Reverse Birthday Gifts
Giving Back As We Grow Older


November 15 is my birthday. I have instructed family and friends that I want no cards or presents. My mail carrier has enough to do delivering hordes of mail. By my age, a person is on every junk mail list in the country.

Giving to charities means that your name gets sold or swapped. I have enough unsolicited address labels to last until 2500 and I doubt if I will live that long. I also have enough unsolicited greeting cards sent by “causes” to take care of all my greeting card sending for a decade. I get so many travel brochures and credit card applications that I could make a sizable bonfire with them, especially if I include all the magazine subscription and insurance ads.


My only comfort when all this junk mail comes is that at least these “causes” and corporations are not telephoning me like so many others who solicit my business or charitable contributions at inconvenient times.

Now the reason I do not want any presents is that by my age a person has more stuff at home than there are places to put it. It is hard to part with stuff once it becomes yours, and so it is best not to add new things to the accumulation of years. I already have pocketbooks to match the too many clothes I have. My mantlepiece and shelves are already crowded with dust collectors.


I think at age seventy and thereafter we should have reverse birthday presents as a custom. The older person should give away to all friends and family unneeded possessions as gifts on our older birthdays.


I am against receiving birthday cards unless people feel an urgent need to send me the unsolicited greeting cards they got in the mail from causes and charities. Most commercial greetings for older birthdays are ageist, implying it is a joke, disgrace, or calamity to be old. As a gerontologist who sees the good side of aging, I do not appreciate cards that make it look as if elders spend their time snoozing, drinking, forgetting things, lying about their ages, and generally acting senile and silly.


My seventies so far have been mostly wonderful and I am proud and happy to have lived so long in a difficult society. Of course, I must admit that being seventy-eight is a little different than my previous seventies. At seventy-eight you realize suddenly that you are moving toward eighty. Seventy-five is mid-seventies. Seventy-eight does have a little different feel. I have a friend who has been seventy-nine for two years, perhaps fearing the prejudices against eighty-year-old people in a
society that sees youth as good and old as a four-letter word.

I intend to continue to be outrageous in my late seventies, eighties, and for however long God gives
me to live on this earth. I intend to make trouble for those who are ageist, sexist, racist, homophobic, or just plain mean, nasty, withholding, and evil. I glory in the fact that at my age I have freedom to speak out and there is very little that anyone can do to stop me.


I am extremely grateful that I am still teaching at a number of colleges. I learn from younger generations as I teach them. Young people are seldom gray haired and sometimes wear stiletto heels, which may cause bunions later in life. Young people cannot yet envision “growing old with me, the best is yet to be.”


One of the nice things about aging is you can wear comfortable shoes and sneakers all the time and nobody will care or probably even notice.

Here are some other nice things about aging:


1. You get to tell old jokes to new generations who never heard them. You can feel superior when they don’t know about public events you have lived through.


2. You get a social security check monthly and now you can get it even if you are working and not have to pay back one dollar for every two dollars you earned that year over a limit.


3. You have Medicare, even with its imperfections.


4. You get senior discounts.


5. Hopefully, you have learned to say “No” to things you don’t want to do and “Yes” to things you want to do, even when they are considered unsuitable for your age.


6. You are firm in your identity and don’t need to go looking for it like midlife crisis folks.


7. If you are retired or semiretired, you can do your errands during the weekdays instead of weekends or evenings when the lines are long.


8. Unless you are caretaking a spouse or are one of the million American grandparents caring for grandchildren, you are not responsible for others. Your time is yours.


9. We live in times when there are many aids as some of the detriments of aging occur. There are books on tape and large type books (like this one) and magazines if our vision is not as good as it once was. There are hearing aids. There are devices we can use to cope with infirmities. For example, there are aids to help with arthritis, fibromyalgia, osteoporosis, and back problems. These are in a free catalogue Living Better with Arthritis. Call 1-800-654-0707 or write Aids for Arthritis, 35 Wakefield Drive, Medford, NH 08055. One great idea is the elastic shoelaces—you only have to tie them once.


10.We also get to exercise our minds and rest our bodies.


11.In retirement we can take advantage of early bird specials in restaurants and get cheap lunches at senior centers.

12.People will carry bundles for us, open doors, tie our shoelaces, and generally help us if we ask for it or put on a pitiful face. I have been known to do this just to make young people feel good and worthy without it costing them money.


13.In writing our memoirs or telling our reminiscences, we can invent, exaggerate, or otherwise enhance ourselves. The ultimate of this was a woman of eighty-plus in my summer memoir writing course. She was into past lives, and wrote about herself as Isis of Egypt and other historical characters. As my friend Wendyl Ross noted when I told her, “It is fascinating how those who believe in past lives were always someone famous, not just an ordinary person.”


Be extraordinary in your late years. Celebrate birthdays. Give away useless stuff.

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