Have I Become Harriet…nah
It seems every fellow Baby Boomer I engage in a conversation about aging cannot believe that we are those…old people! How can we possibly be in our 60s, or 70s, or whatever? Was Woodstock really that long ago? Have we really been married this long? Wait, which class reunion is it? Can’t be!!
We think back over our lifetime and the people we thought of as “old” – our grandparents, parents, our parents’ friends, our teachers…the President of the United States. It’s hard to accept, hard to relate.
My observation is that our generation overall does seems to be far more youthful compared to generations prior. It is kind of shocking to look at old family photos. We were at Camille’s one day and on her wall, she has an incredible collection of family photos that span the generations. She is of Italian heritage, her parents were first-generation U.S. citizens and so her grandparents were born in Italy. The culture dictated fabulous wedding photos with the bride in a long white dress and train, usually positioned on an elegant staircase, the parents and extended family flanking the newlyweds. We examined in disbelief the parents of the bride and groom, who were maybe in their late 40s. They looked so very old! The mothers in severe clothes and old-fashioned shoes, often gray-haired, looking more like 80 than 48. Lots of factors are at play there. Their lives were mostly much more difficult than ours. We grew up with better nutrition and medicine, less hard physical labor, less trouble and tragedy. However, the discrepancy is pretty incredible. Take a look at some of your old family photos and see if you agree.
I think of my grandparents. Both of my grandmothers were like those in Camille’s photos, dressed in those lace-up black shoes, the plain dress, modest and reserved, gray hair permed and “blued” or in a severe bun. They were wonderful and loving and I remember sitting on their ample laps as they read to me and cared for me. But to think of them putting on a swimsuit and taking me to the beach or riding a bike or sitting on the floor playing Chutes and Ladders or friending me on Facebook…absolutely inconceivable. But almost every able-bodied grandparent I know today will do these things with the grandkids.
Camille was talking to me about her early career, when she was in her 20s. She had a co-worker named Harriett, who would have been in her 40s. Harriett seemed very old to Camille, in the way she dressed, her demeanor, her outlook on life. Now, of course, 40s seem impossibly young, youthful, a kid! Camille laughed as she told me “I AM HARRIETT” …but 30 years later!! Yet she still does not see herself at all that old person Harriett seemed to be.
I guess what they say is true: You are only as old as you think you are. To me, Camille is ageless. She is active and healthy, very excited about the future. She is out and about all the time looking for a new adventure, trying new things, ready for the next career even. This speaks volumes about our generation. We were not raised to settle, we were not going to just get by, to just get through life. No, we expected more. We expected to be able to strive for a good life, to find our bliss, to “self actualize”—I think Boomers invented this term and certainly embodied it.
I recently moved into a 55+ active adult community and my neighbors seemed to have come together with the collective ideal of having fun, forming a community, staying active and staying engaged. They are out running around with their grandkids, getting together for wine tastings and forming a travel club, out walking or riding bikes. The three-wheelers are a big hit in the neighborhood, I love seeing one of my neighbors riding around on the trike, with her purple helmet and a purple stripe in her beautiful silver hair, her little dog in the basket.
I can’t help but step back and realize how lucky we are to be born in this generation. Old? Nah, that doesn’t fit, it doesn’t feel right. We are NOT Harriett.