So, how old is really old?

Birthdays don't matter if one learns how to stay young at heart

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

I'm not old, I'm not old, I'm not old.

At 22, I feel a little odd chanting this mantra in my head. After all, it's not like my body is falling apart (much) or that I get tired earlier (5 a.m. is a perfectly reasonable time to get home on a weekend night, right?)

But as I hit the six-month mark at the Clarion last week -- the longest I have ever been at one job, or even in one place consecutively -- the fact that the days of spontaneous trips, random decisions and wild college parties is over became all too clear.

My recent vacation back to my family's home in Oregon only proved the point.

I went home because my stepfather, Randy, was celebrating his 50th birthday on July 30. A surprise party was impossible, because as a pilot, his schedule requires much forethought. So, the surprise aspect was that my mother paid to fly my stepbrother and me home for the event.

My sister picked me up at the airport Friday night and we drove to the bar where my stepdad's band was playing for the evening. As he adjusted the amp for his bass guitar, I snuck up behind him. He didn't scream or cry as my mother would have, but he did hug me hard enough to crack my back. (So maybe my body is falling apart a bit.)

Then the band began to play. I spent the evening chatting, drinking and dancing with my mother and her friends. That in itself wasn't too big of a deal -- between Randy's band and Harley Davidson and my mother's sense of humor, my parent's manage to stay young at heart.

The shock came when the band started playing a song I knew all too well. Eyes bulging and brow furrowed, I had to wonder: When my father's classic rock band starts playing songs that were hits when I was in high school, does that make me old?

The next few days went by sprinkled with age-defining moments:

* Falling asleep on the grass before Randy's older friends had finished carousing;

* My cousin overwhelming me with news my high school classmates getting married, having babies, dying;

* My sister and cousins -- who are teen-agers in reality, but perpetually 8 in my mind -- shocking me with stories of romantic relationships and parties without clowns;

* Spending a day on my college campus only to see a professor and an office administrator -- and learning that everyone else I knew was gone;

* Going out with my hometown friends and agonizing to find a bar without headache-inducing music and half-dressed 12-year-old-looking kids.

I have to face it, I'm getting older.

When I came to Alaska, I knew that I was trading a bustling city life full of people my age for a quieter, peaceful life in the great outdoors. I didn't know that I was trading my fun-filled college days for "grown-up life." It feels a little strange, saying goodbye to a part of myself.

But I suppose it's not all bad. After all, I can pay my bills in this life. I am far better at giving advice to my sister. I'm closer to my parents. I make fewer stupid mistakes (or so I hope).

And I have wonderful examples of how to age with grace. My parents -- and grandparents for that matter -- are some of the most alive people I have ever known. I only hope that, as I age, I can be as joyful, as adventurous, as youthful as they are.

They have taught me how to grow, how to cope, how to live. Because of them, I know that though life's transitions may be difficult, I will be fine.

So, I thank them. And I thank a man who, as he faces his own life transition -- into his 50s -- may not know how much he has meant in my life.

He's the man who taught me to drive and to change the oil in my truck.

He's the man who challenges my assumptions and perspectives, always wanting me to learn and grow.

He's the man who watched me play tennis in high school, hung my report cards on the refrigerator and let tears well up in his eyes when I graduated from college.

He's the man who made my mother smile again after my father died and who gave me a whole new extended family.

He's the man who brags about me with the pride of any biological father, who loves me and treats me like a daughter.

Thank you, Randy, and happy birthday. I love you.

Jenni Dillon is a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion.

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