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Kent Bernhardt: Headed toward sixty


If I make it to my next birthday, that’s the number I’ll have to say when someone asks me how old I am – if I decide to tell them the truth.

I don’t know how to be sixty.  I did really well with thirty, pretty well with forty, and surprisingly well when I turned fifty.

But when I was a child, sixty was your grandparents’ age.  The sixty and over crowd all had false teeth, their hair was totally gray if they had any at all, and you assumed they were playing the eighteenth hole of life, if you catch my drift.

People didn’t live long after turning sixty in those days.  Men would churn along for a few more years, retire at about 65, and check out a few weeks after the company handed them a gold watch.

Women – well, they would often hang on another decade or so, but the high point of their week was a trip to the beauty shop so their hair would stay in place another week.

If all this sounds gloomy, take heart.  It was only my view of sixty as a child.  Thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, who knows how long we’ll live?  And even before wonder drugs, people like John Adams lived to be ninety.

The reason I’m having a problem with sixty is that, in my mind I’m still twenty-five.  It’s only my body that keeps reminding me that I’m beginning my seventh decade on the planet.

At heart, I’m still about twelve.  I still love to play games, I think a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich is the greatest food on earth, and if your child should happen to pass gas in church during the sermon, I’ll be the one on the floor helpless with laughter instead of scowling at him.

Come to think of it, it’s the sixty year olds who have to worry they will be the ones passing gas in church.

I’ve been told that I’m still rather handsome for a man of my age, but I’m also aware that most of the people telling me that have failing eyesight.  Still, a compliment is a compliment.

When I was growing up, radicals told us not to trust anyone over thirty.  But that was a long time ago in a turbulent time.  Now, we’ve learned not to trust anyone at all, especially people who try to sell you something over the phone.

There’s a part of being sixty I think I’ll like.  Children will gather around me to hear stories about what life was like in the old days.

I’ll tell them about the days when all the people on your television set were a little fuzzy and in black-and-white.  I’ll regale them with stories about summer evenings when it was probably just as hot inside your house as it was outside because we didn’t have any air conditioning.

And I’ll point to a McDonalds and tell them about the magical era when a hamburger cost fifteen cents, and the Coke that came with it was only a dime.

I’ll tell them about phone party lines that allowed you to listen in on the phone calls of your neighbors.  They don’t make entertainment like that anymore.

I’ll show them pictures of me with the longer bushy hair and sideburns I wore in the seventies, and I’ll tell them what I was doing the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

By the way, I was in the third grade then, and the first thing we heard was that another third grade teacher had been shot.  News didn’t travel any more accurately back then than it does today.

But I think the thing I’ll like most about turning sixty is simply achieving that milestone.  I had a grandfather who died at forty-nine, and I was convinced for a long time that’s when I would die.  When I hit fifty, it was a great relief.

In fact, as I edge toward sixty, I’ve begun to realize that every day is a gift and should be treasured.  You stop taking things for granted.  And you begin to accept realities – like that fifteen cent hamburger is gone forever.

Just like most of your hair, it’s never coming back.

So when I turn sixty, just wish me a happy birthday.  Don’t make a big deal out of it.  And don’t give me any presents of Ben Gay, Preparation H, or fill my office with black balloons.

I want a card with money in it that says “Hey, Sixty is the new Thirty!”


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