Some thoughts on turning 50

In October of this year (1999) I will be turning fifty.

I grew up on a farm in rural Iowa. Today I live in a large metropolitan area in California.

When I was a toddler we had no indoor bathrooms. One of my earliest memories is the construction of the bathroom in our house, and the workers putting up yellow tiles on the walls around the new bathtub. Prior to that time all we had was a tall narrow outhouse that stood in the back yard. It was dark, smelly, and a haunt for spiders.

Our telephone was a brown wooden box that hung on the wall. On it was a spout for speaking into, an earpiece for listening, and a crank for ringing. We were on a party line. Our number was 11R73, the "73" meaning one long ring followed by three short rings. Our neighbor Joyce's "number" was three long and one short. The operator's "number" was three short rings. There were old ladies in the neighborhood who had nothing better to do than to listen in on all the phone calls. The old box phones were soon replaced with traditional black phones, but with a crank in place of a dial, and the party line stayed. We didn't get off the party line until I was in high school. I remember a stranded truck driver who needed to make a call from our house one day. He was totally confused. "Where's the dial on this thing?" he sputtered.

Remember the stories of so-and-so's grandfather who had to walk a mile to school trudging through the snow? Well, I've been there and done that. Literally. I went to a one-room country schoolhouse that taught all grades from kindergarten up through 8th grade, all in the same room and with the same teacher. My parents went to school in the very same building thirty years earlier. Today all the one-room country schoolhouses have disappeared, and the one I went to has been converted into a granary.

I went to college in Iowa, learned a few foreign languages on the way, and later ended up in the Air Force which sent me overseas. I lived in West Berlin, Germany, for nearly six years, the first three in the military, and the rest as a civilian. Berlin was the largest city in the largest country in Western Europe. It was quite a change from Burr Oak, Iowa.

Fifty years have now passed. In a way it seems a bit hard to believe. I've seen a lot of changes in the past fifty years, but somehow it sure doesn't feel like fifty years. Actually, it's turning out to be quite a weird experience.

For one thing, I certainly don't look fifty. I've always looked much younger than my real age. When I was a kid it was very aggravating. When I was a senior in college, people thought I was a freshman. When I went into the Air Force at age 22, everyone thought I was straight out of high school. But now I'm starting to enjoy it. The youthful looks are paying off. I'm fifty years old and everbody thinks I'm about 35.

Recently a graying acquaintance, upon hearing me mention turning fifty, remarked to me condescendingly, "Haw! You're nowhere near fifty!" I guess I should have taken it as a compliment, but I was actually a little offended.

Although there certainly are benefits to be enjoyed from looking younger than one's true age, I am finding there are also certain drawbacks. One is the alienation I feel by being identified with a generation that was in diapers when I was starting college. I may look like them, but I sure don't identify with them. I feel that some people my age - particularly those who don't know that I'm one of them - sometimes treat me with a condescending attitude, feeling that they are older and more experienced because of their wrinkles and gray hair. Well, some of them might really be more experienced, but none of them are any older.

There's another thing I've noticed. A lot of those kids I just mentioned - you know, the ones who were in diapers when I was starting college - well, some of them are now my bosses - and my bosses' bosses. Some of them are retired. Some of them are millionaires. We're talking about people who don't remember the Beatles or Kennedy's assassination or Huckleberry Hound or Tom Terrific or Fizzies or Nickel-Nips. These guys are retired, and I'm still working. They only thing I can say to this is that by the time they're my age most of them will be wrinkled, gray, balding, or maybe even dead.

I have heard it said that you're only as old as your attitude. I've always managed to find a variety of interesting things to occupy my mind. I can't wait for retirement, so that I can devote myself full time to these pursuits. In that respect I'm still pretty much a kid. I'm a 50-year-old who looks 35, feels 24, and sometimes acts 18.

My grandmother wrote, "Anyone who wishes to grow old gracefully should remember that it is not heredity that controls our age, it is our thought life and our emotions... With our thoughts we can build up our health or destroy it." There must be some wisdom in that. She lived to be 108.

Stop by in another fifty years and see if this philosophy did me any good.

Copyright 1999 by Bill Price
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