One of the advantages of growing up in a farming community is that the idea of “retirement” is a very fluid concept. There is no fixed age, no expectation that one will stop work on attaining a certain age. The younger of my two uncles was seventy-five last week, to suggest that he might stand aside from farm work would invite a sharp answer.
While growing older, an unwillingness to consider oneself as “old” always seemed a spirited response to chronological decline..
A happy memory of people refusing to consider themselves old remains from the years of my ministry in Dublin. Tea in china cups was drunk and cake was eaten in a visit to a Dublin house where two sisters sat looking through old school photographs.
Faces from the 1930s stared at the camera with a freshness that could have come from that morning. It was hard to imagine that the members of the lacrosse and hockey teams had probably been long ago called to a different league.
The sisters thought they recognized some of the faces that stared earnestly at the camera lens. They had played tennis and hockey and gone horse riding, though neither had played lacrosse.
“My friend Kay used to play in that team”, said one sister pointing at the hockey XI. At eighty-eight, she was two years the younger of the pair.
“Where did Kay live?”
“Oh, she and her husband still live in England”.
The younger sister pondered for a moment, reflecting on thoughts of Kay.
“Do you know”, she said, “Kay and her husband took their car and caravan across to France every year until last year. I can’t think why they didn’t go this year.”
“Kay was in your class at school?” I asked, wanting to ensure I had understood the story correctly.
“Oh yes, we are the same age.”
It would have seemed the height of impertinence to have suggested that at eighty-eight years of age, Kay might have felt that her caravanning days were done.
It had been a special moment. Watching the face of that indomitable little lady for whom age was no barrier whatsoever.
Kay would have been better understood in North America, where seniors in the United States and Canada assume that a full and active life is the norm until stopped by death, than on this side of the Atlantic where to be in receipt of a state old age pension is perceived by some people thought to be “old.”
I shall take a careful note of when my uncle finally ceases work, and hope to outdo him.