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Commentary: Never been this old before and don’t know when it starts

by Kathryn Mora

What does old mean anyway?

Old cars and old clothes are called “vintage” and “antique,” and are valuable, worth a lot of money. Old people are called “old fogey, over the hill, advanced in years, past one’s prime, not long for this world and decrepit,” and neither valuable nor worth much.

I’d feel more valued and cherished if I were an old car or an old dress rather than an old lady.

Several years ago, I moved to Boston from Upstate New York and lived an ageless and valued life as a freelance journalist writing for several publications in the area. Also, I taught stand-up comedy and produced showcases for my students.

I was attracted to Boston to attend a six-month compressed film school, learn how to bring my stories alive through documentary film. The program excited me! Before classes started, I scheduled a meeting with the director. When I entered his office, he glanced up at me from his desk with a look of what’s this old lady doing here? I didn’t expect a celebration, but his response surprised me. I was only 64 at the time.

And then there was the time a medical professional basically shamed me for being healthy at the start of my so-called golden years. I’d made an appointment for a free physical exam with a new doctor, paid for by Medicare, not long after I turned 65.

Doctor: “How are you feeling today?”

Me: “Great!”

Doctor: “Good to hear,” as she reached for a pad and pencil. “Tell me all the medications you’re taking.”

Me: “None.”

Doctor: “None?” She looked at me like I’m irresponsible for not taking the medications I need because I’m an old lady.

Confusing. I thought doctors supported healthy people who didn’t need medications. And, my exam showed I’m healthy.

Years later I returned to the West Coast where I first heard the word ageist. My son and daughter-in-law had found an apartment in Hemet they thought I’d like that was within my budget. We met with the property manager who spoke to us by the pool area where gray-haired people played bingo. Actually she only spoke to my son. Was she too intimidated to speak to an awesome, wise and valued woman my age, or did she think I was too old to understand what she was saying? I never ask.

Even salespeople, wanting a chunk of my Social Security benefits, have dissed me. Shortly after I moved to Claremont, my sister accompanied me to an appointment with a private health insurance agent who specialized in Medicare. I had a driver’s license but no car so I invited my sister to join me. We sat across from the agent as I asked about the Senior Advantage program and wanted to know more since I hadn’t been involved with any private health insurance programs in decades. I rarely needed to see doctors. The agent only spoke to my sister. Did the agent think I was hard of hearing? Actually, I am, but I was wearing hearing aids. Did she ignore me because she thought gray hair, wrinkles and saggy skin meant I had diminished brain function too?

I wish I’d brought my brain cell documentation card issued by the famous brain cellologist, Dr. Byron Brainy who certified my brain function is 100%. This pretend card is my fantasy because of how old people are treated. I plan to put it in my wallet for my next experience, which is sure to happen.

A few days ago, while waiting for the light to change at a busy intersection, I saw a crossing guard in her bright fluorescent vest and wondered if her services were available to me as well as the angelic little darlings with backpacks. Last week, I was nearly mowed down at this very corner by a driver blind to old ladies crossing the street. I need protection, too!

Me: “Hi. Are you a crossing guard for everyone or just school kids?”

Crossing guard: (Stares at my gray hair, wrinkles and saggy skin and says slowly and deliberately.) “The signal is red now and you can’t cross. Do you understand how that works?
When it turns green then you can cross the street.”

Me: “Thank you for sharing since I haven’t lived long enough to know about traffic signals.”

Despite being disrespected and insulted just for being a woman of advanced age, nothing will extinguish my excitement as an ageless free spirit. I’m alive, in my prime, flying high and following my bliss. Today, I dance down the tree-lined streets in a large wild outrageous hat, lips painted with a luscious red lipstick wearing my colorful flowing silk gown and boots, a vintage woman looking forward to soon becoming a classic antique.

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