A tip from a “long-standing” friend, not an “old” friend

Unabridged from my Bonus Years column in the Lifestyle section of The Sunday Capital, Annapolis, Maryland

Last week, I wrote about the many similarities between the very young and the very old – such as shared preference for soft foods, naps, battery-driven vehicles, and sometimes even diapers.  Well, the roof caved in.

I received 31 responses to my commentary after three days, and most of them were along the lines of “Old is in the mind of the beholder?”  or “You’re all wet!”– or comments that can’t be printed here but mean the same thing.

So, what I intended as partly tongue-in-cheek quickly became a foot-in-the-mouth.  And I am still trying to dislodge it.

One guy wrote to me, “What do you mean, ‘old.’  Yeah…I’m old but you’re older than I am, and I’m sure you don’t want to be called old.”

Another wrote, “I’m old and I like it, especially when I get my senior discount – at the movies, the Double T Diner and McDonalds on West Street, where I buy ‘senior coffee’ for .49 cents.”

One of my critics is also a friend.  His name is Bill Bass.  He is a Naval Academy graduate (class of ’48) who spent most of his career in America’s nuclear navy.  He retired in 1979 after serving as assistant director for commissioned submarines in the division of naval reactors where he spent 24 years working for Admiral Hyman Rickover, the iconic father of the nuclear navy.

Here are some excerpts from my friend, Mr. Bass.  “I noticed that you refer to resistance shown by older parents when their kids try to take away the keys to the car when the parents reach their 70s or 80s. Well, I’m 89 and I just bought a new car – and all I get in the way of comments from my kids is, ‘What a great car. Enjoy.'”

And that was just the beginning.  Mr. Bass went on to say, “Infants may prefer soft foods.  I will leave that to mothers and pediatricians.  As for me, I like my steaks rare, my salmon pan-seared, and my chicken fried.”

Bill Bass is not only a resident of Ginger Cove, he is a Ginger Cove evangelist.  He once resisted his wife’s idea that they should move there from their lovely home on the Bay, but – as a seasoned and successful husband and father of some remarkable children who are now successful as authors, surgeons, publishers, musicians – he gave in.   Not long after Bill’s wife passed, he had a medical emergency.  He is alive and well today – and back to his old Rickover, no-nonsense style – because of the emergency systems and rapid response practices of the staff of Ginger Cove.  Result: He is a walking ad for this well-known Annapolis retirement community.

Bill’s email to me continued, with references to all the activities of Ginger Cove.  He said, “Our ‘old’ residents plan trips to the Naval Academy fine arts series, Masqueraders, and City Dock concerts – and to museums, and theaters. The residents have an Athletic Club and a strider’s club where a resident keeps track of miles walked toward reaching a goal – like to New York City or perhaps only Washington.  We have a chorus, and a croquet program, where our principal opponents are Saint Johns and USNA.”

“And don’t forget,” he added, “We have the Ginger Cove Yacht Club where we sail radio-controlled yachts in the swimming pool with two large industrial fans providing the breeze. Not to mention courses of instruction on site from AACC, a book club, a religious book club, and Literary Lite, a quarterly journal written and edited by the residents.  You know about this because you wrote a column about it.

He concluded by saying, “Look, you are the one who wrote several columns back that we should retire words like “the elderly,” “geriatrics,” “geezers,” “gummers,” “wobblies,” “old fogies,” “pensioners,” “oldsters” – and worn-out phrases like “the Golden Years.”  I liked that when you wrote it.   So, I imagine, did the Director of Marketing here at Ginger Cove.  But I have a suggestion: Add ‘old’ to your list of ‘forbidden’ words.  We are only old if we act old and think old and most of the people I know who are up in the years are anything but old.  Like wine and cheese and good stories, people I hang out with grow more interesting with each passing year.”

Bill is yet another example of people in later life we are celebrating in the Bonus Years – people fully engaged in loving and constructive ways with others, who continue to use their gifts to repair the world and their wisdom to mentor and to coach and who never stop giving to family, friends and community.

Writing this as I am from Southwest Florida, where Thomas Edison and Henry Ford had adjacent winter homes, I am reminded of a statement by Henry Ford:  “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”  The lesson: The most important thing in life is to keep learning…and teaching.   Thank you, Mr. Bass.

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