(Skill Note: This column from my newspaper, the Rocket-Courier in Wyalusing, was actually written the week before the one that follows— revisiting my recent high school class reunion.)
Just in case I wanted to forget I am in my declining years, there are two events beckoning this week that will not allow me to do this. First comes my birthday, which happens to be the publication date of this newspaper, and then comes my high school class reunion, which falls on the weekend. This is our 45th reunion year, and that does seem like a whole lot of time.For instance, there is the President of the United States, who, until my contemporaries like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, took office, were always old guys. Now we have a President who was three years old when I graduated from high school (he turned four in August of my graduation year). If you can’t count on the President being older than you, you know you are on the downside of that proverbial hill that I have apparently been over for some time.The sad thing is that if I were to run for President, I’d be portrayed as being too long at the tooth to do the job. Being long at the tooth seems a weird way to say you are getting old, but that goes back to aging horses whose gum lines receded as they aged, therefore appearing to have longer teeth. For most elderly humans, the expression would be more accurately reworded as “longing for tooth.”To be honest, I never thought a whole lot about birthdays or how old I was, because I never felt like an old guy. I live an active life and associate with enough younger people—those in their twenties, thirties and forties—to allow me to appear somewhat relevant in our digital society. Turning 60 was different, because there is something about being in your sixties that makes you inescapably old. You can talk about 60 being the new 40 and all that feel-good stuff, but you are, by any definition, a senior citizen. We aren’t old or elderly anymore, but senior citizens and seniors. To me a senior is someone in his last year of college or high school, not an old fogy.The sad part about aging is that so many spend their youths wanting to appear older and more mature so they can gain more responsibility, respect or a more impressive job title. Then, sometime around your 35th birthday, you start thinking about how old you are getting and how being young wasn’t so bad. I remember the first mild shock came when I was advancing into my thirties and realized I was too old to ever play professional sports. Of course, I was not good enough at sports to be a professional when I was in my twenties, but just knowing I couldn’t play second base for the Phillies was sobering. Of course, watching sports on TV and learning some NFL player is called “Grandpop” or some such hoary nickname by his teammates because he is 35 or 36 years old is a constant reminder. Then there is Brett Favre, who recently turned 40 and is regarded with awe because he doesn’t hobble out to the huddle in a walker.This weekend I learned that the oldest head coach in the NFL, Tom Coughlin, is barely two years older than I am. It seems like yesterday when I was younger than all the coaches, and then I was about the same age as the youngest coaches and now all the coaches, except one, are younger. I’m with you, Tom, hang in there. If Tom gets axed, I’ve always got the best defensive coach in the NFL, Dick LeBeau the Steelers’ sideline septuagenarian, to make me feel younger. That is, if I need to feel younger.By the way, I noticed the first definition of septuagenarian in my dictionary is “someone in his eighth decade of life,” instead of in your seventies. That means I am in my seventh decade. Somehow, that makes me feel even older, particularly upon considering there are only 10 decades in a century.Aging is time and time moves more swiftly as you age, achieving a dizzying velocity by the age of 50. It seems as if childhood was excruciatingly long, and a year or two was a tremendous amount of time. Remember when people who were two or three years older than you seemed unapproachable? A parent would go bonkers if their 17-year-old daughter was serious about a 20-year-old man. Now I know guys my age who have married or date women 20 years their junior. Since women live about 10 years longer than men, a 40-year-old woman who marries a 60-year-old guy will likely be a widow by the time she is 55, and she can spend all her inheritance on younger men.Enough of that whining. I’m not here to complain, because life has been pretty good to me so far. I’ve already made my first million, which used to be a great gauge of success, but it is something just about everyone achieves nowadays if you work 30 years or more at a decent wage. Think about it.I remember when I was a kid and my mother let it slip that my dad, who was a supervisor at the old Sylvania plant in Towanda at the time, was making $10,000 a year. Some of my friends could not believe that someone could earn that much money in the year and wondered why I wasn’t living in a mansion. Today that’s barely minimum wage. You’d have to work 100 years with those 1960s wages to earn a million.So this is a week when I will be facing my mortality and the escalating passage of time, whether I want to or not. Yet if it were not for birthdays and reunions we’d be dead before we knew we were old.