Janet Sheridan: You’re never too young to age well
August 10, 2017
Our parents did their best to mold us into worthwhile adults: "Make your bed." "Quit mumbling." "Burping deliberately during dinner is not funny."
Teachers were equally rigorous: "Use your inside voice." "Tell Mrs. Murphy thank you." "Stop eating the paste."
Even relatives and neighbors chimed in: "You kids stop teasing that dog." and "Your parents would be ashamed of you."
But despite the vigilance of the village that raised us, by the time we were old enough to legally sit in a bar, most of us still resembled unformed lumps of dough, not knowing if we wanted to be pretzels, cinnamon rolls, or sesame-seed bread.
Even in our forties, buying houses and molding our own children, we were only half-baked; so we still had plenty of time to determine the habits, attitudes, and abilities we would take into old age.
When young, I told my mother that a neighbor seemed like a mean old man. She replied, "I think he is, and I also think he was probably a mean young man. Every day of your life, you practice for your old age."
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I proved her point without knowing I was doing so when I spent years practicing to be a pretzel. In junior high, I slouched around the house as part of my sultry act. In high school, I slumped to match the height of my shorter boyfriend. While teaching, I stooped over the desks of my students.
Then at age 58, sciatica drove me to a physical therapist. Mincing no words, he said my problem was sloppy posture, and he was the man to fix it. The promise of relief from pain motivated me to do his prescribed stretches daily, and I began to see results. I learned you can teach new tricks to an old slouch; but I wish I'd reaped the benefits of improved posture my entire life.
I'm grateful my parents convinced me to save money and buy what I could afford because, thanks to them, I practiced financial thrift my entire life. I'm glad my mother gave me the gift of reading, which opened the world for me and became a lifelong hobby. I'm fortunate that long before I retired, I married Joel, and we began to experiment with growing and caring for flowers, shrubs and trees, an interest we continue to share.
When my father retired after 45 years of blue-collar work in mines and steel plants, he tried to rearrange Mom's cupboards, took up weaving stocking caps on a hand loom for a miserable month and mailed his offspring articles touting the consumption of large quantities of raw garlic.
Now there was a man who seemed to be ill equipped for retirement.
But his entire life he had practiced being useful, happy, physically active and mentally curious; so, gradually, he found new ways to continue those practices: He spent time with his grandchildren, walked when he could have driven, taught a Sunday School class for six-year-olds and became a regular patron of the library where he discovered new authors. He started a garden and grew beautiful produce, which he ate with gusto and shared with neighbors. And every fall until shortly before his death, he drove his old truck into the mountains to cut and haul firewood, which he split during the winter and distributed to all "the old folks in town who need it." He remained useful, happy, active and curious until shortly before his death at 92.
I know. I know. If you're younger than 50, you think you'll never be old — at least not old-old — and retirement is a concept as vague for you as Einstein's theory of relativity.
But take it from my dad and me: you will age as surely as your favorite team will eventually lose; and the more you think about what you want in retirement and begin to practice it now, the easier you'll find the transition.
Sheridan's book, "A Seasoned Life Lived in Small Towns," is available in Craig at Downtown Books and Steamboat Springs at Off the Beaten Path Bookstore. She also blogs at http://www.auntbeulah.com on the 1st and 15th of every month.
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