One of the 30-something girls called the other day. After talking in circles for a while, she finally got to the core of the call.
“Yesterday the bag boy at the grocery called me Ma’am.”
Ouch! From Miss to Ma’am is one of those personal traumas that usually happens when you least expect it. Not a really big deal, just one of those little things that cuts a gash in your self-esteem. The replacement of Miss by Ma’am is one of those milestones that feels like a millstone around your neck. It isn’t something you cry about, but it surely is something you ponder for a while whether you’re a Ms. or a Mrs.
I didn’t warn her that the best, or worst, is yet to come.
If I remember correctly, the next shot is the loss of personal identity. I quickly got used to being referred to as Bill’s wife. Next I added the identification as the mother of any one or more of our eight children. I didn’t mind being recognized as my parent’s daughter. But, when I was identified as our dog’s mother, it really blew my mind.
Then there comes the day you go to your 30th or 40th class reunion. You walk in and wonder if you’re in the wrong place because there’s nothing there but a bunch of old people. Then you begin to recognize these old folks as your former classmates. Finally you get a copy of the class picture taken at the reunion and you realize you fit right in there age-wise.
One age marker that I really met with mixed emotions was when to request senior citizens discounts.
The first time I ordered from the senior citizens’ menu, which said “For our friends over 60,” I was only 59. They could at least have carded me just to be diplomatic. I did like the cheaper price though. After she rang up my purchases she smiled and said, “I even hate to ask because you don’t look it, but are you old enough for our senior discount? I wouldn’t want to cheat you out of it.”
I didn’t even ask how old I had to be. I just happily took the discount.
That brings us to another interesting question. At what age does one become a senior citizen? AARP, American Association for Retired Persons, says 50, but that could be just to get more members. The state of Ohio says you must be 60 to get the Golden Buckeye card. The federal government says 62 if you want to retire on the budget plan or 65 for full pension. From 50 to 65 is a long range any way you look at it.
Several years ago, I taught a unit on aging to an eighth grade class. First thing I asked them was, “How old is old?” Their answers ranged from 30 to 40 so they settled on the average and agreed that 35 was old. Since I was already beyond that I knew I had my work cut out for me.
We did a lot of things including reading, discussing, watching film strips and meeting and interacting with many active senior citizens from age 60 through 94. The students thoroughly enjoyed the activities with the seniors, as did the seniors.
Finally we finished the unit by repeating the question, “How old is old?”
The discussion was heated. They couldn’t decide if old was 85 or 90. Their final conclusion was, “Hey, it really depends on the person!”
I might add to that, it also depends on the day of the week or even the time of day.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Greenville Daily Advocate March 22, 1996.