I went to the senior center in Vineyard Haven last Wednesday morning for my very first time. In fact it was my first visit to any senior center. I don’t like those euphemisms — senior, golden oldie, retiree. And I felt the way I felt at my 50th high school reunion: Who are all these old people? I have nothing against aging or even my own age. I know how old I am. I have mirrors all over the house. But the image that stays stuck in my consciousness has no resemblance to the reflection in those mirrors. I have been a senior citizen for over 12 years now (not in denial about aging) but I seem to have avoided actual membership in the club. Yes, I have earned and paid my dues and yes, I love a few of my gray hairs and yes I even love telling young people my age. But for some reason I refused to sign up with AARP and I won’t even look at those trips where there are senior discounts, happy silver-haired couples drinking wine on river boats and learning Spanish while they cruise.
I swore even when I sat in my friends’ beach chairs and relished the comfort that I would never schlep an aluminum and plastic low-slung whatever it’s called to the beach. For sure that would signal aging. (Honestly, I’m not in denial). My friend Elizabeth is the same age but looks about 15 years younger (but who’s comparing?) once said, don’t you hate getting older? No, I said. I don’t think about it. And I didn’t then. I really didn’t.
I remember my father’s 50th birthday party. All the grownups were laughing at a book he had received. The next day my sister and I found it. The title was what to do about sex after 50. Thrilled to have found the secret to their lascivious laughter, we huddled together as we voraciously flipped through the totally blank pages. That was the joke. That was the era when 50 was old and sex was wink, wink.
The other night I saw a documentary of a fairly famous poet with Alzheimer’s. They kept doing these montages from when he was young and dashingly good looking with women who were glamorously gorgeous. They interwove his poetry readings from long ago, his exotic travels with more current interviews. The contrast was alarming. I was glued to the set.
Then his son showed him some pictures of himself and his siblings and the poet said, “They look very nice. Do I have children?”
I don’t know why this got me but it got me. Of course the teaching, the lesson, the point was not lost on me. This is what happens. People get old. My father died four months after that 50th birthday party which could have something to do with the denial I have been denying.
So in this time where 60 is the new 50 and orange is the new black, I’m making peace with the fact that apparently I’m the new senior.
What was the name of that cruise line?
Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart (Hyperion/Little Brown), a commentator for National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and founder of the Chilmark Writing Workshop.