Cumberland Times-News


January 19, 2013

What once was a long way off is now here

We occasionally hear from people who are infuriated about something they read in our newspaper. (OK, more than occasionally.)

That once included my father. He called me to complain about a news story, even though he knew I hadn’t written it.

This story had described a 75-year-old man as “elderly.”

“I’m 75,” he said, “and I’m not elderly!” Actually, he worded it a bit more colorfully than that. His characterization of the reporter who wrote the story was equally colorful.

Dad was right. He wasn’t elderly and, until the last few days of his almost 90 years, could never have been thought of as being that way.

Even then, he wasn’t really elderly, considering the fight he put up against the physical ailments that eventually killed him.

My mother was the same way. She was confined to a wheelchair, a recliner and her hospital bed at home for  3 1/2 years by a stroke that left her paralyzed on one side. Despite that, she was in all respects still my mom.

Her unresponsive left hand was clenched into a fist, and Dad and I sat quietly and watched as she stared ferociously at it. We knew what was going on and agreed that if anybody could will the life back into such a hand, she would be the one to do it.

Mom told me wonderful stories and talked about life, and I marveled at how wise she was.

When I asked her a question about grammar, she answered it as patiently and precisely as she would have when she was an English teacher more than 30 years earlier.

The tone, clarity and strength of her voice even reverted to that of a far younger woman. It was remarkable to hear, and I wondered why medical science couldn’t find out what causes such a thing to happen and make it permanent.

“Don’t ever color your hair,” she told me.

I said I had no intention of it, but why not?

“When your hair turns gray,” she said, “your skin changes, too. People can look at your dyed hair and your skin and tell they don’t match.”

Mom gladly allowed her magnificent red hair to turn gray. In her mind, this allowed her to wear the red, peach and rust-colored clothing she loved, but a proper old-fashioned redhead should avoid, lest she appear too flashy.

More than anything, elderly is a state of mind. The older I get, the older old gets. I recognize old when I see it, but can’t define it.

 I remember sitting at my desk shortly after starting at the newspaper in July 1969, thinking “Jan. 20, 2013. I will be able to retire on that day. But that’s a long way off.”

Jan. 20, 2013, is today. Today is my 65th birthday, and I probably could retire, but have no desire to do so for a variety of reasons.

I continue to love most of what I do for a living. It has been so rewarding in some respects that I honestly can’t think of anything else I would rather have done. My parents were teachers, and both told me they felt the same way about their careers.

Few jobs are perfect, although Ben Davidson, the former Oakland Raider football player, once said if there was such a thing, he had it.

Davidson was featured in the Miller Lite beer commercials and told Johnny Carson, “I get paid to drink beer and see America.”

Being a newspaperman gets in your blood. Several folks at the Times-News are older than I am, and none of them shows any inclination to retire.

Officially making the transition from middle-aged citizen to senior citizen means another exemption to claim on my income taxes, and a reduction in my West Virginia real property taxes, but that’s about all.

I probably became a senior citizen 10 years ago as a relative youngster of 55 when Dad was a patient in Sacred Heart Hospital.

Each day after work, I visited him and ate in the hospital cafeteria while he had dinner. The food was good (probably better than what they gave Dad; his wasn’t salted and had no taste), it was affordable, and there was frozen yogurt that tasted like regular soft-serve ice cream.

I told the cashier that I was amazed at how cheap the food it was.

“Well,” she said, “it isn’t very expensive to begin with ... and there is a senior citizen discount.”

Dad, who was a few months past 89, thought that was hilarious. So did I. (The time my mother told me I looked distinguished in the suit I was wearing, I protested, “Mother! That’s what you say to someone who’s middle-aged!” She hoisted her eyebrows and replied, “Well?”)

It became just one more thing Dad and I had in common. He and my mom were thrilled the first time they went to McDonald’s and got a senior citizens’ discount at age 55.

The first day Dad was in the hospital, a friend called me at work to read me what I quickly recognized as The Riot Act. She had volunteered in hospitals and nursing homes and was studying to be a registered nurse.

“You get right up there and make friends with the nurses and nurse’s aides, the therapists and anybody else you can find,” she said.

“Talk to them about what they do and ask them about their families, bring them a box of candy. Some flowers wouldn’t hurt, and ... ”

By this time, I was almost in hysterics.

“This is your father I’m talking about!” she raged, only a bit more colorfully than that. (In fact, she used the same colorful expression my father did in complaining  about a 75-year-old man being described as “elderly.”)

