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Welcome to the Sixties
I never, ever thought I would be doing something at age sixty that I had last done at age sixteen. Every other activity I used to do when younger has gradually morphed from ease and enjoyment to discomfort and embarrassment.
Case in point: When I was in my teens, I could hardly wait my turn to jump on a trampoline! I could easily scramble up and on to the bed of the trampoline. Sometimes, if there was a small audience I wanted to impress, I'd grab the metal base and somersault over the springs onto it. When I was recently at my daughter Alyssa's house, her three-year-old son begged me to climb on board his trampoline and bounce with him. Like any loving grandmother, I complied. It took a few minutes to realize my teen agility was non-existent, then another fifteen minutes to find a small stepstool that I could use to climb up, but then I was set.
"MoMo, bounce me!" my little Tristan yelled. What fun this would be for both of us, I thought! I gathered myself for a giant leap to "send" him, bent my knees, and shot upward, probably all of two inches. I discovered very quickly that while some parts of my body did lift up a bit, other parts of my body obeyed the laws of gravity and stayed put. Let's just say I will never again drink any liquids if and when I get back on a trampoline.
That should have taught me that I am not sixteen anymore. For really physical activities, I have become very aware of that. But the real epiphany came to me one day when I found myself speeding to the mall. I always speed — a little bit — when I go to the mall to shop. I might miss some big bargain if I dawdle. This time, though, I wasn't on my way for any big bargain. When I thought of what I was about to do, my stomach felt like it had on the trampoline, and I slowed down and almost turned around. I was shaky, nervous, and totally scared to death. I was about to do something else besides jumping on a trampoline that I hadn't done since my teen years: I was on my way to meet a date. Only this time the date wasn't someone I'd had a crush on in high school. This date was due to the twenty-first century's technological advances: it had come about through online dating. Emotionally, I was still twentieth century.
* * *
In the 1950s and 1960s, my dad worked for a company that frequently transferred him to a different part of the state. There were also times we needed a bigger house as the family grew. Sometimes that involved a move to a different school district within the city. So for most of my primary education, I never went to one school two years in a row. I was the new girl every year. The new girl named Becky Button – and there was always someone in the class who smirked at my name.
When I was sixteen, my family moved from the second-largest city in Iowa back to my parents' small hometown. I wanted to stay put. At sixteen, I wasn't given a choice. I was devastated. It was one thing to come to visit my grandparents and other relatives, but quite another to actually live there.
But by the time school started in the fall, I'd had a change of heart and was determined to make a good first impression in order to get friends. There was one good thing being back in the family's hometown: I wouldn't have to worry about my name being made fun of. There were lots of Button relatives who went to school there. So I spent quite some time picking out my new clothes to wear that first day. Finally I was comfortable with how I looked, at least until I got to school. One thing my new town didn't have, I discovered, was a school with air conditioning. New school clothes were designed for cool autumn days, but in Iowa, those days don't usually occur until the middle or end of September. My first day of junior year at the high school, and I was a miserable and sweaty mess.
Had I ever had more than one year to cultivate a boyfriend relationship with someone, it would have had to be with someone quite mature for his age and who had great foresight. Someone who could have looked at the new girl and seen beyond the weight (perfect for a girl five feet ten, when I was only five feet four) and who was attracted to the hair color called dishwater blonde. Someone who could ignore the gap between my front teeth — a gap big enough to stick a straw through and still be able to smile — and who thought thick-lensed glasses made my dull hazel eyes shine. Now I was going to be in one place for two years. I felt hopeless. Then a miracle occurred.
Mother Nature took pity on me — or else it was the exercise and hectic pace of the activity-driven lifestyle that comes with being in everything small-town schools offer — but by my senior year, I had thinned down to an appropriate weight for my height. I also got contact lenses, and dyed my dishwater blonde hair with hair color. And a few boys developed an interest in me.
I dated five different boys in high school. My younger siblings found that their oldest sister's forays into the world of dating opened up a whole new avenue of teasing. Whenever a date picked me up or dropped me off, my little brothers and sisters would spy on me. More often than not, my embarrassed date and I, standing at the door to say good night, would hear "smooching" sounds accompanied by giggles and snickers. I'd erupt in Type A fury and go storming into the house, hollering to my parents, "Those brats are driving me crazy!" and leave my poor date to disappear quietly into the night. Maybe that's why I averaged only one date apiece with four of those five boys.
But the fifth boy was the one. He was the 1971 senior class president, a brown-eyed, dimple-cheeked young man with curly dark hair, and he made me laugh. He adored me, and I adored him in return. I married Harold Beaman just a few weeks before I turned twenty-one, and for thirty-seven years, we lived a life full of fun and laughter with our two daughters, Brooke and Alyssa. I had a job I loved at the local private college, Simpson College, in Indianola. The girls grew up to be fantastic young women, and Harold had his dream cabin in southern Iowa where he would hunt, fish, and just relax. Everything was perfect until our life together was abruptly cut short by his unexpected and sudden death when he was only fifty-seven.
