We recently got a new neighbor. He’s in his early 30’s, and he’s been helping David cut down and dispose of some dead trees in the back part of the lot. I didn’t think much about it at the time, but then I began to wonder. Was he simply being a good neighbor, returning some of the help he has received from us and others in the neighborhood, or was he helping out his elderly neighbors?
I turned 65 earlier this year, and David will reach that milestone in February. We both retired earlier than we planned. That’s another story for another time, but the result is that we’ve been dealing with pensions, Social Security, and Medicare for several years. We qualify for senior discounts, attend the “most advanced” Sunday school class at church, and eat lunch at the Senior Center every day. There are days when arthritis slows us down, and we both take medications for various ailments that might be considered age related, but generally we still consider ourselves young and full of life.
Our neighbor is currently living in a small travel trailer with his three young children. It’s not an ideal living arrangement, so he’s working diligently to clear his 3-acre lot in order to make room for something more livable. To accomplish this goal, he’s acquired a collection of tools and boy toys that would make Tim the Tool Man green with envy. Last week David went out to do a little clearing of his own, and before long I heard a chain saw duet made up of our neighbor’s vroom-vroom-vroom style of sawing in counterpoint with David’s steadier hand. I looked out the window and watched them working side by side in an almost visible cloud of testosterone. Later, after David came in and cleaned up, the doorbell rang. He went to the door, and I heard his familiar greeting.
“What’s up, man?”
I heard our neighbor’s voice, but couldn’t make out the words. After a short conversation, David closed the door and went back to his computer.
“What was that all about?” I said.
“Oh, he’s going to cut up the trunk of that tree I felled a couple of weeks ago.”
“He must really love to use his chain saw.”
“Yeah, I guess. But his blade is 20” and mine is only 16”. That tree is too big for my blade, so he offered to cut it up for me.”
That’s when I started to wonder about his motives and to think about how old you have to be before you’re considered elderly. The dictionary wasn’t much help. It gave vague definitions like “old or aging, past middle age and approaching old age, rather old, oldish.” A medical dictionary added a little more detail by defining the frail elderly as individuals over 65 who have functional impairments or any adult over 75. Then I found a paragraph by Geriatrics Gerontology International that used phrases like “long-term longitudinal epidemiological studies” and “clinical and pathological studies” to say that they didn’t know either. A lengthy and very scholarly article by the World Health Organization commented that there is no general agreement on when a person is old and that there are a lot more factors involved than just calendar age.
Finally, I left the scholarly links and went to Askville by Amazon where I found a string of interesting answers to the question “What is your definition of elderly?” The question arose when the author read an article in the newspaper about a 62 year old woman who was described as elderly. There was lots of discussion, but the consensus was that being elderly is more a state of mind than a particular age. I’ve heard my brother Jim say more than once that the oldest person he ever knew was in his twenties, and my 88-year-old aunt is one of the youngest people I know.
One contributor to the discussion talked about her 89-year-old father-in-law who was very active and independent until he had a quadruple by-pass. Within a week, she said he appeared to age at least 30 years and became the epitome of elderly. I’ve seen this happen to friends at the Senior Center who quickly went from young and spry to bent and shuffling after suffering a physical or emotional trauma. Some deterioration is to be expected, but I believe the biggest factor comes from facing one’s own mortality so directly.
Of course, there’s also the matter of perspective to be considered. When you’re a child, anyone who is 20 years older than you seems ancient, but that line between young and old moves further up the scale with each passing decade. Several participants in the Askville discussion said that, although they didn’t know what the definition of elderly was, it was definitely older than they were.
As we Baby Boomers begin to enter our “golden years,” there’s lots of aging humor making the Internet rounds. The final entry was a list of quips attributed to various aging celebrities. I didn’t take the time to check and see if the quotes were accurate. The sentiments are amusing, regardless of who said them.
You know you’re getting old when the candles cost more than the cake. - Bob Hope
Which of you is going to step up and put me out to pasture? - John Wayne
You can’t help getting older, but you don’t have to get old. - George Burns
Just remember, once you’re over the hill, you begin to pick up speed. - Charles Schulz
When I no longer thrill to the first snow of the season, I’ll know I’m getting old. - Lady Bird Johnson
I won’t be old till my feet hurt, and they only hurt when I don’t let ’em dance enough, so I’ll keep right on dancing. - Bill “Bojangles” Robinson
Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art. - Garson Kanin
Middle age — by which I mean anything over twenty and under ninety. A.A. Milne
Going back to the young man next door, I appreciate his help, regardless of his motive. But for now, I think I’ll choose to assume he’s just being a good neighbor.