Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
Here Come the Woopies!
July 10, 1998
Ever since I started admitting that I am old -- I think it was last
month, or maybe it was on my 80th birthday -- I have been looking for a
word to describe me and all the other old/older/senior/mature/elder
people in this country. I kind of like "crone" for wise old woman, but
that does tend to put people off a little bit and doesn't include the
wise old geezers.
I rather enjoy being old, but I don't like the stereotype the word
"old" arouses in people. "Baby" is a great word. We all love babies.
"Young" means pride and energy. "Middle age" is rapidly becoming
popular since the Baby Boomers are in it. But "old" is still not
exactly acceptable in our society, except in trees and wine.
At long last Donald M. Murray has come up with the perfect word for
us. WOOPIES. Woopies stands for Well Off Older People. Woopies are
generally self sufficient, middle-class people with time and talent to
offer society. Woopies are just well enough off that we can afford a
cappuccino at our favorite coffee shop now and then, and a membership at
the local gym.
Woopie Murray is a 75 year old columnist for the Boston Globe. He
writes, "I am not elderly. I am old and proud of it. I am aged like
good cheese. I am a walking history book, an elder of the tribe,
tested, tempered, wise." Right on.
You young people had better get used to Woopies, because our numbers
are growing each year. According to the Census Bureau, by 2030 there
will be about 70 million "older persons." Older than what? The
Census Bureau uses stuffier language than I do and they define an "older
person" as anyone over 65.
Actually, growing old has its good points. Oliver Wendell Holmes'
belief that, "To be seventy years young is sometimes far more cheerful
and hopeful than to be forty years old," makes a lot of sense.
Woopies have time to watch the flowers grow.
We don't have many responsibilities beyond trying to stay alive and
healthy. You see us on the golf course and in the book stores and
traveling to Elderhostels. We volunteer where we are needed and are
active in social causes. We have time to discover again our sense of
wonder -- the one we thought we had lost during the busy years. You see
us doing and enjoying all sorts of things the young don't have time for.
And the Woopies have discovered technology. A research group called
Senior Net --www.seniornet.org --has found that amongst all adults who
own home computers, people who are over 75 own 23% of them. Over
half of the Woopies who are college graduates own PCs.
So let's not hear any more jokes about teaching old dogs new tricks.
Americans old enough to be hackers' grandparents are signing up for
computer classes across the country. Woopies often get started on PCs
because we want to use email, which I think is the greatest thing
since sliced bread. Separated geographically from our families as many
of us are, we use email to stay in close touch through that big mail box
in the sky. And we use PCs for playing solitaire, keeping financial
records and exploring the World Wide Web , a wonderful,
time-consuming hobby. One Woopie in New York commented as he stood on
the brink of becoming a full-fledged techie, "Forget about fishing."
One place you don't see any Woopies is in TV news. There youth and
beauty reign supreme. There are, of course, a few "older persons,"
mostly men, doing commentary and discussion programs. Barbara Walters
is a Woopie, but she gets a lot of help from the make-up artists. Andy
Rooney is still around, but people tend to say, "Isn't it wonderful that
as old as he is he can still read?"
Now we know what we are: We are Woopies. It is a good word, a proud
word. It takes us longer to get out of bed in the morning than it did
when we were fifty, but we know a lot more and are hopefully wiser than
we were then. Now all we have to is convince the youth obsessed world
that we are quite capable of functioning and contributing.