Statistics tell us that many people are living more than 100 years now. Many of the elders I know groan at the idea of living that long, but I know many who are having a good time in their 80s and 90s. They rather like the idea of reaching 100. I am one of those. I'm having a good time being 95.
I began celebrating my 95th birthday early in June this year. The official date is June 13, but the women of my church chose to "feature" my achievement by wishing me happy birthday at the monthly Ladies Night Out the previous week. There was a cake at coffee hour after church on the 13th, and then I left on a three-week road trip to New York City and the beautiful USA that is between Pinellas County and New York. It was a great way to celebrate being 95. Of course I couldn't have done it without a young friend who is an excellent driver and cheerful companion. But with her help I did it and she insists she had a fine time, too.
My friends and family I'm sure grow weary of hearing me bragging about my age. I like to meet new people and love it when they say they can't believe I am really that old. Even the one who said, "I would have guessed 89 at the most!" I thought of the 89-year-old I recently met who hates old age — and everyone who isn't there yet, because they couldn't possibly know how awful it is. But maybe she is having a good time, too. Some people enjoy misery.
Fortunately, many other elders are more fun and are having more fun. One of my best friends, who is in his 80s, warns me that I am running with a younger crowd when I drive him and his wife to services each Sunday. He has lost his sight, but not his sense of humor. I have Sunday breakfast with them and read the newspaper editorials to them. He is totally blind, and she cannot see to read except under a magnifying device. However, she can see the spots on playing cards and plays bridge regularly. Sometimes she needs help to tell a diamond from a heart, but she gently lets you know if you try to help too much. They have a deck of Braille cards and play regularly with longtime master bridge players.
Earlier this year, one of my young friends, in her 70s, arranged a bridge game in a nursing home where we had a mutual friend. One of the other residents was the fourth player and we were surprised at her expertise. After an afternoon of challenging play, we found out she was 98. My young friend chided me for bragging about being 94.
The evidence that many others have been doing as well or better is rampant. I have been retired for 40 years now, more than 10 years longer than the number of years I had a salary.
Sally Gordon, 101, who still works for the Nebraska Legislature as an assistant sergeant at arms, was given an award as America's Outstanding Oldest Worker for 2010. Before her current position she was secretary for three Nebraska governors.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas exemplifies the elder achiever. In the introduction to her 1987 book, Voice of the River, John Rothchild wrote:
"The first time I saw Marjory Stoneman Douglas was in the gymnasium of the Everglades City school. It was 1973 sometime in late summer. . . . Mrs. Douglas was 83. I considered it a privilege to have witnessed Florida's greatest defender of the environment in the last stage of her long and exciting career."
How ignorant can you get. It turns out she was just embarking on a long and exciting career. She had done more at 90, as an environmentalist campaigning against developers and hunters, speaking for panthers and the birds, the mangroves and the wetlands, than she did at 80. Her seminal book on the Florida Everglades, River of Grass, was published when she was 57. But in Voice, Douglas says:
"As I write this in 1986 I am 96 years old. It may seem strange, but I'm very comfortable in the nineties. I don't seem to remember much about the eighties, but in the nineties I have a sense of achievement and a sense of leisure as well. I'm not pushed as much as I was. . . .
"Old people that are bored by the way their lives are going must be fooling themselves. There are too many things in which to be interested, too many things to know about for anybody to be bored or unhappy in that way. You have to do things for yourself.
"When you do things for yourself, you'll have more people to come see you because you'll have something to talk about. And you won't be complaining, which is a bad habit to acquire. Complaining about being old, nobody loves you, nobody comes to see you is a big mistake. Maybe people don't come to see you because you bore them to death." She died in 1998 at the age of 108.
And there's Betty White, carrying on at 88, who is too often presented in popular culture as the great exception to the rule that for most other elders, old age is not much fun. I think mostly it is fun.
Dorothy Wylie lives in Largo.