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On Becoming an Octogenarian

11_Tony aged 19Arriving  at the extreme old age of eighty summers was so easy – one second I was a septuagenarian, and next an octogenarian. It happened one midnight. Since then I’ve begun to take an interest in my age… well, actually, I have two ages. One is the overall age of my body, which is now eighty; the other is the age of my mind, which is eighteen. Yes – I still want a motorbike – a 1952 AJS, like the one I had sixty-odd years ago. (I had my licence one month and spent the following month in Leeton hospital. There’s not much ‘give’ in a bitumen road, when landed on at 70 mph, but I’d chance it all again!) We oldies are inclined to reminisce; and there’s one thing I can say about getting older: it’s a bit like being on a small boat in a storm. Once it starts, there’s nothing you can do about it but ride it out.

I was talking to one old turkey the other day who told me he knew he was getting old because what hadn’t dried up had started to leak …

We’re also inclined to reel off uninteresting stats: In the 1950’s the average age of men who departed this veil of tears was 58. Today, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the average age of males who fall before the scythe of the Grim Reaper is 78.4 years. It seems I’m on borrowed time by 1.6 years.

Since reading that somewhat sobering statistic, when I awaken each morning I take my pulse to see whether or not I’ve upped the count for the next official statistics.

Over the years I’ve noticed what happens to other aged men (not women – just men). They achieve invisibility. A common sight at a family gathering is to see Grandpa seated in a corner by himself, walking stick at his side, watching his happy family enjoying themselves. His spouse is the centre of attention. As mother, wife and centre of the family over the years, everyone is crowding around her – she’s doing all the organising – making sure everyone has a drink, a cup of tea and a sticky bun … lots of laughter, lots of chat, lots of fun, watched by Grandpa from his chair in the corner.

Grandma looks up and sees her hubby, looking down at his empty cup. She grabs one of the grandkids. “Tyson – see if Grandpa wants another cup of tea, or something to eat…’ So the kid wanders over to his grandfather. “Why yes, thanks, son,’ Grandpa quavers – ‘wouldn’t say no to another cuppa. How are you enjoying schoo – ?’ but Tyson has rushed back to Grandma and soon Grandpa, still sitting by himself, has a cuppa in one hand and a cupcake in the other, still looking at his excited family gathering as they celebrate his eightieth birthday.

Time passes. “Fred,’ says Grandma to Tyson’s father as she and the girls prepare yet more snacks, ‘ask your father if he needs to go to the loo – you know what his prostate’s like.’

Next scene is Grandpa being steered off to the ‘loo with Fred at his side: ‘Watch the step, dad… don’t want another broken hip, do we?’

‘No, son,’ quavers the old man, “don’t want another broken hip do we?’

I’ve been dwelling on those mental images since becoming an octogenarian, and wondering when it will be my turn to be Grandpa in the corner.

A few days before I achieved octogenarian status I glanced at the calendar on the wall and my eyes went automatically to 12 January: my birthday. I was surprised and delighted to see that Janet had affixed a little red ‘heart’ sticker to it. How romantic! How sweet, I thought. Maybe Grandpa’s fate was not to be mine just yet. A surge of relief washed over me. I’ve seen what happens to other grandpas and I wasn’t keen to join them. Maybe I still have time before I become invisible. It’s good for us ancients to be able to walk tall among our family members, and to be looked up to as the venerable head of the family – and I had a red heart on the calendar!

My septuagenarian status finished at midnight on 11 January, 2017 and I became an octogenarian less than a second later. The little red heart against my birthday stayed, and so I sang as I danced a joyful little octogenarian jig: I’m NOT invisible! I’m NOT invisible!”

It was just today that I noted that Janet had written something beside the heart that I hadn’t observed before… probably some expression of affection, I assumed, so took a closer look. It read, ‘Don’t forget the dog’s heartworm tablet, due today.” ❤️