Sunday, April 28, 2013

Senior Citizen - Who defines it?

I don't mind telling people that I'm 60. It's taken me a while to reach this point, and it's not like it's a surprise to me or to anyone who knows me.  On the other hand, I'm not real excited about being referred to as a "senior citizen."  In my mind’s eye, I still don’t see  myself as a senior.  That’s my 84-year-old dad -- not me.   However, I’ve discovered it doesn't really matter what I think.  It seems everyone has a definition as to when you become a senior citizen, and they apply it as they see fit.
It started at 50, yes at 50, with AARP wanting me in their marketing database.  The travel discounts and various membership benefits looked like good deals, so after receiving 20 or more requests, I succumbed and  shipped them the annual membership fee, and they shipped back a red embossed card.   After all, Sharon Stone and Denzel Washington have been on the cover of their magazine. How bad could it be?  I use the card occasionally, but I don’t flash it around.  I keep it tucked discretely behind my driver’s license and credit cards.  
I retired at 55 primarily because, after 31 years of working for the same company, my employer offered a pension and it didn’t get much better if I worked longer.  I guess their definition of senior was 55.  
Restaurants and grocery stores love to set the threshold for defining senior customers.  At McDonald's, for two quarters you get senior coffee at age 55.  Wendy's provides free soft drinks at 60.  And at Harris Teeter, you receive a 5% senior discount on groceries purchased on Thursdays -- if you're 60.  I prefer to remind these establishments of my qualification for their discounts, and I don't appreciate it if they just give them to me.  When I was 21, getting carded at the bar was a rite of passage.  I feel it should be the same now, at 60.
And I can’t forget Uncle Sam.  The federal government has decided I’ll be a senior at 66 when I'm eligible for Social Security, or as they're now calling it, Federal Benefit Payments.  Social Security eligibility is a threshold that's moved once in my lifetime, and it likely will continue to slide to the right.  Somehow, I doubt if AARP and McDonald’s will follow suit and slide their senior thresholds.
Defining when someone becomes a senior citizen has a lot to do with the motivation of those setting the threshold.  But for me, it's a state of mind.  Sure, I’m 60.  But isn’t 60 the new 40? I don't think of myself as a senior.  I may never.
Well, it's food for thought.  I'm off to McDonald's for my morning senior coffee.   By the way… they've learned to ask.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A Dear Companion

As a dog lover, I was recently given a book by a friend, Old Dogs are the Best Dogs. It was written by Gene Weingarten, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author for The Washington Post, with poignant photos by Michael S. Williamson, also a Pulitzer Prize winner.  

Wiengarten starts off the book with a 13-page tribute to his dog, Harry.  It clearly illustrates his love of animals and his affinity to the subject.  The remainder of the book contains one-page, heart-tugging tributes to dozens of aging canines, each with a photo of the beloved pet on the opposite page.  The photos make the book.  They capture the unique personality of each grey-muzzled, glossy-eyed pet.  Your eyes will swell as you read, study the sad-eyed photos, and slowly turn to the next page. 

I, too, have an aging dog, or more accurately, he has me.  Deacon is a 12-year-old Sheltie, who's always at my side - always.  After reading Old Dogs are the Best Dogs, I thought that Deacon was more than worthy of a similar tribute.  If Mr. Weingarten is accepting new contributions, here is mine about my dear companion, Deacon.  

DEACON (1/23/2001 to hopefully, forever)

Deacon used to run like the wind, cutting corners like an Indy car, his back legs flying out behind him as he turned and sped the opposite direction.  He could herd soccer balls, squirrels and kids as well as any Sheltie or Border Collie. 

Long strolls in woods and the open fields of North Carolina became more common as he reached midlife.  There wasn't a pinecone or tree stump that would go unattended or the slightest noise unnoticed as we walked for hours and hours with Deacon always yards ahead, but constantly looking back for reassurance. 

His aging body and creaking joints forced him closer to home as he approached 10, but he didn't mind.  He'd just sit and watch the world go by.  His hearing was beginning to fail, but his eyes remained sharp and his nose constantly tested the breeze for anything new.  On weary legs, he still couldn't resist forcing squirrels back up a tree. 

Now over 12, he carefully calculates each movement.  He spends his days mostly inside, but begs regularly to get out to survey the front yard, or maybe even venture, ever so slowly, across the street to the woods where he used to stroll for hours.  He's always been a lap dog, and as he approaches his final days, he asks for a lap more often.  I don't mind.  He's been a constant and unwavering friend. I will always love and remember him, long after he's gone. . . But I won't think about that now.