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Time to start looking beyond the mirror

What a terrible fright I had this morning. Against my better judgment, I glanced into the bathroom mirror. Looking back at me was the late Walter Matthau, grumpier and more moth-eaten than I remembered.

He winked.

As your age begins to creep toward 70 or older, you come to expect such horrors. Occasionally, you even enjoy them.

Sometimes I ponder the liver spots on my left arm. It beats playing canasta, and you never know what you will see. For example, if I connect the dots just right, I clearly see the spit and image of Betty Boop. Or is it Baby Snooks?

Getting old definitely ain't for sissies. It's not for those without a good imagination, either.

For seniors who have always wanted a tattoo but couldn't muster the courage even to enter that part of town where tattoo parlors dwell, age provides wild body art, each design appearing without the pain of needle, each unique.

Still, I would prefer a slightly different vocabulary for this lexicon of aging.

As far as I know, my liver spots have nothing to do with my liver. Why not call them "smart spots" or "experience exuberance" or "wisdom warts"?

My point is that even "geezer gravel" has more class than liver spots.

They say that by our age we have the face we deserve. That's why it's simply not wise for coots like me to look in a mirror.

Fifty years ago, like most teens, I spent hours examining my face, ever vigilant as I trolled for zits. Remember, we spotted flaws we didn't even have.

Today, as long as there's a semblance of a face there, it's just best to not get too picky.

Of course, if you're the curious type, there's always something new to behold. Now my eyebrows have suddenly, and without warning, taken on the appearance of an overgrown jungle. They look so much like Groucho Marx's that I fully expect a duck to drop on my head any day now.

God in his wisdom must have good reason for all these wrinkles, spots, growths and other indignities of age. I believe it's his way of teaching us that glamor is only skin deep. I accept what Emerson said: "As we grow old _ the beauty steals inward."

More important, I sense that this scenic road on which we geezers travel will lead us to the truly important ideals in life: selfless love, worship, humility and forgiveness. None of these is completely achievable when filtered through a youthful ego. Old age, if we do it right, replaces ego with love. What a joy it is to learn that ego is a fiction, a fiction of fear and not really us, after all.

Perhaps Thomas Bailey Aldrich said it best: "To keep the heart unwrinkled, to be hopeful, kindly, cheerful, reverent _ that is to triumph over old age."

Still, let this be a caution. Avoid mirrors. They lie.

Frank Kaiser is a nationally syndicated columnist who lives in Clearwater. His Web site, www.suddenlysenior.com, includes nostalgia, trivia, senior humor and 111 Best Senior Links. Write Frank c/o Seniority, the St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731, or e-mail featuressptimes.com.

TRIVIA

Baby Snooks & Daddy was a radio program starring a) Lionel Barrymore, b) Fanny Brice, c) W.C. Fields

ANSWER

Answer: b) Fanny Brice. She first played the character of Baby Snooks, a mischievous brat, in vaudeville in 1912. Baby Snooks later became a Ziegfeld Follies favorite, and in that character Brice was featured on radio from 1936 until her death in 1951.

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