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Washington Voices

Life not growing old, but growing old is life

Humans are often grouped according to how long they’ve been alive; childhood, youth, young adulthood, middle age, and stop! Don’t use the ‘o’ word.

Believe it or not, ‘old’ is not a dirty word. We even use it fondly, as in “good old dog,” or “comfortable as an old shoe” or “old friends are best.” Just never use it to describe an individual. People, it seems, are never old.

I happen to be something of an authority on this subject. Just yesterday I mentioned something that I believed as a child and added, “but now that I’m old….” I couldn’t get past that point.

“You’re not old,” a friend said. “Yes, I am,” I answered. “I’m 83.”

“83 years young,” she said, “and you sure don’t look it.”

I thought I was what 83 looked like. I got up every morning for all those years and looked in the mirror. There it was, the same old face.

Next comes, “You’re as old as you feel.” Too bad! Some days I feel like 110. What I want to know is, when do I get to be old? What’s wrong with that? Old is really good.

Who would want to go back to acne, croaky changing voices, having to finish homework before watching TV, or being embarrassed by your parents in front of your friends? A few years later, you’d be worrying about whether you looked good enough to attract just the right person to spend your life with; or to find the perfect job that would lead to a dynamic professional career. Then there would be mortgages, orthodontists, carpools and all the rest. Every stage of life had its good and bad moments, but I’ve been there and done that. What comes next?

The passing years teach us to appreciate what we have now.

People my age have seen history in action. I’ve lived through a major flood, Prohibition, the Depression (we never thought of it as “Great”), and World War II. I know the voices of Adolph Hitler, Helen Keller, and Franklin Roosevelt saying, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” I’ve gone from a hand-cranked wall telephone to a phone that fits in my hand and takes pictures; from an ice man carrying a 25-pound block of ice into our kitchen to put in a wooden box to having ice cubes fall out of the freezer into a glass of water; from women’s suffrage to women’s liberation and beyond.

It’s been a great ride, and I’m grateful. Now, if I could just be allowed to enjoy being old, I’d be almost contented. Please, don’t call me young. Just don’t call me an old coot.

Doris Swehla lives in Spokane Valley. She can be reached by e-mail at