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Anticipating 80

By Carol Ritter Wright

In September, I’m going to have a party — a big one, for a big event.

I will turn 80. Holy cow, 80!

Is that possible? Apparently it is.

So there will be cake, of course, and champagne and possibly balloons — but no black ones. This is a celebration, not a wake.

There are days when I really feel my age; but most of the time, I don’t. Oh, I’m no kid, and I know that. Aching joints and muscles that forecast weather changes have been plaguing me for more than half my life. But most of my vital organs seem to be behaving reasonably well. I’m fully vaccinated and stay current with necessary medical tests and screenings.

The mirror tells me daily that I’m an old lady; but never smoking anything or lying out in the sun has kept the visible damage to a minimum. I’ve always been a low-maintenance woman. With luck, that won’t have to change.

When I recall 80 as I perceived it as a youngster, it was oooooold. So old. People I knew who were in their 80s all seemed to be bent over, white-haired, slow-moving, frail, ancient.

But if 60 is the new 40 or something like that, 80 might be the new 60, or at least 70. I have plenty of contemporaries now who appear to be full of life and energy, happy to be able to do whatever appeals to them, eat and drink and socialize and travel and learn new things and keep up with their kids and grandkids.

As I approach that big number, I think of it as just another step on the road to my goal: 100. Yep, I want a three-digit birthday; and I intend to get there or die trying.

People in my lineage have set a good example. My mom was 89, my dad 90, and each of them had a parent that lived more than nine decades. Mom, the eldest of 14, had four siblings that made it to 96. So my goal isn’t terribly far-fetched.

Celebrating birthdays is a given in my family. We all know the saying, “Consider the alternative,” and I am sadly aware of that: my beloved daughter died of cancer at 53, my stepdaughter succumbed to cancer at 43. Too young! Both of those lovely women deserved to be able to continue their thriving careers and watch their children launch themselves into adulthood.

So yes, I will be 80 — and glad to acknowledge reaching that milestone. Now please do me a favor and don’t deny me the pleasure of identifying myself as an old woman. Old is not a four-letter word.

When I was working as a journalist, I chose to never use the word “elderly” for anyone younger than 80. Soon, I’ll qualify to use it for myself. Maybe I will, maybe not. We’ll see.

Call me elderly, call me old, but don’t you dare call me “cute.” To someone my age, that really is a four-letter word. Nobody old should be described as cute. We were all cute when we were little kids, a very long time ago; but now we are not cute. We deserve to maintain our dignity. Leave it alone!

Approaching 80, I am happy with the circumstances in which I find myself. I have a solid marriage to a good man. My children and grandchildren are healthy. The adults among them are independent, educated, responsible members of society, behaving with generosity and courage in a troubled world.

I can look back upon my own career with pride, knowing that I worked very hard for 43 years and retired on good terms with my employer and colleagues. With free time now, I can do whatever seems like fun at the moment.

Now, I can just enjoy every minute of every day. No more high heels, ever. No clothing of any kind that I can’t get on or off by myself. Nothing in a color, design or fabric that I don’t like. I have garments I’ve worn for more than 30 years and will keep wearing until they fall apart. If you don’t like that, don’t look.

When the weather is nice enough, I can spend hours outside yanking weeds in my gardens, building block patios and walkways and rock gardens, planting flowers and succulents and perennials and trees, pruning vines and shrubbery, relocating chunks of sod to bare spots in the lawn, gathering firewood and kindling, picking berries, making compost, clearing away brush. It’s all heavy work, real exercise, good for the body, good for the soul.

In unfriendly weather or when my joints give me too much grief, there’s plenty to do in the house. I have hundreds of books, subscriptions to several magazines and newspapers, crossword puzzles and my silly list of six-syllable words that I’ve encountered along the way. Of course, “octogenarian” is on that list. My husband (he turned 80 last year and we had a party just before the pandemic shutdown) and I can spend hours sitting together, lost in our reading.

The sewing machine gets a workout, too. And I love to do assemblage, making art from junk and found objects. It’s fun to create something unique from nothing of any real value.

My husband and I both love car trips, auctions, flea markets, antiques malls, goofy roadside attractions, buy-one-get-one food bargains, casual meals on the front porch, that sort of thing.

Don’t try to get me going about “the good old days.” For me, they weren’t all that good. I prefer to live in the moment and look forward. If I do make it to 100, I hope that’s time enough for us on Earth to reverse at least some of the damage we humans have done to our planet; find Nessie and Sasquatch, if they truly exist; and make some real sense of all the UFO sightings that have happened down through the ages.

Life is good. So good! Having five senses that all pretty much work as they should is such a gift, and I appreciate it all so very much.

There’s no time to waste. The years go by so fast at this age. Wasn’t it Christmas just a couple of months ago? How can it be possible that my birthday is coming up so soon? How can it be possible that I’m going to be 80?

Well, it is. God willing, I will be around to celebrate it and the many more — at least 20, I hope — to come after this one.

Whenever your birthday happens, I hope it’s a good one. A great one. One you can truly enjoy. Go ahead and live it up. Oh, and save me a piece of cake, please — a corner one with plenty of frosting. I never skimp on frosting. Life is way too short for that.

Photo: Carol Ritter Wright is a retired Democrat and Chronicle columnist and reporter. She lives in Perinton and Seneca Falls with her husband, Bill Wright.