Ten, twelve years ago I self-identified as old. Not one old person mocked me for this. Perhaps they extended courtesy because they were woke. I’m not sure. Anyway I ended up writing a metaphorictype series of entries, eventually compiling them in a book. A theme, aside from winter, was my trending into old age―old age as the Big Winter. The title is Maine in Winter. It is part of a series comprised in four creative nonfiction books, called Maine Metaphor. There is no fiction in these books.
When I began compiling this book recently I saw that this was a bogus self-identification, off base, somehow wrong. Basically, ten, twelve years ago I thought I was old. Fortunately the truly old did not seem to mind. (I will not call them the born old.) Either that or they were being kind; generally old people will be kind once they are worn out, lacking energy, depleted of ambition, motivation, and just interested in supper. You can tell when we are truly old because our generation calls dinner “supper.”
Anyway, I got started on this recognition of my then premature self-identification as a result of engaging with Terry Lindvall’s illustrated book, Old Men of the Bible, the original subtitle of which was We’re Not Getting Better, We’re Getting Older. Perhaps the editor had objected to that subtitle. “We were simply looking at some old men [in the Bible] and realizing that in many respects they really didn’t become better men.” (p. 2) Apparently, if you can imagine, even God’s eye’s apple, King David, did not become a better man. In fact, he seemed to decline in honorable manhood. According to Old Men of the Bible writers, Dr. Lindvall and Pastor Craig Wansink, David was unforgiving in old age as he was dying. The book’s illustrator is John Lawing. These authors appear to be buddies from the seventies and so must be old themselves. In accordance with woke attitudes they are permitted to critique their own ethnic group—old—without being canceled or otherwise made to do without Social Security or Medicare. Besides David old men in the Bible with chapters dedicated to them include Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Solomon, and others.
I have known some old Mainers in whom I’ve recognized such talents for not getting better, and I’ve experienced a lack of betterment in myself these past decades. Or, perhaps slowly, it has been revealed to me —that which perhaps was once revealed to everyone around me.
After we moved to Maine nearly four decades ago, I noticed Old Mainers. There were a lot of them. Their population seemed to grow as our pilgrimage here extended. Today, behind West Virginia, Maine has the second oldest population ratio in the USA. After nearly a decade in Maine, I wrote a Maine Metaphor entry about an old couple I knew and called it “Old Mainers.” This is a verifiable category of persons on the Maine.gov site. These are those who don’t have energy enough to identify as old on paper. The census takers handle that problem for them. Old people find bureaucratic documentation too complex and fatiguing. Plus, we don’t get paid to do it.
In the early 90’s I wrote:
“Harley’s wife Henrietta is seventy. She has iron-gray hair, straight-cut across the back like a man’s, and eyes magnified large by her glasses. Sometimes they give her the look of a girl. Such wide-eyed appearances are appealing. Henrietta, though tough as any old Mainer, seems wistfully appealing—she seems a bit lonely. She says I should visit more often in ‘the boondocks.’
“Her husband Harley shows me two apple trees and two cherries, planted together along the garden’s edge. There is a marked difference in the growth rate of these two cherry trees—planted at the same time. One is tall and full, taller than me; the other is thickly foliaged but scarcely knee-high.”
I then wrote:
“It may be that the difference between these two trees is owing to a lack of auxin, the growth hormone. According to my biology textbook, auxin (from the Greek meaning “to increase”) is produced in a part of the developing plant where cell elongation takes place. If that portion is damaged or missing, the stimulus of auxin ceases. The discovery of this chemical has encouraged experimental adjustments to just about everything that grows. Without it cells can divide almost endlessly but cannot elongate and become specialized, inhibiting budding. Why is scientific knowledge so often applied to some artificial purpose, as in the application of auxin to the eyes of potatoes? This process prevents sprouting and so increases the shelf life of potatoes … while destroying fertility. In addition to specialization of cells, the effect of auxin can be seen in the wandering Jew—the houseplant which literally turns its tips toward the sun, following as if to watch the great arcing movements across the sky. This is Harley’s life in his rambling, elegant but crumbling little homestead—an old Maine connected dwelling. It’s anything but artificial.”
Harley’s house was beginning to resemble the old potato barns in Aroostook County, collapsing from the weight of snow, the weight of winter as another Maine author has put it. As I think back over that section on Harley and Henrietta, and consider other Maine Metaphors I’ve written, I’m recalling Ohio fever, in which the population of Maine shrunk when masses of young people left the state to go to the Midwest and more fertile rock-free soils, leaving a population gap so great the state would not recap and recover enough to achieve one million until after 100 years later.
On reading these entries about Harley and Henrietta, I’m shocked to see that Harley was only 62 years old at the time of our visit! This is how old I was during the “big winter,” portion of my book when I began self-identifying as old. So, I was writing about Harley when I was middle-aged, and mistakenly thought Harley was old, despite his industry, ingenuity, cleverness, and homestead supplying food for them both.
Maybe, if they give me auxin I can extend life by self-identifying as young? But it would mean giving up Medicare and Social Security. On the other hand, the government may pay for hormonal transitioning and plastic surgery? If I attend grade school I will be able to get free meals. Maybe even breakfast and lunch. When asked to fill out forms, I will self-identify, saying I don’t know how to spell yet. I may even become an activist. LGBNT + transY!
In an Old Men of the Bible chapter about Judah’s Hezekiah we learn about this old King’s pride in Judah’s possessions, the outlay of which he shared with some Babylonian emissaries. This happened after God assuaged his grief by extending his life when he was first near his end. It seems the Babylonians kept records of the kingdom’s treasures, did not forget… with some captivating repercussions. So …I may give up on my re-identification project.
Recently I e-mailed one of our sons, saying, “We’ve been getting lazier and lazier. It may have something to do with space/time, energy/matter. Maybe the theory of relativity: Your father says we are relatively old.”
He wrote back these clarifying words: “LAZY!! You’re supposed to be tired, worn out, not lazy. But either way, don’t worry, God is just pretending that you are old. It might really really seem like you are old, but that’s just because God pretends really really good. You just have to wait until he starts pretending that you are new.”
Apparently God now identifies me as old and I must agree.
Link for Biblical Old Men: