When I Am Old

When I am old I shall wear my shirts inside out, I shall wear my ties backward, my hat upside down, I will put my socks on after my shoes, I will eat dessert first.

One of my favorite books of poetry is titled When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple. It’s women’s poetry. I occasionally sneak a peek in this book because I do not want to be caught reading women’s poetry by my crowd, meaning tractor and gun guys. Also to include Guinness drinkers, guys who play football without helmets; where reading women’s poetry can get you excommunicated from cruelly dark beer the rest of your life.

Actually I don’t care for purple all that much. The Minnesota Vikings wear purple. Purple may be OK in Minneapolis but on this side of the St. Croix you better be dead caught wearing purple.

The current political wisdom has it that older Americans are not likely to vote for any candidate or party platform advocating a serious fix of the national budget, because this economic priority has every likelihood of landing smack on the doorstep and wheelchair ramp of every elderly person in America. This where the biggest pile of money resides, in Social Security and Medicare, and when it comes to the Big Fix there is only one really Big Pile to choose from. If seniors vote as a block that will never happen.

The only hope then is that the American economy will fix itself with another golden age of manufacturing and commerce waiting out there, never mind we know it probably isn’t. Globalization has altered the chance of American industry repeating the colossal empire we perpetrated on the world from the close of the Civil War until Honda Civics began to arrive on California shores.

It is also possible we can’t or won’t work that hard again, besides for those wages, on a scale to save the national budget. Social Security and Medicare now have the same constraints as acting effectively on global warming because it means giving up something we have or think we deserve.

I am not old nor do I ever intend to become elderly. I come from a family that except in rare instances did not practice old. My grandmother kept chickens to the last week of her life; her last words were to remember to water the chickens. My grandfather cooked his own breakfast on the day he died: potatoes, eggs, a slice of ham, together on a wood-fired stove. He had a modern propane stove but preferred the pace and opulence of cooking breakfast with old shingles and a collection of branch wood. Took him two hours, sometimes three to clear the entire pageant of his breakfast.

He hoed his garden the morning he died but left off at the cucumbers because the vines were running and without his glasses he didn’t want to try and separate the cucumbers from the weeds. Was between the garden and the back porch we found him. Our aunt, the one from town saying how we should have looked after him better, that the kids should have done the hoeing. That he should have been in a “home.” I assure you there is another way of looking at this.

Despite my noninvolvement with the aging process I still worry about the Baby Boomers as elderly people. We did not go through a Great Depression when 40 percent were unemployed. Now to think nine percent unemployment is so very bad and that includes men and women wage earners when the Great Depression was about households. Baby Boomers did not go through a World War, we don’t know rubber and gas shortage, no experience with Prohibition or when coffee didn’t come from Starbucks, if maybe chicory root. I doubt if chicory root would go over at Starbucks. No sugar rationing, no Pearl Harbor, no Dust Bowl.

Baby Boomers as a class never slept on a corn stalk mattress, didn’t play baseball with broomsticks, save fat for soap, roll our own cigarettes (OK, so maybe some of us did), we did not put cardboard in our shoes. Baby Boomers didn’t know polio, mumps, tuberculosis, smallpox, diphtheria or the Civil Conservation Corps, if we did know Vietnam and the Peace Corps. We don’t remember milk in bottles, when colored margarine was illegal, and only a passing experience with crank-up windows, crank over engines, clotheslines or dirt roads.

Can Baby Boomers learn how to fix a nation’s economy? I do not know if I’m hopeful or not because the solution will be personal, we will have to learn to save string. That is the core political question of our time: can Baby Boomers fix the economy by giving up a share of Social Security and Medicare to save their children? What political party or politician is going to ask the question? That very question Jack Kennedy asked of us at the young end of our lives, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”