American greeting cards proclaim turning 50 officially marks being over the hill and sliding into old age. That is only true for those who choose to believe marketing propaganda. There was a time I was gullible.
The morning of my 50th birthday, I awoke in a different body. With more creaks and moans than a haunted house, I struggled from bed. Blindly, I stumbled to the mirror. The face I viewed shocked me awake. The few silver highlights in my black hair had multiplied into streaks. Soft smile lines around my mouth and eyes had deepened into wrinkled craters. Egad, I was middle aged!
Pondering this horrific milestone, I tried to determine exactly when the changes began. Sadly, I could not remember dinner from the night before, but a traumatic episode of my youth returned with vivid details.
As a teenager, I spent my summers at a local swimming pool. The community ran a summer park program with counselors to supervise sports and crafts and to provide lifeguards for the pool. One of the lifeguards was a cute strawberry blond with bright blue eyes and a quick grin. He was in high school and knew that we, teenyboppers of 12 and 13, were gaga over him. Daily, we positioned our towels near his chair, just hoping he would talk to us. If he made an offhand comment about being thirsty, the girls would race to the snack bar to buy him a cool drink. Some even courted his favor with cookies and other homemade snacks. He never spoke to me, but I dreamed of the day he would notice me and wondered how best to stand out from the crowd.
During the school year, I blossomed with breasts and other signs of puberty. The next summer, to show off my womanly figure, I bought a two-piece bathing suit. The first day I wore it to the pool; I strutted to the high diving board. Balancing on the end of the board, I yelled and waved at my friends sitting near the lifeguard. That should get his attention.
I was a decent diver, but the moment my feet left the board, I knew I was in trouble. I could feel the bathing suit panties slipping off my body. I entered the water wearing only the bra.I surfaced and looked up in time to see the bottom half of my suit drift down and hit the water. As I swam toward my errant suit, the lifeguard plucked it from the water with a pole and displayed it like a trophy flag. All I could do was paddle in place and boil with the heat of embarrassment as the rest of the swimmers laughed. After a lifetime, my suit was dropped within my reach. I pulled it on, swam to the end of the pool nearest the exit and fled without claiming my towel, sandals or anything else.
Since I survived my summer of shame, I suppose I can survive middle age. Perhaps, like Jack Benny, I will remain 39. My birth year will be a secret. I will color my hair until the original shade is a hazy memory. I will paint my face with expensive potions guaranteed to make my wrinkles and money disappear. When at last my years qualify me as an antique, I will announce my true age with pride and accept the attention I deserve for living to a ripe old age and for surviving those awkward, embarrassing middle years!
This year, my birthday fell on a Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day. Combining the two events into one celebration gave me 48 hours to be Queen of my world. Highlights were a gorgeous bouquet of roses decorating a table of cards, gifts and my favorite dessert, frosted brownies made with love by my creative son. It is not easy to feel sad about getting older, when you are stuffing your mouth with homemade treats and inventorying new jewelry.
Ok, so I am “older”but now the years do not frighten me and I am following the advice of someone I admired,
“You can't help getting older, but you don't have to get old.” ~George Burns