It’s Great To Be Eighty!

Linda Lou Burton posting from Little Rock, Arkansas – I celebrated my 80th birthday in Lisbon last year. It was the beginning of a three-week tour of Portugal, Spain, and Morocco. A hurried, harried tour, to be sure, on the bus by 8 AM; never in the same place more than two nights. But the good thing was – we covered a heck of a lot of territory! Grandson Andrew joined me; he had just completed his last college class and had a month to spare before his new job began. What a hoot! Camel rides in the Sahara, wading in the Mediterranean Sea, a stop at the westernmost point of the entire Euro-Asia land mass. Cathedrals and mosques; great art, history, scenery. The Tomb of Christopher Columbus. Todra Gorge. The Atlas Mountains. Olive trees. Oases. A ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar. A day IN Gibraltar, fish and chips and monkeys roaming free. I was delighted to tick off five world capital cities on the trip: Paris, Lisbon, Rabat, Madrid, and Amsterdam. A worthy beginning of my 80th decade.

I proudly posted this proclamation on my refrigerator door, author is Ethel Peairs Brandon: Will you hear the good news from the horse’s mouth? The first eighty years are the hardest! The second eighty years, so far as my experience goes, are a succession of great parties. Everybody wants to carry your packages and help you up the stairs. If you forget your name or anybody else’s, or forget to fill an appointment, if you promise to be two or three places at the same time or spell words wrong, you need only to explain: You are past eighty.

It’s a great deal better than being sixty-five or seventy….At that time everyone expects you to retire to a little house in a warm climate and become a discontented, fumbling, limping has-been. But if you survive until you’re eighty, everybody is surprised you are still in the land of the living. They are amazed you can walk and astounded that you can be lucid. At seventy, people are mad at you for everything. At eighty, they forgive you for anything. Yes, if you ask me, life begins at eighty!

My 81st birthday this April took a different turn. On March 19 I received the following notice from the Department of State, where I had registered for travel alerts: The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to avoid all international travel due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many countries are experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and implementing travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, closing borders, and prohibiting non-citizens from entry with little advance notice. Airlines have cancelled many international flights and several cruise operators have suspended operations or cancelled trips.

Here in Arkansas, by the end of March directives had closed schools, restricted public gatherings, and shut down most of the things I like to do in Little Rock – such as favorite restaurants, and events and lectures at the Clinton Center. I cooked myself a pan of brownies and celebrated my birthday at home. My azaleas were in full bloom, so that was a beautiful gift from Mother Nature.

One of the saddest effects of a quarantined life are the impacts on the elderly, particularly those confined to nursing homes. I have more friends and family than I can count on both hands who are separated from those who love them and are living the last days of their life in isolation.

Yes, it is great to be eighty, as Ethel Brandon proclaimed. But it isn’t great to live in quarantine. Even the very latest directive issued here in Arkansas, as facilities are beginning to open again, states this: Signs must be posted at all entrances advising the public that they may wish to refrain from entering if they are 65 years of age or older. Or if they have underlying health conditions including high blood pressure, chronic lung disease, diabetes, severe obesity, asthma, or weakened immunity.

Us “older folk” lean to humor a lot; it helps alleviate the limitations. Cousin Dwight, the oldest surviving member of my family, is always sending me “old folks jokes” and I received this one in today’s email: To help save the economy, the Government will announce next month that the Immigration Department will start deporting seniors (instead of illegals) in order to lower Social Security and Medicare costs. A major study concluded that older people are easier to catch, offer less resistance, and—most importantly—will not remember how to get back home. Be sure to send this notice to your relatives and friends so they’ll know what happened to you! . . . I started to cry when I thought of you . . . then it dawned on me — I’ll see you on the bus! (author unknown)

It made me laugh, for sure. But seriously speaking – if you know ANYONE who is “home alone” put them on the top of your TO DO list for phone calls, cards, an offer to run errands, a tomato from your garden, anything to let them know they are NOT alone. You can do this if you are eight years old, or eighteen, or, well, even eighty! Maybe, especially if you are eighty, because you are a tried and true survivor.

And THAT is great!