What is a senior citizen?

November 6, 2011

“How come you old guys are still working? Last week I had a customer in here from Montreal who bought a load of scaffold. He was starting a new house at 85.”

To say this comment took me aback was an understatement. The owner of the Ottawa scaffold supply company, a genial man of about my age, greeted his customers in person, wrote his bills out in longhand and used a filing cabinet. Yet he saw me as old. What’s more, he lumped me in with an eighty-five year-old.

I wanted to say, “But I’m not of that generation. I’m of the younger generation, a baby boomer. I use a Macbook Pro laptop!” As long as I don’t look in a mirror I’m still the youngest kid in the class. But gray hair and a few years of retirement tends to blur that distinction for others, I guess.

It’s not without its advantages: I don’t get carded at Value Village any more on Tuesdays when I ask for the senior’s 20% discount.

And the income tax break for pensioners is a real help.

But Bangs Fuels has a not-so-fast attitude, and cranked my fuel bill up a notch when Bet and I took ownership of the property. My mother is a senior on their books, but I am not.

Last week when Mom and I were guests at the Portland Senior Citizens lunch I got to speak to the group. They were more polite than most classes I have had, though this might have been because of President Edgar “Thor” Connell’s firm hand on the gavel. While we were setting up one man walked by the screen, looked closely at a shot of three of us blasting down a snow trail on the Ranger and muttered, “That looks like fun.” They liked the aerial shots of the farm in the opening of the slide show, got a kick out of the sugar-making, and agreed that one of Rob Ewart’s low-light photographs had a Norman Rockwell quality.

With a bit of time left at the end I offered a choice of three short stories. They went with “Why nobody will take Bet fishing – more than once.” They seemed to get a kick out of it. For the ten minutes it took me read the story they were just like a high school class.

Warmed by our welcome to this most congenial group, I decided to ask family members and a few correspondents on the Internet for their views on the subject of “What is a senior citizen?”

My former classmate and fellow Old Eight’s member Dave Roberts weighed in from Toronto:

“As Jane and I worked our way through our 50s – we are now 62 – we started to become conscious of our seniority and how others perceived the senior citizen. As you can understand, we had no preconceived notions or definitions. Early retirement and pension questions gave us some early warning signals and benchmarks. Being offered a seat on the bus, to my acute embarrassment, set another. Others came from the different ages attached to discounts, at places like Tim Horton’s, movie theatres, and that ultimate test-track, Florida. Of course too, at any gathering of our peers, including our fabled 8s, we all talk about seniority and our respective aches and ailments. Combine it all: we have a definition.”

My wife offered the following critique of my form during a recent session of shingling:

“You’re too old to be on a roof. Have you ever seen yourself walk around up there? You make little, lurchy steps and look as if you are terrified. Perhaps you are. But there is also a good deal of terror involved on the part of the observer. I find it really nerve wracking to be the one on the ground.”

To get the perspective of someone in her eighties, I asked my mother to define the senior citizen.

“It’s primarily a matter of health. At seventy I did not feel like a senior, though at eighty-five I feel old. But some days I feel pretty good. I think I’m in good health for my age. In my last year of teaching when I had a huge special ed class I felt a lot older than I do now.”

Moored4 from Washington wrote:

“I used to think that anyone over 50 was old or “a senior citizen” but then at 60 I redefined that to be the age of 70, but now that I’m 67 I think maybe it ought to be 80 years old. I still have the same thought patterns that I had when I was in my mid-20s, I still do all the things I have always done, do my own tractor work and repair, break my own horses, play pranks on my friends. So maybe at 90 you might be a senior! I guess as long as the buzzards aren’t sitting on my stomach I’ll still think I’m young.”

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2 Responses to “What is a senior citizen?”

  1. Jack Owen Says:

    Defining old age is as elusive as answering: “How long is a piece of string?”
    Next week I’m scheduled to hit the 74 mark. This week I had the option of renewing Juanita’s vehicle registration (my Florida truck) for one or two years. I declined the invitation to lend the government my money interest-free for a year. Like the old gag, I don’t buy green bananas ‘cos you never know…
    At a recent writer’s workshop we were challenged to summarise our life for a suitable tombstone inscription. I fancy mine will read: “He Never Grew Up!”

  2. rodcros Says:

    I guess mine would read: “By the time I’d figured out how to do it, the job was done.”


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