The shock of aging

A good many years ago, a friend said to me, ‘Hey, Bode, why don’t you use your picture in your column in the Standard column just as the other writers do’ ‘The answer to that question is a three-part story. Do you have time to listen’ I asked. ‘Sure,’ said he, ‘I’m not going anywhere, so talk your head off.’ So here is the story I told him: Part one begins in 1963 when I was working at Brooks Aerospace Medicine in San Antonio and received a call from a girl friend I hadn’t seen in 27 years telling me that she also worked at Brooks Field. Being overjoyed at hearing from an old friend and one of the best dancers of my youth, I said, ‘Tell me the building you work in and I will be right over to see you.’ So, I rushed over to her building and eagerly scanned all of the women in that office looking for my pretty brown-haired dancing partner of the late 20s and early 30s. Seeing nothing but grey headed women, I figured I must be in the wrong office. So, I went to the information desk and asked if Mrs. So-and-So worked in this office. ‘Yes, she does,’ said the clerk and pointed to a lady working at a nearby desk. ‘Oh no,’ my mind said, ‘that couldn’t be her’ that lady is grey headed. ‘What happened to that brown haired girl of my youth’ Surely, if she looks that old to me then how old will I look to her’ She didn’t tell me the answer to that question as we talked, but I learned a valuable lesson from that experience. Lesson No. 1: If you have a romantic memory of someone, keep it. Do not spoil it by allowing yourself to see what the passage of years can do to a face and to the color of the hair. Stick to the telephone. It will not wash away memories and will’in most cases’only sharpen your visions of the past. Part two begins 17 years later in 1980. The occasion was the 50th reunion of the Brady High School class of 1930 with me as Master of Ceremonies. Most of those present I recognized but some I did not. I said to the people gathered there, ‘As I look out into the faces of you people, it is hard to realize that you were in my graduating class of 1930. It pains me to tell you guys this but some of you are looking pretty darned old.’ Lesson No. 2: It is good to see old friends and acquaintances after 50 years, but the shock of changed appearances can be devastating to the pictures carried in one’s mind of those youthful faces. I also learned that our daily association with that face in the mirror quite often prevents us from seeing the aging process in ourselves that we see in others. Lesson No. 3: In 1993 while driving by one of my high school classmate’s home I saw a man washing his car. Not recognizing him, but assuming he was the boy with whom I had graduated, and the man I had last seen at our reunion I took a chance. I stopped and called out, ‘Hey Sid, could I get you to wash my car’ He stopped his work, walked over to my car, looked at me and said, ‘I don’t believe I know you.’ Now do you see what I have been talking about. Just 13 years ago, he knew me but now, had we met on the street, we would not have known one another. Gone were the looks that each of us recalled’ 13 years ago we remembered one another. Now, on this day the passage of those years had erased from each of our faces the portrait of the other that had been held in our memory bank. So you see dear friend, Lesson No. 3 teaches us that those gaps of 13 to 50 years distinctly reveal changes seldom noticed by those who see each other daily, weekly, monthly or many times each year. After this lengthy discourse, I said to my friend, ‘Now that you have heard my three part story are you beginning to understand why I do not want a recent picture of myself in the paper.’ ‘I believe I see your point. You are saying that you would rather remain as you are/were in others memories and at the same time not shatter the illusions of those who read your column but do not know you.’ ‘How true, Shagnasty, how true.’ I said to my old friend and then added, ‘Hellsfire, I probably wouldn’t know you if I hadn’t seen your ugly face so many times in the past 60 years.’ I didn’t tell him that I did have a recent picture. However, since another old friend told me that I reminded her of Bob Dole, it was quite some time before I got up enough courage to let the paper use that picture with my column. *** While on this thought of the changes in our looks during our aging process perhaps we should discuss the changes in our wants and desires as we become older. In our early years we have a continual thirst or hunger for this or for that-‘a yearning that most often cannot be satisfied because of the lack of ‘the root of all evil’ which, they say,’is money. As many of us grow older these wants and desires change, while in others those earlier wants remain static and are joined by others. Perhaps that perpetual and constant desire for something they do not have is good for a person. However, I have learned through the years that one can become content without those things desired but which fall into that not affordable category. Then, too, I have learned that as I grew older and could afford some of those earlier wants, the long drought of available funds had dulled those desires which at one time I thought were unquenchable. Having learned this I have now had to change my opinion of people I once called tight-wads. Where once I had thought the person too tight to buy something he could easily afford I can now understand why he does not. In 1993 I learned that 13 years added on to a person of 69 made a profound difference in their looks. For instance: At the 50th reunion referred to above I saw a dear friend. Her dark colored hair and smooth skinned face made her looked as I had remembered herthrough the years. (It did not occur to me at the time that her hair could have been dyed.) Then, 13 years later, I saw her again’gone was that dark colored hair and that smooth skin’there before me was an old friend with grey hair and with the skin of a woman of 82. I was crushed. My mind said, ‘What terrible things 13 years can do to a person.’ Then that terrible thought came to me: heaven forbid’she sees me in the same light’she sees the changes those years have made while I in looking into the mirror each day as I shave have ‘become accustomed to my face.’ Could I assume that had we met one another under other circumstances that neither of us would have recognized the other’ Then I remembered again my earlier admonition, ‘In all likelihood it would be better to talk to old friends from the past by telephone than to destroy a picture of youth held in memory.’ Bill Bodenhamer is a weekly columnist for the Brady Standard-Herald. Email him at

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