Copyright © 1998 Henrietta W. Hay
In Your Eighties in the Nineties
April 24, 1998
Some people deny that they have birthdays. Some celebrate them with
fireworks. And there are those who become famous, and whose birthdays
are celebrated forevermore.
I don't need fireworks, and mine will never be a national holiday, but I
can't see any point in denying my 84th birthday this week. I have
outgrown motorcycles and hot air balloons. I have outgrown ceremony,
formality and meetings. This year I'll settle happily for family,
friends, pizza -- and a cake with maybe two candles. No need to call
the fire department.
One little detail accompanies birthdays every few years. I had to get
my driver's license renewed. It reminded me of an uncle of mine who
threatened to sue the state of Illinois when they wouldn't renew his
driver's license when he was 92. I never did hear how that came out.
There are a lot of 80-somethings in this country -- some 8 million of
us. You probably know some, even if they won't admit it. Regardless of
what some people think, we are not a homogeneous group. We come in all
sizes and shapes (well, the shapes tend to be a bit similar), levels of
thought and activity, states of health, and both sexes. We really
prefer to be looked at as we are personally, rather than as
indistinguishable parts of a group of 8 million.
Humans are so busy putting people in boxes that we often fail to see
people as individuals. I talked to a professional woman who deals with
a lot of older women. She says that the reason most of us refuse to
tell our age is that we are afraid we will be treated differently if we
do. We don't want to be looked at as little old ladies, with the image
that accompanies those words. Of course, I think of my grandmother as
a little old lady. She was tiny, always wore lavender and carried a
parasol. But that was a different generation!
Most of the 80-somethings I know are active, interesting people.
They are doing everything from having coffee together and solving the
problems of the world every morning in the local coffee house to
playing bridge four times a week. A few are working out at the local
gyms and many are visiting elderhostels all over the world. They still
volunteer in all sorts of jobs. Most of them are as active as their
physical conditions will allow.
We live in a different world than the one we grew up in but unlike the
dinosaur, we have adapted -- well, sort of. Some things are hard to
I have a lot of trouble with modern popular music I don't know the
difference between rock, hard rock and reggae, nor do I want to, but I
recognize "My Blue Heaven" when I hear it.
I tend to snicker when I see beautiful young people running around with
their baseball caps backwards and wearing clothes made to fit weight
lifters . But then I remember that I grew up in the flapper age and
realize that I have absolutely no room to talk.
Generally when I hear the phrase, "Things are not like they used to be,"
I say, "Thank goodness." These are very exciting times in which to be
alive. In 84 years I have seen two world wars, the development of the
automobile, the airplane, television, the computer, the income tax and
cappuccino, and I am still an optimist - sort of. For all its
problems, I think modern society is, in today's favorite word, "cool."
I know that age closes a lot of minds, but there are a lot of them still
active and in good working order. Scientific study now suggests that
the brain does not lose function or reasoning ability solely because of
age. Certainly illness takes its toll, but it is not safe to assume
that every 80-something you meet is losing it.
I have a lot of missing synapses in my brain which slow it down, but
except for the automatic ten second delay, I can usually figure things
out eventually. And there's not much point to worrying about it when
Meanwhile, like Caroline Bird's salty old woman, I wake up every
morning, wondering what is going to happen and looking forward to it,
whatever it is.