Not a Slave to Fashion

I remember clearly the first time I chose function over fashion. I was in my 50s, ready to go for a walk on a cold day, and I had a choice between a hat that was fashionable and less warm, and one that was warmer but made me look like an old lady. I went for warmth.

I never cared that much how I looked, although for most of my life I followed the current fashion trends. In high school and college, I dressed in mini-skirts and platform heels, and when the hippie era came along, I wore bell-bottom pants and peasant blouses. In my working years, my attire was pant suits and dress shoes.

But once I stopped working in an office and could stay home, I was only too happy to slip into comfortable slacks and loose shirts. From there it was down the slippery slope to pants with elastic waist bands—ideal for an aging body beginning to sag. I haven’t yet gone as far as my onetime elderly neighbor, who in warm weather wore muumuus—those loose dresses that hide a multitude of body issues—but I can see the attraction.

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Now I'm Part of History

Rocky Flats encirclement, 1983

I guess it’s inevitable that after living 70 years you become part of history, especially in this swiftly changing culture. Because I’ve lived more than 50 of those years in the same place—Boulder, Colorado—I’ve seen a lot of transformations. Yet I was still surprised a few years ago when the local oral history project wanted to interview me about the 1970s—the fabled time of anti-war protests, hippies, drugs and (apparently) wild sex. At the time Boulder proudly wore the slogan, “where the hip come to trip.”

Yet, it didn’t seem that long ago that I interviewed an older woman for the same history project, but, I realized, it was 40 years ago, and the Boulder native described life in the 1930s and 1940s in what was then a sleepy college town. I thought history belonged to my parents’ generation, who were born in the Depression years and lived through World War II. It hadn’t occurred to me that the 1970s, when I came of age, eventually would be considered an historic era, nor that I would ever get old enough to be an authority on that history.

But I kept getting reminders. Last year my 16-year-old nephew wanted to interview me for his “counterculture” class. I was happy to oblige, because I wanted to convey to him the turbulence of those times: the anti-war protests on campus; female staffers at the university striking for free child care; how men started wearing their hair long and women gave up girdles and high heels to wear long, loose skirts; and how marijuana was everywhere.

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My Story: OK, Boomer, Time to Step Up

There’s been a lot of discussion about “OK, Boomer,” which can be read as a cynical, condescending brush-off of older people and their views. A younger generation would like to blame us for all the ills of the world. Why didn’t we do something about climate change when there was still time to alter its course? And while younger people are struggling to pay off college debts and find affordable housing, the older generation ostensibly lives in comfort, having paid off mortgages a long time ago and carrying no college debt.

The truth, of course, is more complicated, as many seniors go into retirement with little savings and big medical bills. Also, when we were younger, many baby boomers were active politically: demonstrating against the war, starting environmental groups and recycling programs, joining civil rights protests and agitating for equal pay. It’s true that in the olden days we lived in a world of apparent abundance (cheap housing and fuel, for example) that we took for granted. We could have—and should have—done more to make this world a better place, but who knew things would turn out so badly?

I can understand young people’s resentments, yet I think the world, which grows more polarized each day, needs us elders. Not because we’re wiser than other generations, but because, by the time we reach old age, most of us have gotten rid of our egos. Those of us who are no longer in the work world don’t have to prove ourselves anymore or defend our reputations. At our age, when we’ve lost so much—friends, spouses, good health and/or careers—we know that human relationships are what’s left, what gives meaning to our lives. If we’ve gained any wisdom at all through our long lives, it’s how to be a decent human being.

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