Is 60 still so far in your future that you cannot even contemplate it, or is it now a receding memory in the rear-view mirror of your life?
The sands of time are wending their way through the hourglass as is their wont. This year -- just 10 days before the Summer Solstice (well, 10 days if you are working in the base 22 number system) -- I will be celebrating the 19th anniversary of the 20th anniversary of my 21st birthday.
Good grief! Where did the time go? I don’t recall the 1980s at all (I must have had a bad beer).
My friend, Little Steve, assures me that "60 is the new 40," but he was never all that good at math, so I'm not 100% convinced he's correct.
I'm not the only one who is confused. Opinions range across the spectrum, from 60 is the new 40 (in the UK's Daily Mirror newspaper) to Is 60 the New 40? (in the Huffington Post) to Why 60 Is SOOO Not The New 40! (also, confusingly, in the Huffington Post).
Everything is relative, of course. Take my Auntie Barbara who lived up the road from us. She was a larger-than-life relation who was so relative that even Albert Einstein would have had difficulty wrapping his brain around her.
I remember when I was a little lad. During summer vacations, I'd spend my days at Auntie Barbara's while my mom and dad were out at work. At some stage during the day, she would sit me on the kitchen counter and clean me up, wiping my hands and face with a damp cloth and scrubbing my knees with (what felt like) a wire brush before we headed down the road to the local shops to pick up the food for the day. "What? Every day?" I hear you cry. Well... small houses, small fridges, fruits and vegetables of the season... need I say more?
To this day, my aunt's assiduous scrubbing in my younger years has left me the proud owner of the cleanest pair of knees in the known universe, but we digress...
The point is that I remember how the older members of the community appeared to be... well, so ancient in those days. I really don’t believe this perception was solely due to the fact I was a young whippersnapper at the time. And it also wasn't simply because the older folks invariably waffled on like broken records about the weather, and their aches and pains, and how we young kids didn’t realize how lucky we were. I think it was more the antediluvian clothes they wore and the dejected air they projected.
Men used to don a clean shirt and tie to do anything and everything, including yard work like mowing the lawn and weeding (they also wore trousers, of course). Sometimes they sported sweaters and/or jackets, even in the heart of the summer, although -- since we're talking about England -- the only way you could tell you'd entered the summer season was that the wind and rain died down a little (on a good day, if you were lucky).
Also, in the case of the men, for reasons that remain a mystery to me to this day, the older they got, the higher they wore the waistbands of their trousers. By the time a man was 65, his trousers would be hoisted up under his armpits.
Meanwhile, middle-aged women wore long dresses with florid flower prints that gave the impression they'd been conceived by a deranged wallpaper designer. Older ladies went a step further by donning colorless, ankle-length woolen coats. They completed the "look" with shapeless hats that they attached to their heads using hatpins. These were metal pins about 8" (20 cm) long with a fearsomely sharp point on one end and glass bead or something of that ilk on the other. My grandmother used these all the time. I was tremendously impressed, mainly because I didn’t realize that the pins went only through her hat and hair -- for the longest time I was under the impression that she thrust them completely through her head (she was certainly tough enough to do so).
My overall impression was that older people seemed to be tired, dispirited, and somehow less colorful. It's hard to explain, but the way I recall it is that -- although the world itself was bursting with life and replete with vibrant hues -- the older folks managed to look "washed-out" and gave the impression of being presented in (less than fifty) shades of grey.
I just had a moment of doubt whilst writing all this, so I called my mom in England (there's something you couldn’t do when I was a lad). I asked her if my memories hold true, and she agrees with everything I'm saying. As an example, she tells me that, when I was about two years old, there was a widow living on our street who everyone called Granny Hodinotte (honestly, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried).
My mom says that Granny Hodinotte invariably wore an ankle-length black dress and a black choker accompanied by long white pinny (apron) tied around her waist. My mom, who was 29 at the time, says that Granny Hodinotte looked to be about 100 years old, but that in fact she was only in her mid-50s. Mom then started to warm herself up to regale me with some incredibly tortuous tale that seemed destined to span multiple continents and involve a cast of thousands, so I told her that I had a column to complete and that she could tell me later.
The problem is that she won’t forget. My mother can pick up a story exactly where she left off weeks later without pausing for breath. It doesn’t help that she has a mind like a steel trap (her memory is so good that sometimes she remembers things that haven’t even happened yet!), but, once again, we digress...
I remember back in the early 1980s when I was visiting some city in California on business. As I was happily sauntering around the downtown area, I was almost run over by an 80-year old lady speeding past on rollerblades sporting a spanking pink spandex jumpsuit. All I can say is that this wasn't something I'd been expecting and, in addition to making my eyes water, it certainly gave me pause for thought.
Since that time, I've come to appreciate how much we owe that lady and people of her type. By pushing the bounds of what was considered normal for the time, they've opened the doors for the rest of us to wear what we want and act as we wish. My mom says that, when I was young, people used to "dress their age." But what does this mean? I think it means that people used to dress the way other people thought they ought to dress. The problem, of course, is that almost everyone thought the same way. It was only when a few brave souls pushed the bounds that other people started to think "Would I? Could I? Dare I?"
Consider the fact that I'm almost invariably to be found in a Hawaiian shirt. I can’t imagine the looks and comments someone would have received if they tried wearing one of these in England when I was young. And it's not just the way you dress -- it's much more than that. When I see a 90-year-old man jumping out of a plane (hopefully with a parachute) or running in a marathon, rather than exclaiming "What on earth is that old man doing?" I'm far more likely to be thinking "I'm so glad that's not me jumping out of that plane and/or running in that marathon!"
When I was a young man, I don't think I ever thought about getting old; who does? If I had thought about it, I'm pretty sure I would have considered 60 to be as old as the hills. Now I'm poised on the brink, however, I really don’t feel anything at all (mayhap my bottom has gone to sleep; I really must get a better cushion for this chair).
Some things do change, of course. I remember my hippy phase when I had hair and my flowing locks fell half way down my back. I also remember when punk rock hit the music scene and punk rockers started sporting brightly colored mohawks. I never envisaged that I would one day be sporting what I charitably consider to be a reverse-mohawk.
I'm also not as strong as once I was. Every now and then, my wife (Gina the Gorgeous) finds herself in one of her Let's rearrange the house" moods. These usually commence with her saying something like "I wonder what the (incredibly heavy) piano would look like if we moved it out of the study and put it in front of the family room window." (I added the "incredibly heavy" part; as far as Gina's concerned, our piano is as light as a feather because she's never moved it.) The thing is that I can no longer hurl massive pieces of furniture around with the ease and abandon I once enjoyed. On the bright side, now that I'm older, I can afford to pay someone younger and stronger to do the heavy lifting for me.
Another aspect to getting older is that you start to contemplate the meaning of life (the answer is bacon and beer) and to ponder the matter of mortality. I can’t speak for others, but my musings on mortality often involve what's likely to happen to other people if they get in my way.
I know that we still have several months to go before the big day, but there's a lot to plan. Which Hawaiian shirt shall I wear, for example, and with what delicacies shall I tempt and tease my taste buds? (Fortunately, it's too late to start training to run a marathon.)
How about you? Is 60 still so far in your future that you cannot even contemplate it? Are you also approaching 60, in which case how do you feel about it all? Or is 60 now a receding memory in the rear-view mirror of your life, in which case what are you doing that's cool and interesting and fun?
— Max Maxfield, Editor of All Things Fun & Interesting