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Cultivating your inner curmudgeon

By SHEILA STOLL
Published August 31, 2004

After six decades or so, life begins to play little tricks. The skin that used to tan, now, exposed to sunlight, produces only splotchy places that might be freckles - or something. The luxuriant thatch of hair is more evident on the dust mop than on the head. (And whose white hairs are those anyway?)

I look in the mirror only when it's necessary to be sure that the darkened eyebrows are roughly the same size and shape and that lipstick more or less conforms to the shape of my mouth. But when I'm out, I always defer to "old ladies," stepping aside to let them pass, offering a seat on public transport.

I don't think of myself as one of them, particularly if they're wearing dresses and I'm in jeans. But I groan in the morning when I go down the stairs with knees that feel as if they have ratchets inside and ankles that no longer understand it is their duty to bend effortlessly.

Darling Husband looks to me just like he did the day we met. My view is entirely uncritical. When we were looking through some of his snapshots, I pointed to a woman in one of them and asked who she was. He said it was Joanie, his former wife. She had white hair, was stooped and looked old to me. He looked at the picture and said that he only recognized her from the context of the picture. He had never seen her as "old" until he looked at that photo. She never looked old to him while she was alive. She was his Joanie: ageless.

Mother Nature is kind when, in a trick of the mind, she permits a changeless picture of a loved one to remain unaged in the mind's eye, though the physical eyes may distort everything else.

At times Mother Nature also likes to get even by having someone else point out that we are old and, therefore, fair game for anyone who wants to take advantage of our senior status. Instances abound where youngsters assume that old people are dotty and/or pushovers for any product that will abate their fears.

Surely we must be afraid that the uneven surface of our driveway might lead to a broken hip, so in the interest of our health, they offer to resurface it while they're in the neighborhood.

Our medical and telecommunications needs can be simplified by switching to services that provide us with vitamins and unlimited minutes after midnight to reassure our loved ones that we are safe.

Time to get in touch with our inner bulldog. "No. The surface of my driveway supports my car and is not a danger to me or the neighborhood kids."

"Just give me prescriptions for my vital, maintenance medications and forget about doing a sonogram I don't need, but will kick my expenses into the over-the-deductible range, alerting my insurance carrier to a potential liability.

"So, I should fly to Las Vegas to be present when your publishing company rewards me for having maintained a subscription to Dirt and Gravel for 20 years, and they MAY award me several million dollars? What are you smoking?"

I was raised to be "nice." I still believe it's a good thing to be nice. But being too nice is not always a good idea; sometimes it's downright dangerous. In order to counteract my tendency to be nice, I have begun to cultivate my inner curmudgeon.

Nice old people are expected to do nice things like babysitting, knitting ill-fitting sweaters for family members and taking pity on the telemarketer who wants them to change their long-distance service because she works on commission and has three children to support.

Sure, I'm still nice, but now I'm very "nice" about saying "no."

It's fine for Mother Nature to trick me into thinking Darling Husband and I will always be beautiful to each other, but it's not all right for other people to try to trick me. The trick is to see the tricks coming.

I walked out of a doctor's office two weeks ago after waiting two hours. I told his shocked receptionist to have him call me because I had an important casserole in the oven. He called. It takes codger power to walk out on a doctor.

- Write to Sheila Stoll c/o Seniority, the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

[Last modified August 27, 2004, 10:49:05]

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