Thoughts from an “old friend”

“Granddad, are you old,” our 4-year-old granddaughter, Anna, asked.

It was an interesting question because it came just days before my 70th birthday. I had to stop and think before I could give her an answer and I actually was hoping that she’d get tired of waiting for my response and go on to something else. Which is exactly what happened.

But I kept thinking about it. How old is old? Is 70 old? I’ve been watching friends and high school and DePauw University classmates turning 70. After a lifetime of resisting it, are we now officially old?

As a young man I never spent any time considering the fact that one day I would grow old. I never imagined myself at 70. I was too busy pursuing dreams. I found a woman I loved and loved me in return, we had a family and careers and built a life together. There was no time for getting old.

It turns out it happens whether you’re thinking about it or not.

I was 20 years old in 1968, when Simon and Garfunkel released the song Old Friends: “Old friends, sat on a park bench like bookends . . . Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly.

“How terribly strange to be 70.”

So now that it’s happened to me, is it terrible strange to be 70?

Honestly, I really enjoy celebrating birthdays — as long as they’re not mine. Birthdays can be terrifying things. You go to bed one night and you’re a youngster in your 60s. You wake the next morning and everyone says you are 70. What kind of nightmare is that! I feel like Rip Van Winkle who took a 20-year snooze.

Actually, the only birthday I dreaded was my 30th. At 30 people don’t consider that one day they will be old. But they do start to think they might not be young forever and might soon be forced into middle age when they will have to be grown up and responsible. And who wants that? I remember friends gave me an incredible 30th birthday party. They had police arrive and arrest me for being old, which is a crime when you’re 30.

I decided I’d celebrate my 70th birthday with all enthusiasm of my 30th. Except I would need to be in bed by 9 o’clock.

The problem with birthdays is that they come around way too often.

Is 70 old?

They say getting old is just a state of mind. But don’t tell that to a 70-year-old man who just rushed into a room and can’t remember why. Getting old is not all in your mind. It’s in your fingers, your knees, and your back and occasionally it’s aches in places you didn’t even know you had when you were young.

Is 70 old?

My mother always said we are “too soon old and too late smart.” I suppose we’re supposed to be smart by the time we’re 70 after a lifetime of experience. We’re supposed to have wisdom to pass along to the young. But that’ just silly. Young people aren’t going to listen to old people no matter how wise we are. They’re going to make their own mistakes the same as we did. And don’t forget that some of those mistakes were fun – for a while.

Here are some of the things I’ve observed at 70.

• I realize at 70 I can no longer do a lot of the physical things I did when I was 20. The good news is I no longer want to do those things.

• Young people are starting to get up and offer me their seat on crowded public transportation. This happened every day I was on the standing room only monorail at Disney World in January. I thought, “how nice” and actually accepted. I also thought “I wonder how bad I actually look to these people?”

• At 70 I get carded if I want to buy a bottle of wine at the grocery store. But I get the McDonald’s senior coffee price without even having to ask. I’m thinking about getting a fake driver’s license that says I’m 18 just to mess with people.

• Life doesn’t always work out the way you want. It’s my hair that has gotten thinner, not my waistline.

• At 70 I sleep just fine. Unfortunately, it’s not in the middle of the night. It’s in the middle of the afternoon in a reclining chair where there are rumors that I snore.

• Men do not understand women any better at 70 than they did when they were 13. In fact, they are mostly more confused than ever.

• At 70 you’ve slipped the bonds of middle age so you no longer have to be grown up and responsible. You can have fun again like you did when you were 20.

I am a very lucky man. My wife, Jeanne, is a wonderful woman. At 70 I realize love is a living emotion and it doesn’t grow older. It grows bigger and better. We have three children who are the love and pride of our lives. At 70 I realize I learned far more from them then they ever could have learned from me. We have five grandchildren. They are all perfect. At 70 you understand why grandchildren are called grand.

I have nothing to complain about. Of course, that won’t stop me. Complaining is among the few pleasures left for men when they’re 70.

So how about that question our 4-year-old granddaughter asked.

“Granddad, are you old?”

Well, I’ve thought about that and I know how I want to answer.

No, Anna, I’m not old. It will happen and maybe sooner than I’d like. But, not yet. I have family like you and friends and a whole lot of living left to do. And Jeanne says I can’t be old because she doesn’t want to be married to an old man.

It’s terribly nice to be 70.