On the Way to Over the Hill


by Grace Lee

We are never fully prepared for aging. No matter how gracefully we set aside our youth or how vigorous the middle-years, it's a prickly path to elderly.

I have one sharp memory on the very edge of that migration. In the 19th year of my life, my image in the bathroom mirror seemed suddenly unfamiliar. I shouted for my parents. They rushed in only to hear me say, "Look at me. This face will wrinkle. Now it's pretty if only because it is smooth. I love being 19."

My parents stared at me and then at each other. They said nothing nor did their eyes meet again. Each went to a neutral corner. To what? To mourn their own short youth? To weep for a 19 year old who must also grow old and already understood this?

The comeliness of youth was set aside graciously. I prepared to mellow into my latter years with sense and style. I practiced proper diet and exercise to keep my waistline in line. When despite my best efforts, my weight shifted from petite to a next higher dress size and beyond anyway, I still did not require a Mother Hubbard cover-up. My aging shape was kept suitably chic with handsome scarves and hats.

When my eyes dimmed and print blurred, I wore fashion glasses. And strangely enough the first gray hairs were a welcome change because big time and money were no longer spent on counterfeit color. Perhaps most important I kept my mind supple with the challenge of bridge lessons and cross word puzzles and the body limber with aqua exercise and the latest dance steps. Some of them recycled from my other eras except what had been skipping and jumping could now be seen as limping and faltering. Although we ripen differently from one another there is hardly a senior person without a list of damages. Our arches can fall, our blood pressure can rise or our bladders can leak.

At 19, I had expected my waning years to be elegant and dignified. I would blossom like some exotic plant. Why not? All my other transitions had bettered me. My dreamy child turned into a lively adolescent, my young adulthood was filled with promise and middle-age had been surprisingly erotic. I had expected a mild winter season. More fool I!

Yet despite the penalties exacted by longevity, the last years can be some of the best.

The Japanese term for Senior Citizen is Harvest Time. That means we no longer have to work as hard because we work smart and often accomplish as much. Most of us have developed a sharp ability to rank activities. We are able to initiate a priority system which allows us to do only the important. We do what gives us satisfaction and leaves time for naps. Naps make growing old more relaxing than one might imagine. It is both restful and thrilling to still the alarm clock permanently.

The older person is giving a whole new meaning to aging in America. The last census counted more than 30 million of us over 65 years and 55, 679 centenarians. We stand taller and straighter than the generations before us. We also reach higher.

Given the choice between young and old, young is better in many ways. Older brains could use some younger, stronger bones to advantage. "Give us another chance" some of us chant. Well, we don't get another chance. This is it folks!

Each cycle was natural in its time. Of course, our stiff, aching joints or thinning hair are humbling. Finding ways to overcome it, ignore it or to bear it well is the big challenge. Some of us are content not to try. Some of us cannot. But for those of us who are able and willing to climb to a new summit, the thrill of living is not over. There are roadblocks to be sure but the scenery along the way is highly recommended.

Biographical sketch of Grace Lee

At age 73, Grace Lee is an inveterate sampler, well established in her fourth career as a writer. She has published magazine articles and a syndicated newspaper column.

Lee was born in 1924 and grew up near Chicago, where most of her relatives remain. She endured the loss of her son to cancer and her husband to a heart attack in the same year, 1959. She has withstood more than one illness of her own, yet Lee keeps on. She hasn't remarried, preferring not to invite another heart-wrenching loss. She has been writing about the age of aging for more than ten years.

From, On The Way to Over The Hill: A Guide To Aging Gracefully, by Grace Lee. 1997 by Grace Lee. 200 pp, paper, ISBN: 0-944638-11-2. Price: $12.95. Available at bookstores everywhere. Excerpted by arrangement with, Educare Press, PO Box 75086, Seattle, WA 98125. (206) 548-9466.