reign of the Gen X’ers): older is better.

The problem now is how to play the role. I have been operating on the belief that I am still 30 years old, well, maybe 50 on some days, so it is a major shift in attitude to all at once become an “elder.” In some cultures that title takes on a load of responsibility. Not so much in the prevailing society here, I guess, but still it denotes a certain amount of knowledge and wisdom. My geezer friends laugh a lot, and always have a story to tell. They like the freedom of being old and they know a secret that the Boomers are just now discovering: Everyone gets old. It’s a lot better than the alternative.

Virginia Walters lives in Kenai.


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