There won’t be any parades, barbecues or long-winded speeches by gasbag politicians today, but this is a special day, nonetheless. This is Senior Citizens Day. Can I get an amen?
It was created, fittingly, by a senior citizen named Ronald Reagan, who thought we old codgers deserve some recognition for having “been there, done that” and having survived to tell about it.
And we have a lot to tell. It is just that today’s loud-talking, self-absorbed, technology-obsessed millennials or Generation-Whatevers don’t seem interested in listening — unless there is an app for that.
I think what we seniors deserve most is respect. We’ve earned it. Most of us have worked hard, raised a family, paid our bills on time, respected our flag and loved the nation for which it stands, and worshiped a God in which we believe. Nothing particularly heroic. We just did it. For some reason, we haven’t been able to carry it forward.
Lest I sound like we old-timers are swaddled in blankets and drooling our oatmeal, a lot of us still have some fuel in the tank. Despite a near-death experience that has left me with a pair of gimpy knees (it could have been worse), I am in my 21st year as a syndicated newspaper columnist in Georgia. Though I consider the Marietta Daily Journal my home, I appeared in 36 papers last week. As of this writing, that number is now 37, thanks to a new addition in south Georgia yesterday.
All of this after a satisfying career at BellSouth Corporation and four surreal years at the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.
While the deadlines are demanding and ever-present, this senior citizen thoroughly enjoys the opportunity to prick the oversized egos of intrepid public servants of both parties, extol the virtues of my beloved alma mater, the University of Georgia, unapologetically defend public education from those critics who couldn’t carry a schoolteacher’s book bag and to loathe those who rant on social media anonymously.
I took up art a few years ago and discovered to my amazement that I can paint a lick (thanks in large part to Marietta artist and instructor Kris Meadows, who is both demanding and encouraging). I have one painting hanging at the state Capitol, one at the College of Coastal Georgia, a few in private collections and more paintings of Cameron Charles Yarbrough — who gives meaning to the term “great” as in great-grandchild — than I can count.
I maintain a regular speaking schedule around the state and serve as a member of the State Board of Juvenile Justice. I wouldn’t know retirement if it hit me in the fanny.
All of this to say that there is no age limit on what we can accomplish if we chose to do so. At the age of 80, actress Jessica Tandy won an Oscar, as did George Burns. George Bernard Shaw received his Oscar for Best Screenplay (“Pygmalion”) at the age of 82, making him the only person to ever win an Academy Award and a Nobel Prize. Speaking of the Nobel Prize, 81-year-old Barbara McClintock won the Nobel Prize for physics and Francis Peyton Rous won the Nobel Prize for chemistry. He was 87.
Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright finished his design for the iconic Guggenheim Museum in New York at the age of 89. That was the same age as jazz great Eubie Blake when he started his own publishing and recording company. Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski signed a six-year recording contract when he was 94.
Strom Thurman was re-elected to the U.S. Senate from South Carolina at 93. Former President George H.W. Bush went skydiving on his 90th birthday.
I could go on, but you get my point. Age is chronological but it is also a state of mind. We are as old as our attitude and what we are willing to dream. I have written about the New Horizons Band here in Cobb County, a group of seniors making beautiful music. And there are many seniors actively involved in the community serving meals, mentoring students, teaching classes, providing transportation and generally making life better for those in need.
For many of us seniors, our income is limited to our pensions and/or Social Security and/or what amounts we might have saved. That’s it. That’s all. Every year, our cost of living seems to creep up. Cobb County School Board member Jaha Howard has talked about imposing school taxes on seniors. I met Howard after a recent civic club speech. We had a brief but pleasant conversation. The subject of a school tax on seniors did not come up. If we do have another chat, I am going to suggest that he talk — and listen — to Cobb senior citizens before raising that issue again. We have earned that right.
In the meantime, you can probably tell that this senior citizen is having a ball. To me, every day is Senior Citizens Day, gimpy knees and all.