A friend of mine recently referred to herself as oldish, meaning old but not really old, and I thought, yes, me, too. Age is subjective and, if one is around people of the previous generation, say parents for example, the distinction between old and really old becomes much more apparent. Of course, I’m at an age when few of us have living parents, but for those that do, it can be a reminder of what it feels like to be the younger generation. Case and point, last spring after a storm, my near 90 neighbor called me on her cell phone to ask me what time it was because all her electric clocks had stopped. I froze for a moment considering whether I should tell her that she was holding a clock in her hand, but I thought better of it. I didn’t want to embarrass her. Also, I have a feeling I’m going to be making similar mistakes when I’m really old. But for now, I’m just oldish.
We experience our age in relation to the people around us. I remember when my 100-year-old grandmother once complained about “the youngsters” at her Bridge Club. She said they were too chatty, their conversation was disruptive, and they didn’t respect the rules of the game. I said, youngsters? How old are they? She said, Oh, you know. People in their 80s.
That was a mind-bending insight. My grandmother referred to people in their 80s as youngsters because she was 20 years older than them. Now, I’m almost 70. Is there anyone out there who thinks I’m a youngster? Yes.
My neighbor sees me as being the age of her children. Even though my hair is as grey as hers, she talks to me like I’m too young and inexperienced to understand how the world works. I go along with it because I think it’s important to respect your elders, even though I’ve been irritated by older people for about 60 years. She tries my patience. She doesn’t know her cell phone is a clock, but she thinks I’m an idiot for using Facebook. When I asked her if she’d ever been on the internet, she gave me a look like I’d asked if she’d ever been to a whorehouse. Then she said she knows all about how dangerous Facebook is because she heard about it on TV. I had to zip my lips.
Elders remind me how comparatively young I am. But young people can flip that feeling when they remind me how old I seem to them. Yes, it’s a thing for people in my age group to be sandwiched between their parent’s generation and their kid’s generation. I’m your daughter. I’m your grandma. I’m your daughter. I’m your grandma. It’s confusing. I felt it last week when we had a new friend for dinner. I’m guessing he’s in his early 20s, and he kept calling me Miss Billie. I got the impression he was uncomfortable calling me by my first name, which is darling, but also weird. So, I asked him how old his mother is, and he said 44. Oh, yeah. To him, I’m grandma. When he looks at me, he doesn’t see the distinction between old, oldish, and really old. All he sees is grey hair. But that’s just how it works. Age is invisible without a comparison.