All of this flashed through my mind as I was driving to meet this date. It had been over forty years since I'd dated. I had no idea what had possessed me to let myself get signed up on a dating website. Now I was about to meet a total stranger, even though we'd been paired up through the magic of cyber-psychoanalytical facts. Dating at age sixty? Good grief, I thought, what's this guy going to think when he sees an old woman walk in? For that matter, what am I going to think when I meet him? What will he look like in person? What do I say? How do I act? Who's going to pay for the date?
I think I want my mommy!
* * *
The road to dating at age sixty actually started on a summer's day in 2012. It was my birthday. I was coming to grips with the fact that I was indeed, now, sixty years old. When people started emailing or calling me up to wish me happy birthday, and then remarked that they couldn't believe how old I was, that fact slapped me hard in the face. There was no way around it. I was sixty. Most definitely "over the hill."
This birthday bothered me more than my last major one. At age fifty, I could tell myself I possibly had another fifty years in me. After all, practically every day, there is some news about someone celebrating a one hundredth birthday. Granted, they're not really celebrating in the sense of jumping up and down, gleeful that they hit that magic mark. But it is an accomplishment. Then the reporter shows the birthday "boy" or "girl" in a wheelchair or bed, and explains to what the centenarian attributes this longevity. Usually it was habits that I don't have, so for a day or two I'd wonder if I had time to change my lifestyle so I could get interviewed in another fifty years.
But to think I had another sixty years in me? I'm pretty much an optimist, but I'm also a realist. I can hope I'll live long, but in reality, odds are I'll not live another sixty years. And what if I did? I tried to imagine a one-hundred-and-twenty-year-old Becky. It wasn't pretty. But on the other hand, at that age I would definitely be past caring about my looks, and, finally, I could eat anything I wanted ... if I still had my teeth.
Remember pre-pubescence, when the boys were separated from the girls, and we had to watch a movie about what was going to happen to our bodies in the next few years? I think senior citizens should lobby for a movie designed for anyone about to enter menopause, to tell them what kind of bodily changes we're going to experience. The first time I looked as close in a mirror as a near-sighted old lady can get, in order to wipe a smudge on the bridge of my nose, I discovered that the "smudge" was a unibrow that I'd never had before. I was horrified.
Egads, I was sixty, widowed, and had an underlying fear of growing "old" and being alone. Who would tell me if I had hair growing out of my ears? Who would help me zip up a back zipper? What if karma got even with me for all the times I'd laughed at the "Help, I've fallen and I can't get up" commercial, and that really happened to me? Are there designer dresses with Velcro?
Feeling slightly — all right, hugely — depressed, I spent the morning of my sixtieth birthday looking at pictures of myself. Younger me. Me as a baby, as a bride, as a new mother. Oh, where had the time gone? For that matter, where had the young woman in those pictures gone?
I looked in a mirror, and for the first time, empathized with the wicked queen in Snow White. I could understand her — what's really wrong with wanting to be the fairest in the land? I mean, as long as there are very light shades of blonde hair color, every woman can be the "fairest." But would it be so wrong to wish for a firmer neckline, creamy skin, and less wrinkles?
I had no idea where all those wrinkles had come from. I could call a few of them "laugh-lines," but the rest of the crevices on my face I would have to call after the names of gorges in Grand Canyon National Park. Brown spots on my arms and legs had once been identified as cute freckles. I knew where they had come from: iodine and baby oil lathered on for hours of tanning at the local pool when I was in my teens, way before anyone heard of "SPF." While I regret trying to tan that way, I'm glad that at least we call them "sun spots" rather than as the disgusting "liver spots" that my grandparents' generation referred to them.
I continued my inspection. Where had the muscles gone that used to keep my skin so taut? My skin was hanging on my body like crepe paper the day after a party — that was, except for the parts of my body that were curvy. Only those curves were not wrinkle-free due to muscles, and were also not supposed to be spilling over the top of my jeans. What good was it to get older?
Well, I had to admit there were some perks to turning older. I would finally be eligible for all of those money-saving discounts that I'd thought I would get at age fifty-five, but then found were bumped up to another age category!
* * *
With the prospect of turning a year older being a real downer, I happily accepted an invitation to a birthday dinner from my brother and sister-in-law. A quiet birthday dinner would be nice for a change, instead of heating up frozen diet entrees. The evening of my birthday, I arrived at their house and rang the doorbell.
My sister-in-law flung open the door. She was dressed in a mini-skirt and go-go boots, and her hair was flipped up on the ends. Before I had time to process what I saw, a roar of "WELCOME TO THE SIXTIES!" reverberated from the interior. I was instantly transported back to the 1960s. Ga-roovy!
I was given a choice of what to wear: either a miniskirt, or a long chiffon dress that looked like something the Supremes had worn. It was an easy choice — I had barely had the knees and thighs to wear a mini-skirt when I was sixteen. They were now the repositories for the upper two-thirds of my body's gravity issues. I changed into the chiffon, and went out to meet the guests.
