Thrown Out of the Saddle Again

I am very comfortable with my age. Which is sixty-three, 63, or LXIII, if you want to get old-fashioned about it.

I am so comfortable that I recently had what I consider to be a big personal breakthrough. When I go to a movie, I now ask the cashier to give me an old-people’s ticket. They never argue, I notice.

A lot of this newfound enlightenment is because I’ve been working on a book about women and aging with my friend Marian Henley, who’s a writer, artist, and cartoonist. We’re calling it Pucker Up! The Subversive Woman’s Guide to Aging With Wit, Wine, Drama, Humor, Perspective, and the Occasional Good Cry.

While working on the book off and on for a year, I’ve thought a lot about our culture’s — and God knows, my own — complete denial of aging. At the rate we are going, Baby Boomers will be calling themselves “middle-aged” (a term most of us only grudgingly took on in our fifties) for the rest of eternity. All of which calls to mind the sixtyish mother in Postcards From the Edge labeling herself middle-aged and being asked by her (truly middle-aged) daughter how many 125-year-old women she knew still roaming the earth.

Most of all, I want to age “well” — even if I don’t have the faintest idea what, exactly, aging well means. Parsing the preceding sentence and my own confusion doesn’t make me feel any better, believe me, but from time to time, I do get glimpses of what I want to be: as poised, defiant, and unapologetic as the soignee older women in Ari Seth Cohen’s irresistible blog, Advanced Style.

The point is, we’re all buying time, trying to stay healthy and vital — but this looking young and pretending to be young business strikes me as imbecilic. Who are we trying to kid?

Which explains why I go around blabbing about my age to anyone who will listen and write a blog with the word geezer in it. What it doesn’t explain, though, is what happened on my recent trip to a new doctor’s office. The office assistants were filling out a form and telling me what tests I needed to schedule when I noticed something very alarming on the form.

Patient’s age? Ninety-nine. Patient’s date of birth? 1913.

I felt like I was having a coronary. “Can you fix that?” I asked in a panicked voice. “I mean, I’m not that old. I wasn’t born in 1913.”

The two young women stared back at me politely, but blankly. No wonder: I was going into a total swivet. My voice, I could swear, cracked. They looked a little concerned, and I could tell they were wondering: What’s wrong with her? What’s the difference between 1913 and 1949, 99 and 63? What’s the biggie?

“Don’t worry,” one of them said. “We’ll get it changed. It’s simple.”

She continued to talk about one of the medical tests and I continued to stare intermittently at the offending numbers. I’m sure my eyes were still bulging with panic, my heart thundering with palpitations.

You call this aging well? I asked myself as I slumped back to the parking lot after my ignominious little semi-breakdown. Really?

No, but I call it consistent throughout my life: Just when you think you’ve got something under control, it bucks you off onto your butt. I’d been here before, and I expect I’ll be coming back again. That’s my new definition of aging well: Not being shocked the next time it happens to me.

(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read about correcting a co-worker when he’s driving you crazy


15 comments… add one
  • Blame it on poor math skills or numeric dyslexia. I’m guessing they didn’t realize 1913 means 99 years old. Or, maybe looking at it normally (or upside down), they thought it said 66.

  • 50s, 60s, 90s–we all look the same to people who are in their 20s. Not one of them has ever questioned my senior pass.

  • Oh, no Ruth. I can relate. It’s usually when my birthday comes, and I can’t remember how old I am. Well, I guess I really DO remember…but I just can’t BELIEVE it.

  • Damn you look awesome for someone born in 1913!

  • Steve Link

    I took a seat on the front row at the State Theatre last night to watch a live performance of Risk!, a true-stories-boldy-told podcast that is part of my regular listening. As others starting taking their seats, I was alone on the front row, which I found uncomfortable, so I moved back a row and took a seat next to a 20-something young woman named Claire. Waiting for the show, we had a very pleasant conversation about the podcast, other podcasts to which we listened (particularly story podcasts), and work. It was very comfortable, and the content and tone of the the conversation removed any hint of old-man-hitting-on-young-woman. Then host Kevin Allison began the evening with a graphic and funny story about a homosexual encounter, and both Claire and I became so uncomfortable next to each other that I laughed out loud, not at Kevin’s story (which I’d heard on the podcast), but at the discomfort we experienced listening to that story while seated next to each other. I’m still trying to parse what difference our respective ages made in the discomfort; I think the lack of familiarity was part of it, but I’m convinced that neither of us would have been that uncomfortable next to a person of our own age.

  • I agree with Wendy: we all look the same to anyone in their twenties, and worse, we are mostly irrelevant to them. I should know– this is how I used to think!

  • Ellen Link

    This reminds me of an early conversation with Simon, a favorite student of mine. Some years ago, when he was about 15 and just starting lessons with me, it became increasingly clear that he was one of those kids with an avid curiosity about exactly how ancient his teachers were. He asked me some trick, circuitous questions. I was amused, and told him, “I’m 56, Simon,” which I was at the time. The kid looked embarrassed, then tried to cover it with a compliment: “Oh, I thought you were about 42!” I had to laugh; 42, 56, all the same to him – older than God.

  • Deborah Lee Link

    Most of my friends were always 25 years older than me – even when I was 25 – so I don’t get the disrespect and attitude of irrelevancy of the generations younger than me. My mother would have slapped me up side the head if I ever treated an older person the way I have been treated (grew up with my grandmother in the house). I had heard that “aging was enraging”. It certainly is. My only consolation is that I’m now not afraid to speak my mind to anyone on any subject!! As it is said – well behaved women never made history!

  • Cindy Link

    I retired in June and decided to find out what color my hair really is. Unfortunately, it’s beyond-middle-aged colored. Formerly a rich honey brown, it is now mostly mouse and gray. But I’m not anywhere near 99 and don’t let them tell you that YOU are!

  • Funny the way denial works. At 66, my body keeps developing littles aches and pains. I keep waiting for them to disappear, the way any sensible pain had for years and years of my life, but no. They remain. (Seem to have developed right after being eligible for Medicare.)

  • PS. Was really glad to hear about your new book project. Looking forward to reading it.

  • Well, there’s aging well, and then there’s having to deal with imbeciles who can’t get the age right on the forms! Good grief!

  • You had me LOL at that, Ruth, so funny. I know it wasn’t funny at the time, but as one of the commenters said, we all look old to someone in their 20s.

  • As usual a great post. I love the use of “swivet.” What a terrible error to have on your medical records. Hope it got fixed.

  • merr Link

    I can’t wait to read your book and see Marian’s illustrations!

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