"The trick is growing up without growing old." ~ Casey Stengel
I turned 55 yesterday which was inconceivable when I was 5 or 25 and far away when I was 35 or 45. Luckily it turned out to be inevitable since turning 55 beats the alternative when you are 54 years old. Being 55 qualifies me to participate in all the activities at the nearby Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center like playing pool, using the computers, or participating in the weekly card games. The Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center also offers a daily meal which I had a lot more interest in than playing pool or cards since I noted over a decade ago that people aged 55 or over were not charged for the meals. I had been planning on celebrating my 55th birthday by getting a free meal at the Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center and writing about it but last month I received the unwelcome news that being 55 only qualifies me to pay the full price of $6 for the meal and when I turn 60 I can get a meal at the Marshalltown Senior Citizens Center for a free will (or in my case FREE WON’T) donation.
The Senior Citizens Center used to give out free lunches to people 55 years old and stopped a few years ago. I was disappointed at not getting a free meal but not too disappointed. I don’t care much for Jell-O and I prefer whole kernel corn to creamed corn anyway. I’m going to chalk the entire incident up to my misfortune at being at the end of the ‘baby boom’ generation which saw the bulk of the benefits pass to people five and ten years older than me and now are slowly taken away as the voting numbers of older people diminish.
I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel at the age of 55 so I don’t know if I feel younger or older than my age. I expect I feel younger than my age despite not running marathons, sprints, or even up a flight of stairs. Part of what keeps me feeling young is my daily walks with Daisy and Baxter. Excepting the occasional work or chess trip I’ve walked these two at least once a day for the last four and a half years. I remember how miserable I was when my great dogs Queenie and Tuffy passed away in 2010. I still miss Queenie and Tuffy but Daisy and Baxter remind me every day that life is above all a joyous occasion. I am constantly infected by their joy at going for a walk, getting a beef stick treat at the corner of the convenience store, checking out a squirrel, barking at a stranger, and even their zeal when I make my bologna sandwich in the morning to take to work in their expectation of a scrap or two or twenty.
I’ve met plenty of people that seem and act way older than they are and they almost always have one thing in common – an unhappy home life. I’ve been supremely lucky in that regard since I’ll be married 25 years this December to Kathy. We don’t agree on everything but we haven’t had more than a handful of arguments in 25 years and none that lasted more than a day. I read an article recently where the writer admonished young men to not marry women who dye their hair blonde or wear bathing suits (unless they are ‘fat and ugly’) but I’d encourage young men to marry someone they are going to get along with since most of the men I see that have an unhappy home life aren’t happy anywhere else either.
I’m not saying everything is always perfect – I’ve had plenty of disagreements with my kids over the years and I don’t find the joy my beagles take in eating cat poop or vomit very infectious but these things only upset me as much as I want to be upset at the time and I work pretty hard on not getting upset. I’ve learned from some of the best over the years to try not to let things upset me and a big part of not getting upset is to not deal with people that upset me. When I was young I would go toe to toe with anyone that wanted to cause me trouble but over the years I’ve learned that when there’s someone who wants to stir me up I don’t just get away – I run away and I stay away. I’ve quit jobs and severed friendships and associations that lasted years when I’m shown I’m being disrespected or not worth telling the truth to or having lies told about me. I’ve never missed any of these so-called friendships and associations because I got to keep my peace of mind which is worth quite a bit to me. I feel any time spent with or thinking about these types is time wasted and I think I’m wasting time even writing about them.
I’ve been lucky enough to hang out and learn from some great people that were well over 55 years old and the thing that impressed me the most about them is that they all found something to enjoy and look forward to every day. My grandfather Matthew lived to 95 or 96 depending on which birth certificate you used. When he was in his 80’s he would take a bus to Atlantic City a few times a week. He wouldn’t gamble but the casinos would give him 15 dollars to take the bus. Matthew would hang out at the beach and tell me “Where can a guy my age make 15 dollars a day?” When the casinos wised up, my grandfather would drive every day to Tony’s deli in Passaic New Jersey for lunch. I went with him a couple of times and it was a high adventure since he could barely see or hear and instead of looking at the road would look at my Aunt Elaine’s hand signals from the passenger seat to determine when to brake, turn, and accelerate. He knew he shouldn’t have been driving but it was one of the things he loved to do and he looked forward to it every day.
At my first programming job in New Jersey in the late 1980’s one of the computer operators was Max. Max was in his late 70’s and every day took a train and a bus to get from his apartment in Queens, New York to Secaucus, New Jersey and a bus and train every day to get back home. Max would get in an hour before everyone else to print shipping labels and invoices and I would get to work an hour early because I liked to program so much. We were the only two people in the office for that hour every day and got to have quite a few talks. Max would smoke these huge cigars and tell me tales how he bribed his way out of Nazi controlled Austria in the 1930’s and owned a coffee factory in South America but lost his factory to a military coup and ended up working as a computer operator in Secaucus New Jersey. Max puffed on these huge cigars while he was working and had a bottle of whiskey in his desk for special occasions. When the military government was overturned Max got paid for his factory but he kept on taking the bus every day to get to Secaucus, New Jersey because he just loved to work and didn’t care what he did as long as he felt he was performing a useful function and had a place to smoke his cigars.
Once I moved to Iowa I had the good fortune to meet Dale Steiger. Dale was in his 80’s and owned a magazine subscription company. He called my office one day and said he had a data file of all the barbershops in America and wanted me to pull all the barbershops south of the Mason-Dixon Line into a new file so he could have his agents try to sell them magazines geared to the south. I don’t know why he called me since I wasn’t doing part-time work and I don’t know why I said yes but there was something about Dale that made me want to help him. That one job turned into another and another and eventually I had lunch with Dale at his company every other week and got to know him pretty well. Dale was a big shot advertising executive in New York in the 1960s and moved to Iowa to start his subscription company. I’ve never met a guy as nice as Dale. He called our meeting serendipity and I couldn’t agree more.
I've talked to Bill from down the block occasionally over the past 20 years when we would meet while walking our dogs. I’ve seen Bill go from walking slowly to using a cane to a walker and now at the age of 93 he barely walks at all. Time has taken his ability to drive and almost the ability to walk. His hips have no cartilage and hurts whenever he moves. When Kathy and I take Daisy and Baxter on our evening walks we’ll see Bill and his wife Marilyn sitting on their porch when the weather is nice and we’ll join them. Even into their nineties Bill and Marilyn get into their daughter’s car for a trip to their favorite diner for lunch almost every day. When it’s football season Bill likes to talk about the Iowa Hawkeyes and he knows as much about the team as anyone I know. And I don’t mean the teams from the good old days – I mean this year’s team and he knows quite a bit about the Big 10 and the Cyclones as well. I freely admit to understanding nothing about college sports and why people in Iowa take such pride in these football and basketball teams that supposedly represent the state but don’t even have half of their players from the state but if it gives Bill a reason to look forward to Saturdays and the next season in the fall I’m all for it.
So in 55 years I’ve learned from Daisy and Baxter to live each day with joy, and my grandpa Matt, Dale, Max, and Bill taught and are still teaching me the value of having something to look forward to each day. I’d talk more on the subject but I have a basketball prediction program to finish, a chess club at St. Francis to prepare for, a youth tournament to put on in two weeks, and I have to go to work today!