I explained to her that, “You don’t know my father as well as I do. I know exactly what you’re talking about, and not only has he been doing it for a lot longer than I have, he’s a hell of a lot better at it than I will ever be.”

And so, when I went to visit my 89-year-old father that day, he was sitting up in his hospital bed with a smile on his face.

There were two nurses present, one on either side of his bed, and each was holding one of his hands with both of hers.

“These are two of my favorites,” he said.

Elderly? After I caught enough of my breath to tell them why I was laughing so hard, all three of them thought it was as funny as I did.

My father lived to be almost 90 and, as you might tell, never became elderly. Neither did my mother, who lived to be 84.

This was one of the many examples they set for me. They also taught me the value of faith, love, respect, doing what you believe is right and never giving up.

It took me a while to start doing so, but now I try to follow those examples as best I can.

Text Only
  • Restore them Restore them

    There are an estimated 47,000 deceased veterans whose remains are unidentified and unclaimed throughout the U.S. A group of senators and congressmen hope to do something to
    bring these men and women some dignity after death.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Happy Easter

    For the world’s more than 2 billion Christians, Easter is the day that defines their faith.
    The exact date of Christ’s resurrection is unknown, and even the precise locations of his crucifixion and burial are uncertain. This hasn’t stopped some people from saying they know the answer to these questions and others from trying to find out for themselves, or simply arguing about it.

    April 20, 2014

  • Odds are good that you didn’t know this

    Odds or Probabilities fascinate many people. There is a special website called and an accompanying location on Facebook at /BookofOdds .This website lists 400,000 odds. Three of the people who are involved in this media display have coauthored a book, “The Book of Odds” that presents some of key odds, drawing from polls and statistics published in journals. The authors are A. Shapiro, L.F. Campbell and R. Wright. This paperback was published this year by Harper Collins with ISBN 978-0-06-206085-3.

    April 20, 2014

  • Trivial questions you don’t have to answer

    Every so often in this life, my mind, all on its own, generates questions that have no real answers. So I have decided to pass them on to you. I’m tired of them. If you come up with any answers, let me know. Remember when TV jealously guarded the time zone before 9 p.m. for wholesome shows that children could watch. My gosh, how many years ago was that? It seems like another world nowadays, when you can see murders, torture and rape, or those implied, every hour on the hour, somewhere on your public screen. It might be comforting then, to remember that most children nowadays are glued to their little machines with whole different worlds on them, that they can access all day long. Except that in these different worlds they also can view murders, torture and rape on demand.

    April 20, 2014

  • Think it’s not a small world? You’re wrong

    Yes, you read that right in the paper a couple of weeks ago. I covered a wedding as a newspaper reporter. I’ve retired from doing regular stories because my primary duties lie elsewhere, and I don’t have the time or mental energy for it. But I agreed to do it for a couple of reasons, one of which goes back more than 40 years. The former proprietor of The Famous North End Tavern told me about a wedding that was to take place at the Lions Center for Rehabilitation and Extended Care, where his wife works.

    April 20, 2014

  • No Bambi for you, Mrs. Doe

    Some people want so badly for deer birth control to work that they actually think it will, even on wild populations.
    I wish I had a couple bridges to sell.
    A week ago on the Outdoors page we ran the deer there do what deer  everywhere do. They eat the easiest food available such as gardens and ornamental plantings. They walk in front of moving cars. They give ticks and  parasites a place to live.

    April 19, 2014

  • We concur We concur

    We’re certain that Donald Rumsfeld, who served as Secretary of Defense under Presidents Gerald Ford and George W. Bush, echoes what many Americans feel about the complexity of filing income tax returns.
    When he filed his return, Rumsfeld sent the following letter to the Internal Revenue Service:

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Library week

    Public libraries remain one of the best uses of taxpayer dollars. They are open to all. Young or old, poor or wealthy, residents can use computers and read current magazines and newspapers. Compact discs featuring a wide variety of music and
    movies on DVD may be checked out in addition to novels and other books.

    April 13, 2014

  • Terps need to move and move quickly

    The good news is Maryland will never have to play another basketball game in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Goodbye, good riddance, sayonara, smell ya, no more of you, stay classy, we won’t let the door hit us on the way out.
    Until we see you in court.

    April 13, 2014

  • Sunday hunting Sunday hunting

    Legislation that increases hunting oppportunities on Sundays in Garrett, Allegany and Washington counties has passed the Maryland General Assembly and reached the governor’s desk.

    April 13, 2014 1 Photo