Monday, February 02, 2009

I will never grow old…

Well, I’ve discussed it with my husband and we’ve agreed: I’m not going to get old, I’m going to stay middle aged until I die.

You see, in six weeks, I turn 62. This is an age where women are presumed to have acquired a full set of wrinkles and a crop of white hair. We are referred to as “senior citizens” and “pensioners” and, by the cheeky young crowd, “old people.” And therein lies the problem.

I don’t have wrinkles…oh, the middle-aged phenomena of deepening naso-labial folds and creases between the eyebrows have arrived, but it hasn’t gone beyond that. I don’t have any visible grey hair and my hairdresser reliably informs me that she blondes only a dozen or fewer at each visit.

I don’t have a dowager’s hump, no liver spots, and the skin on my arms and hands have just this past year started to lose its plump moistness and show the damage wrought by years of driving convertibles and riding horses in the hot afternoon sun. Okay, the knees are creaky and the spine isn’t what it used to be…but in truth, the knees started to go when I was in my teens, and the back has been a problem since I was rear-ended on the freeway when I was just 28. Getting tossed from a horse ten years later didn’t help it any, either.

When I look in the mirror I don’t see a 60+ gramma…and apparently nobody else does either. I don’t have the money…or inclination…for cosmetic surgery, although I will admit to using high-quality moisturizing creams. What I thought was a blessing in my teens…sufficiently dry skin to ward off all but the most detremined pimple attacks…has become my curse in aging: dandruff of the face…skin so dry it literally flakes off. But still, none of the facial skin crevasses and roadmaps we ordinarily associate with advanced age.

Some of this has to be genetic. My maternal grandfather died at 79 and was less than half grey. My paternal grandmother died at 89 and, while she had the prosaic head of white fluff, the lines on her face were so few that she literally had the stereotypical visage of a woman twenty years younger. My genes are good so, despite years of abusing my skin with cheap make up and too much sun, I could lie and say I was 45 and probably get away with it. Young people still call me “tannie” here (“auntie,” a term of respect for a woman a generation above you)…so far no one has called me “ouma” (“grandmother”).

So, what is the issue? Well, for one thing, people perceived as being old are often dismissed. In this peculiar world of ours where substance is subordinate to the superficial and dumbness has become a virtue, the accumulated knowledge, experience and wisdom of the elder has become valueless. And the older you get, the more you seem to be disdained…and disrespected.

This has always been a curious thing to me, as I have long been a person to like and admire the older generations. As a kid I loved hearing about my grandparents’ childhoods on farms out in the Great Plains…farms with no electricity or running water, farms where horsepower was actually provided by horses. My grandparents were repositories of fabulous tales and storied skills and abilities…how to make sauerkraut, bake bread, butcher a hog, draw a boil, darn a sock, grow tomatoes, can cherries, make plum jelly or a berry cobbler.

Aside from the ancient skills, old people always seemed to know stuff. My grandparents had a contemporary, Millie, whose hobby was cake decorating. Whenever we went to her house there was always a plate of cupcakes so beautifully decorated it was almost a sin to destroy their beauty with eager teeth and tongue! The best lemon meringue pies, the finest homemade sausages, the most beautiful examples of the needle arts all seemed to come from their contemporaries. Younger people, like my mother, who actually had less to do thanks to such things as canned vegetables, automatic washers, vacuum cleaners, and other modern conveniences, always seemed to be more pressed for time…which manifested in slapdash meals and careless housekeeping…and a complete disinterest in practicing many of the old skills and passing them on.

Personally, I think old people are cool. They not only know lots of practical stuff, but their years of experience have given them not just experience and knowledge, but wisdom as well. It is nigh unto impossible to develop wisdom absent the experiences that teach one lessons, but somehow, in today’s world, wisdom is less favoured than brainless, mindless, flinging oneself into something and learning nothing from the outcome.

Privately speaking, I like the age I have achieved, but I dislike being dismissed for irrelevant reasons. If I were to offer my opinion on string theory, I wouldn’t fret at all about being dismissed because, after all, I know nothing about it. But to be dismissed for no more reason than I have achieved a venerable number of years, to have my accumulated experience and wisdom deemed invalid simply because it comes from a person above a certain age, is simply unacceptable.

I know I can’t change the world, and it is not possible to change the minds of people who are certain that they know everything there is to know of value. So rather than fling myself pointlessly against the barricades of prematurely shuttered minds, I’ve decided to make an end run around the biases of the witless young know-it-alls and just lie about my age.

Besides, isn’t it better if people think I am just 9 years older than my husband instead of 25?

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