I can’t believe it. This morning my husband comfortably referred to himself as elderly. “Imposserous!” I thought, reverting to the childhood movie of The Wizard of Oz. (Go away Mr. Freud.) My husband and I are the same age and I’m certainly not elderly. That’s what my mother is at eighty-six.
What started the conversation was I told him about a board meeting I was in and a new marketing presentation being presented to Neighborhood House. The 118 year old (elderly) nonprofit provides day care for children in one building and day care for adults who need supervision in an adjoining building. From time to time there’s been a bit of a struggle to portray who Neighborhood House cares for in the adult center because they vary widely from people in their twenties with brain injuries to people in their eighties with Alzheimer’s.
A very good advertising company is redoing our logo and marketing materials. A presentation was made of what aspects of our services should be made prominent and in that discussion it was stated we serve children and the not so young. The phrase totally stopped me. The “not so young” part.
Recently I found a new supplement in the local paper called Spry. Who, I wondered, were they aiming at as their demographic? On the cover was trainer Bob Harper with shirt-ripping biceps and elbow to wrist tattoos. Did they want his contemporaries? On the sidebar was a too young to be considered spry woman standing on a surf board with a headline of “The Best Sports for Baby Boomers.” Oh, they want me to read Spry. The word spry does not specifically denote an age, but its connotation is very strong, so I believe they want readers my age and they believe they are complimenting me by using the word spry. I hear the editors whispering, “Ick, you are old now, but at least you’re spry and nimble! You can still move! Read this and we’ll tell you how to live another month.”
My early teenage granddaughters think anyone over twenty-one is not so young and they probably think spry starts at thirty. I don’t think their view can be totally dismissed because after all, they are right from their view. I also don’t think ad executives control the real meaning of not so young or spry. Nor do I. So I’m not chastising anyone. How to define populations by age is at best a literary challenge and at worst inept or cruel name calling.
Until we can come up with better words I like being referred to as an adult. And, dear husband, while I could fall into the dictionary definition of elderly (having lived more years than I will live), I do not like the word. But I will consider calling myself an elder, meaning one who is older. The third definition of elder is “one having authority by virtue of age.” Though the people coining the phrase “not so young,” and naming a magazine Spry probably think my generation should hit the back meadow, when they reach my esteemed age of rugged survival I bet they’ll be glad we nagged and whined our way through this battle, too.