The Last Word

Recently I stumbled across a felicitous phrase for people of my persuasion: “Chronologically gifted.”

Back in the Stone Age, the only names I knew for old people were Grandma and Grandpa. Then someone coined the phrase “senior citizens,” by definition creaky and boring. “Golden agers” was worse, smacking of geezerdom, evoking images of little old duffers and grannies in hats – always in hats – who chug blissfully down the highway at 25 mph, peering over the steering wheel and humming to an oldies station.

More recently, we’ve been hearing about “older Americans,” usually so described by aging reporters who can’t bear the thought that they’re becoming geezers themselves. But that’s not satisfactory either. Older than what? A two-year-old? Aged cheddar?

“Chronologically gifted,” though, makes us special, people to be revered. Although it’s not clear just why simply arriving at one’s sixth decade on the planet should make one worthy of unusual respect. Certainly some folks have achieved a bit of modest wisdom to pass on to eager young’uns. Others were nasty and rude in their salad days, and they’re worse now.

We were sitting in a movie theater some years ago when my husband was suddenly jabbed, hard, in the shoulder. We turned to face a slit-eyed little old lady who hissed, “Move. I can’t see.”

Somehow you just know that nasty old buzzard had once been a nasty young buzzard.

No matter. Whether we’re buzzards or angels, a whole raft of public and private outfits deem us deserving of a cornucopia of discounts and savings. I’m not sure why. It’s not a need thing. There are old people who live in straitened circumstances, but overall today’s retirees and those soon to join them are one of the richest generations in history. There’s something a bit odd about a system offering the same three bucks off a KFC bucket to both Warren Buffet and Mildred the retired cleaning lady. And why businesses assume that Warren and Mildred are both more deserving than the hospital aide supporting six kids on her modest salary beats me.

But I’ll take what they’re offering. It’s genetic. My father was a huge advocate of freebies for old folks. Hey, he reasoned, I worked hard! I deserve it! He knew every bookstore and restaurant that offered pennies off to genial old guys, and he was practically a charter member of AARP – for the discounts, natch.

I strive to follow in his footsteps, importuning my elected officials for perks – when we’re not scarfing up discounts we vote – and taking all the goodies the private sector is willing to lavish on me. Meals, tickets, travel, whatever. I’ve heard rumors that some grocery stores offer breaks on food. I don’t know who they are, but I’ll find ‘em.

Cyberspace is awash in Web sites listing all the stuff old folks can grab. Too bad Dad didn’t live long enough to take advantage of modern technology. He would have appreciated it.

He would have appreciated being called “chronologically gifted,” too. Or, as he might have translated it, “I’m old. So gift me.”

Excuse me. I have places to go, things to get. With luck, at a discount.

Katy Burns of Bow has been a regular columnist for the Concord Monitor since 1999.

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