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Prime Time: Slouching toward the big one

"Growing old isn't easy," or such was the common line phrased by my aging father years ago, a message at that time easily dismissed by his son who never expected, let alone planned, to fall into that category. No way. No how. That's a problem for - well, just old people.

But it happened to the son anyway. Yup. Just like that. Before you realize it, you're there yourself. That fast. Whoosh! Almost 80? Uff da. That big number seemed to sneak up so fast, so soon as to have the tired cliché regarding the wonderment of it all summed up in the unanswerable question: "Where did the time go?" And that line may not be very original, but it is very true. Shock-and-awe.

Sneaky problems

There are some biological facts that corner you, clear signs of not what's coming but what's already there. They just happened along the way. Sneaked in. Among those common problems is gradual hearing loss. Not the "selective hearing loss" kind either; that category starts way back with the honeymoon: "Sorry, Dear, but I must have missed what you said about that job you wanted me to do." Nope, the real thing, hearing problems that result in missed and mixed messages. Just one or two misunderstood words can screw up the entire message - even after a Huh? or a Whajasay? or Say-again. But after a while, after the non-communication, there comes exasperation, sometimes with mischief intended:

"Dear, I'm going to town shopping, and afterward I'll be heading to the Pub for a bump and a beer and meet up with Darold Svenson for our weekly rendezvous. WANNA COME ALONG?"

"Nah. Don't think so. Gotta stay home and find somethin' in the garage I've been looking for. One of these days I'm gonna clean that place up. You betcha. You say you're going for a Sub? Or was it to the drug store for some Cheer? Hmmmm. Strange. Anyway, good you're having your weekly meeting with Beryl Benson. Well, have a good time."

And benefits

At least by this time, this age -post 75 - there's little desire or pressure to accompany spouses on their appointed rounds, like shopping. Tag-along husbands don't get dragged off to grocery stores, which is just as well as nuisance husbands contribute little but controversy in the food-selection process: "What? Wanna buy that junk? Put it back. We can't afford it. Huh? Do we really need both eggs and bacon? They cost too much and besides, we can get along just fine without the bacon. Oh! Look! There's a huge jar of pickled pigs-feet! We just gotta buy it. . . ."

No turning back

Even reading the morning newspaper can get to be a challenge: "I want to know when and why those PIONEER editors decided to start using such small print. Jeez, the only thing worse is trying to read those microscopic directions printed on those prescription medicine bottles. Where's the magnifying glass?"

Then there are the times in the timing for trips to town to attend events. Often the decision to go/not to go is based less on the event itself but determined more on when the sun goes down. Night-time driving is iffy: "Think we should go, Dear? It's so darn hard to drive at night with all those bright lights comin' at you and those dingbat drivers who don't dim 'em. Can't see for doodly - owl. Dangerous! Where's the highway patrol when you need them?" But in this pickle there's often a savior: Yay for the matinee!

Selective memories

Regularly "Remember Whens" become a part of conversations, but only so if the audience is right, meaning the right age. Those who enjoy "back then" pre-and-post World War 11 stories tend to be only fellow Depression Babies: "Hey, remember when we'd run off to see a movie and didn't even know the name of the show that was playing? We just went anyway. You bet, and on Saturday afternoons our folks got rid of us by dropping us off for the movie matinee. And the ticket cost 10 cents, and if we were so lucky as to get a whole quarter, we could get popcorn and pop, too. Wow! Remember?"

Maybe, maybe not. Depends on ages. Certainly an audience can disappear fast when there's young folks there who, when they hear the phrase "good ol' days," know what's coming and want to get going, finding any excuse to flee fast away to their YouTubes, Facebook, and iPods. It's hard to reminisce when you're 16.

Get ready

Such are a few glimpses of what lies ahead for today's pre-seniors - anyone on the front side of 55, those whose birthday cakes still have plenty of room for candles, who can still remember all names, dates and places, who still drive at all hours of the night and retire to bed at all hours of the night. For them, retirement and the years beyond may seem far away now. They're not.

Art Lee is Bemidji State University history professor emeritus.