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March 5, 2010

Up on Hawthorn Hill: He must be at least 100!

If beauty is in the eyes of the beholder then it appears that estimates of an individual’s age operate in the same manner.

Despite just having passed the halfway point of my seventieth decade, I have yet to feel old _ at all. In many respects I feel better now than I did years ago when I did absolutely nothing at all to keep in any semblance of decent physical condition. I still run, walk, and, when weather permits, do quite a bit of demanding work up here on the hill.

But pictures and mirrors and the perceptions of others have a not so subtle way of reining in any disillusions one might have as to the realities of mortal life. Fact is, as one ages one’s exterior belies the biological truth.

The other day I was changing for a run at the gym. I gave up running the roads several years ago because of a tricky lower back and irascible knees. My locker is in the boys’ locker room. I share a bank of lockers with several other geezers. I am there for two reasons: no lockers were available in the mens’ locker room and, perhaps the best reason, lockers in the boys’ locker room are cheaper. I never shy from a better deal. Most of the time I have the place to myself because I get there pretty early in the morning. On this day I had some things to take care of early on, so the run waited until later afternoon. As I was slipping on my sneakers, two little boys came out of the shower and one looked up at me and said, ``This is the boys’ locker room!’’ Cheeky little bugger! I smiled, looked down at him, and explained that indeed several men did have lockers in their hallowed space as well. I tied my laces and started for the door leading to the adjacent locker room. As I was closing the door, I overheard the rascal who questioned my presence say to his friend, ``He was old, at least one hundred years old.’’ I resisted the temptation to set him straight. I really wanted to give the kid a piece of my one-hundred-year-old mind, but closed the door behind me and went upstairs to run. Clearly, it is still on my mind.

I have been wondering what I thought when in the company of ancients at that age. Nothing comes to mind. However, looking at the situation from the inside out, it is clear that people’s perceptions (and misconceptions) determine how they act in certain situations. I have noticed lately that more young people tend to refer to me as sir when, for instance, opening a door for me, or when I check out at the supermarket counter. I do not mind the sir stuff at all. I am aware that it connotes respect as well as a polite recognition of advanced age. Since the decline of civility in our culture is but another symptom of the moral barbarism that characterizes the times, any and all vestiges of a more civilized past are welcome. I also do not mind being asked if I am eligible for a senior discount, since a bargain is a bargain and I will take it any way I can get it.

One of the lessons of my locker room encounter is that whether or not one is suffering the inevitable ill effects of the aging process, perception rules the day and reality counts for little. The kid did not know that behind that beard lurked a sixty-six year old just back from a threeday cross country ski trip to Canada, preceded by a ten day African excursion, now to be topped off by a three-mile indoor track run. Best of all, it is a hell of a good story to tell.

Meanwhile, I plod through time ignoring the outer trappings knowing full well that is never the whole story.