Okay, I’m traumatized. I have been stewing over an incident that happened a few weeks ago. I’ve decided to go public with my story, in the hopes that sharing my experience will mend my scars. Also, if I can save one senior citizen from the tragedy I experienced, the pain of reliving it will be worthwhile.
I traveled to Orlando to see my endocrinologist. That wasn’t traumatic. Everything was fine. He said, as he always does, “You are too healthy to come here.” I decided to visit a store near the doctor’s office that sells bulk products. They have barrels of loose goods, like nuts and grains, that they sell by weight. You simply pick what you want, fill a bag with as much as you desire, and attach a tag with the item number on it. They always have interesting things. I appreciate being able to buy a little of several different items.
Still, no trauma. I filled a few bags with goodies and went to pay. I chatted with the cashier while I dug out my credit card. My transaction completed, I gathered up my purchases, credit card, and handbag. My car keys were laying on the counter.
That’s when things went south.
“Ooops,” I laughed. “I won’t get very far without these,” referring to the car keys on the counter. “I just have too many things in my hands to keep track of, I guess.”
The cashier, who looked like she was about twelve or maybe twenty-two (if you squint), smiled at me. I thought she was going to laugh with me about how easy it is to get scatterbrained when you are busy and have to juggle numerous items. Instead, she gazed at me with a kind, concerned, condescending expression on her face. Then, she struck the fatal blow.
“Never mind,” she simpered. “I just think it is great that you can get out and be active and vibrant as you get older.”
I wanted to smack her. I consider it a sign of incredible self-restraint that I did not. If I had, could you really have blamed me?
I am 59 years old. I am younger than approximately 24% of our nation’s presidents were when they took office. Only 10% of the American workforce retires before age 60, so it follows that somewhere around 90% of people my age in the United States are still doddering around at a job.
When did I get to be so old that going to a bulk goods store qualified as active and vibrant?
I knew I was getting older, of course. Still, I didn’t think I’d entered another demographic quite yet. It is easy to forget your advancing age when you live in a community where the average age is much older than yours. I look fairly young. I feel very young. In fact, I feel younger now than I did when I actually was young.
I should have known the jig was up, though. It started innocently enough. When people started addressing me as “ma’am,” I had my first twitch of antiquity. I always felt that being a “ma’am” was a hallmark of old age. When anyone called me “ma’am,” I felt vaguely embarrassed as if I had been caught masquerading as someone much more grown-up than myself. I don’t think I’ve EVER seen myself as a “ma’am.” In my head, I am still that fresh-faced, naïve kid that first stepped into the adult workforce in 1981. That was when people started to call me “ma’am” occasionally. It always felt artificial.
The “ma’ams” started multiplying when we moved to Florida. At first, I was able to rationalize them away as being a “southern thing.” And indeed, it is a “southern thing.” Everyone female, even a two-year-old, is a “ma’am.” After four years of living in Florida, I, too, am pretty footloose and fancy free with the term. I kind of like that people here use the terms “ma’am” and “sir” as routinely as they call perfect strangers “honey,” “darling,” and “sweetie.” It feels gracious, cozy, respectful, and intimate all at the same time.
Still, after my experience with the cashier at the bulk goods store, I wonder if there isn’t some insidious connection between the ever-increasing number of “ma’ams” I am generating and my ever-increasing age. Rather than being a gentle and gentile southern convention, maybe the “ma’am” is a slippery slope to old age.
I’ll never know for sure because my active and vibrant self might break a hip if I ever slid down a slope.
Have you ever been taken aback by the way someone reacted to you because of your age? What was that experience like for you? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a vibrant day!