There were my family of three brothers, two sisters, parents, in-laws, nieces, nephews, one of my own daughters, and dearly loved high-school friends! Only they were dressed as long-haired hippies, characters that looked like they were straight out of Mad Men, flower children, and go-go dancers, and wore Afro-wigs, tie-dyed shirts, white boots, and Nehru jackets.
My follicularly challenged brothers had hair again, and it was long hair this time! The men in the group, notorious for rolling their eyes at playing dress up, were actually posing for pictures and flexing imaginary muscles. Some guys were in headbands, or leather jackets, or anything remotely 1960s-ish. The house was decorated in mid-sixties iconic peace symbols, with vintage cigarette ashtrays and lava lamps to add to the fun.
I was handed a faux roach (not the bug!), but put the wrong end in my mouth. Candy cigarettes' pretend ashes were tapped against giant turquoise or red ashtrays. "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" and other hits from the sixties were blasting from an old radio, and everyone was talking, laughing, and dancing. Even my birthday cake was a symbol of the sixties — a great big yellow happy face!
It was a fantastic way to feel young again, and to time-travel back to my teen years. It was the best party I'd ever had. It was certainly more fun acting like I was sixteen when I was sixty than it had been actually being sixteen. Now I could drink! I hated to have the party end.
So, when less than a year later, I had the opportunity to experience something else I hadn't done since my teen years, I jumped on the bandwagon. Well, jumped might not be the right term, exactly. I was pushed, maybe. Prodded, more likely. I wasn't too enthusiastic at first, because this was going to be outside my comfort zone. I had the chance to be "with it" again, just like a Baby Boomer of old. Only now it would be in the twenty-first century — and it would be called electronic dating.CHAPTER 2
Once upon a time, had I heard of someone over the age of forty dating, I would have been horrified. Who would date at that age? And why? Just the thought of two old people kissing was disgusting!
I remember the first time the thought of older people doing anything that younger people could do occurred to me. It was around my freshman or sophomore year of high school. One day, a friend of mine came to school crying. She was immediately surrounded by a whole group of us girls, hovering, wondering what was so horribly wrong. Did she flunk a test? Did she just break up with her boyfriend? Did she get a zit?
She sobbed and hiccupped, and finally was able to blurt out: "My mom and dad are going to have a ... a ..." A what? We were all holding our breath.
"... A bayyyy-beeee!" She almost collapsed in grief.
Seven collective jaws dropped open. A baby? My friend was the youngest of three. This was the same girl who had already gotten to be a bridesmaid for one of her older sisters (a fact the rest of us friends were jealous about), and she was already an aunt! And she was telling us her parents were going to have a baby?
Her mom and dad were grandparents, for heaven's sake! They couldn't have a baby. Yuck! One girl, in a most ineffective attempt at consolation, told my friend that she had to be wrong. There was no way people could have a baby at that age, she said. (They were in their early forties.)
You see, we might have been young, but we knew all about life. After all, we'd had to sit through the movie three years before — the one every twelve-year-old girl in the 1960s had to watch in health class — so we had an idea of how girls or young married women could get pregnant. But people over the age of forty? Nahhhh. That wasn't in the movie. Our friend had to be wrong. The idea of someone's parents "doing it" was almost ridiculous. Or so we thought then. Never mind that as the oldest of six, I never bothered to wonder how all those babies appeared at our house!
Oh, arrogant youth, thy name is Becky! I can say that now as I look back. But growing up Baby Boomer, it seemed as though the world revolved around us young people, and we were okay with that. We knew everything. We learned it from television!
Growing up in the 1950s meant becoming addicted to that fairly new invention, the television set. Sitting in front of the TV, my generation was subjected to something called "commercials," a lot of which had to do with food and beverages. Along with other kids my age, we began to associate TV with food. Sunday evenings were popcorn night because Walt Disney Presents was on. The Wizard of Oz automatically meant popcorn balls. Friday nights we were allowed to eat our fish sticks in front of the TV so we could watch Kukla, Fran and Ollie or The Perry Como Show. And Saturday mornings found us seated on the floor in front of the TV, as if our little hind ends were glued there, in order to watch Mighty Mouse, Howdy Doody, or Rin Tin Tin. Anytime a commercial came on the television set that was geared more for adults, we kids changed from zombie-eyed captives of the TV to the world's fastest sprinters. Olympians couldn't match our speed as we raced from the living room to the only bathroom in the house and/or the kitchen refrigerator in order to get snacks for the next segment of the show. And the first one back got the primo spot, as close as possible to the tiny TV screen.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "We're Not Sixteen Anymore"
Copyright © 2016 Becky Andersen.
Excerpted by permission of Boutique of Quality Books Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Welcome to the Sixties,
With Friends Like These ...,
Begin at the Beginning,
It's Raining Men-Hallelujah?,
Profiles in Courage?,
It's Baseball Season-Errors Galore and Someone Just Stole First Base,
Pucker Up, Baby,
Too Good to be True,
Bernie-Or Dead Man Talking,
Ready for My Close-Up, Mr. DeMille!,
One Hot Date!,
The Old Gray Mare, She Ain't What She Used to Be,
The End ... Or, Rather, The Beginning!,