by Ann Robson

This month my body calendar rolls over to 80!!! How on earth did I get here? I guess it happened one step at a time, one day at a time and suddenly a year at a time for a total of 29,200 days. And just what did I do to get all those days?

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what went on since August 9, 1939. One heck of a bunch of things. I remember D-Day, the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War, JFK’s assassination then Martin Luther King then RFK. I watched as we put a man on the moon, saw Nixon resign, to mention a few notable worldwide events.

I remember D-Day because I was almost 5 and I knew my favorite uncle would be coming home soon. Canada joined British forces in 1939 and I have vague memories of ration tokens, blackout nights as we lived in Canada’s capital city, considered a possible target. On D-Day I was playing hopscotch with my friend, Marlene, when neighbors started coming out of their homes saying “Have you heard” and since everyone was smiling, I knew we were getting good news for a change.

I’ve never considered what ripe old age I might reach but as far as I know there’s no “use by” date printed anyplace on or in me. But that doesn’t mean some parts are beginning to shake and squeak and shift. No one ever really tells you what it’s like to age. Perhaps my age group is living longer and those immediately ahead of us have always been guarded about personal things so we have no firsthand knowledge.

I lived out of town busy being a mother and good corporate wife, thus saw my parents, aunts and uncles for brief visits. Either they didn’t tell us, or we didn’t notice that getting out of bed in the morning could hurt as you unbent your cozy pose from under the covers. I didn’t know that it takes much longer to get up, get moving and face a new day. Then when you want to leave your home for various appointments — medical ones start to outnumber social ones — getting showered and dressed and maybe putting on makeup and brushing your hair takes more than the 10 minutes or so when you were dashing out in your teens.

It was a surprise to discover just how much longer routine things take. I used to be able to get dinner ready for visiting business men with a few hours’ notice. Now it takes a week or so to cook, prepare a nice table, take out the ‘good’ dishes, and do all the little things that help make an evening special.

The world has changed so much in all aspects of life that I’m constantly playing catch-up. I understand that we live in a tech world now. I’m grateful for much of it but have no serious intentions of letting it take over. If I’ve made it to 80 without 24-hour technology, then I figure I don’t need my phone or Alexa to wake me up, and prepare my day for me. I’ve never been a morning person but will make exceptions.

Life has been good to me and I am grateful. I have reasonably good health, a loving husband and daughter, and 29,200 days of memories, many of which I can recall but others have disappeared from my memory bank.

When we first retired and moved to Moore County I became involved with the AARP state volunteers. We spent a lot of time planning and doing education programs for caregivers and those with chronic diseases. In one session we discussed how to define “old”. We arrived at ‘new old’ as being 50 to 65, ‘medium old’ as 66 to 80 and ‘old old’ as 80 plus. The reason of this delineation was that we realized the needs of those in their 50s and 60s were quite different from those 80 and older.

Now I say I made it to ‘old old’. However, when a medical person starts to explain why I may feel fatigue or some such condition, I usually inform her/him that they may call my body old but not me! Some have chosen the gentle phrase “It’s a matter of birthdays”. That sounds so much better. Society seems to have a preconceived notion about ‘old’. It doesn’t apply to all of us. I recognize that 80 is a landmark year but I’m not giving in just yet. Maybe I’ll need a nap now and then so I can get through a busy day. Maybe I’ll need some medication to keep all systems operating. That’s OK. I intend to keep writing until I can’t think or can’t type. During my 29,200 days I’ve gathered enough stories to keep me going for a while.

I don’t see 80 as being old enough to put out to pasture. Many of us are still actively participating in volunteering, the arts, exercise, caring for others, and enjoying life. We are likely doing these things differently as we age but the operative word is that we are still doing.

One of the things I like to do is travel. We started out as campers in a tent, then on road trips which we planned using reliable maps, then in an RV, a custom, van, a planned trip with a tour company and now prefer cruising. I could not camp in a tent anymore but am glad we had all these experiences. I’ve been to all 50 states, all 10 Canadian provinces and most of Europe, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand. Many trips meant tagging along on my husband’s business trips where he went to work and I explored on my own.

I clearly remember my excitement at discovering an ATM machine in Oxford, England. Before then, changing money in a foreign bank usually meant showing your passport, waiting while a bank clerk disappeared for a few minutes and then exchanging travelers’ checks for whatever currency I needed. The ATM machine spit out pound notes. When I got back home, there was a minimal charge for each transaction which I consider well worth it. I’ve discovered that often it’s the small unexpected things that make a trip, and life, worthwhile.

A good friend, Suzanne Black, former head of the county’s Dept. of Aging has coined a wonderful motto: It’s not how old you are, but how you are old. Right on! Aging is something for which to be grateful. Watch out world! This gray-haired 80-year-old is ready for what’s next. 

Ann Robson is the author of “Over My Shoulder: Tales of Life and Death and Everything In Between.” She can be reached at overmyshoulder@charter.net .