I remember when I was nine and my sister took me to her sorority house at the University of Louisville. Later that day I was savoring the memories but I thought, "That was cool. But I will never be that old." She was nineteen.
Today my niece turns 40. Of her generation in our family there is only one person younger, her sister. I recall turning 40. It was a Big Deal. While there had been ominous birthdays before — 25 (a quarter of a century), 30, this one was the first in which I felt the shadow of the scythe. Looking back, half again as many years later, 40 seems positively larval.
I am sure she, my niece, does not feel that way herself. One doesn't on the day one turns 40. Anymore than one turns 50 and says, "Oh, but by today's longevity standards, 50 is the new 40. I am a mere youth." What you think (although this may be a bit extreme) is "I am 18,250 days old. That is, 1,095,000 hours spent on terra firma, a third of them asleep." How could a reckoning like that not make one feel positively ancient?
Still it is sobering for me, as my 60th year winds down, to consider myself a member now in good standing of the venerable club of elders in my family. Made more so by having rocked the cradle of someone now entering her fifth decade on Planet Earth. To say nothing of all those sallow grands trying to stack enough candles on their cake to earn a driver's license. What of them? The babes?
Which brings me to What I Want to Be When I Grow Old. ("I grow old . . . I grow old . . . /I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.")
Once a friend told me I was going to grow up to be one of Nantucket's eccentrics. Along the lines of Madaket Millie. Part of me took offense; part of me, inevitably, was flattered. Better to be known as something than forgotten as nothing. But what kind of eccentric to be? Nothing so dull as a wearer of purple, though purple suits me now. No. The kind of eccentric I wish to be has yet to be invented. I'm making it up as I go along. I want to break a picture window with a rock. I want to ride bareback, naked down Main Street. Any Main Street.
For years I had a collection of little old ladies. They were all inspirations — Edith Neuman, Leona Caroline, Dorothy Holland, Auntie Bee — though hardly eccentric. They taught me that 'old' is a prejudice we all tuck under our arms and carry with us through life. Who, exactly, is old? My sister at 19? Dr. Neuman taking 50 of her friends to Mohonk for a weekend celebration of her 90th? Planning her 100th at Tavern on the Green?
There are days when I feel positively decrepit — days, such as these now, lugging around a robot's foot. But most of the time, I am eighteen. Perennially, eighteen. It's the impartial secret I carry under the other arm. Like a magic wand.
Truffle: Snuggling under the covers with my love.
Quote of the day: "How old would you be if you didn't know how old you were?" (Satchel Paige)