Cumberland Times-News

March 24, 2012

The signs of old age never seem to stop

Maude McDaniel, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

2012 — Well, I’ve satisfied your intense curiosity about chopsticks, and playing cards, and such, which means I can get back to my favorite topic these days — how to know when you’re getting old.

Some people think that sore joints and aching bones are a sign of old age . Naah. I had those when I was 25. Real old age is far more subtle, and sometimes you don’t even notice it. Believe it or not, some people go all the way from bottom to top in what seems like a month or two, and don’t have a clue when old age first started to settle in. Can’t have them missing the fun.

Here are some signs of old age coming on. Or already there, actually:

You start to call people “dear,” especially if you’re female. (It takes a really special guy to come up with “dear” on his own, though I’ve known one or two who pulled it off beautifully.) It never occurred to me to call anyone except family “dear” until about three years ago. Suddenly, it just started happening. Since then I have had to deliberately repress it, when necessary. Mostly, counting on my white hair, I let it come out anyway, a full-throated, hearty “Thank you, dear,” or “Goodbye, dear” when the occasion calls for it. And I always feel better at once.

And it’s no lie, because, somehow, when you’re older, believe it or not, people do become more inexplicably dear! You find yourself looking from behind your usual gaze to see this young person who still has so much of life left to learn, or this middle-aged person who now looks behind as well as ahead, or this old person who has very little if anything really to look forward to in this life beyond the immediate joys (but they are enough!) — suddenly, all these people have changed before your eyes into — dears. Even that mean old lady with the perpetual scowl on her face — yes, think of what she has lived through in her life. Suddenly she mutates into a “dear” too, and with no trouble to yourself at all. I am a lot more cynical about people in general, now that I’m older, but, curiously, a lot more forgiving in particular.

So, sorry if I “dear” you when I hardly know you — it comes with the age.

Here’s another way to tell if you’re getting old. You don’t buy furniture or collect recipes anymore. Or if you do cut out a new recipe, you use it for the covered-dish supper at church. That’s because you don’t cook much anymore, especially if you now live alone. And at church they are very understanding about bad recipes — actually, better than the family used to be when they were all home. So this is a step up, and I am duly grateful for it.

As for furniture, I haven’t felt like buying any for years now, because the house is already full. Furniture is so — well, permanent. And the older you get, the more permanence loses its appeal. Permanence is a young person’s treasure. Old people just want to get through until tomorrow.

You don’t buy many new clothes, either, when you have 40 or 50 years of outfits already hanging in the closet. True, they may not be on top of the fashion world — none of those awful drooping ruffles, thank goodness — but then they never were. And it’s helpful that your friends all look at your clothes with the same fashion sense they had a generation ago. If it looked good to them then, it looks good to them now. At very little expense.

Here’s something that you have to do when you drive that you never had to do before. You have to think! I never thought when I used to set out for some destination, unless it was one I had never been to before. If it was local and I had been there, I pretty much knew how to get there again. (And I still do when it comes to church or the market.) But — something funny happened on the way to old age. About 20 years ago, I suddenly had to stop and think about where I was going when I got into the car, and, trickier yet, how to get there. Which direction to aim for in general, and which side streets to take to get there.

You can’t escape it. It seems to happen to everyone, at least according to some shame-faced admissions by friends of mine. Each one of us now sits a minute in the car when we first get in, plotting out how to get where we are going. Hey, we never had to do that before.

You know you’re getting older when you stop reading your horoscope. “Your love life will expand exponentially” just doesn’t have the same appeal it might have had, say, 50 years ago.

Still, there is one good result of getting older that I have never seen mentioned before. You don’t get near the number of headcolds that you used to. I always gave credit to my fanatic use of echinacea, but I think another thing is that I have just about exhausted all the cold germs around Cumberland. They run the other way when they see me.

I cling to that advantage, because there are several other quite distressing signs of getting older. Your chin hairs start to grow. And your nose starts to run. I have never read any medical reason for that one — it just happens. Honest. And it’s not just gravity, either. There you are, reading sideways in bed — and guess what?

Growing old can be expensive, paying for all those tissues.

Maude McDaniel is a Cumberland freelance writer. Her column appears in the Times-News on alternate Sundays.