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The Gift of Age: Wit and Wisdom, Information and Inspiration for the Chronologically Endowed, and Those Who Will Be

The Gift of Age: Wit and Wisdom, Information and Inspiration for the Chronologically Endowed, and Those Who Will Be

by Richard Lederer

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A blend of touching stories, fascinating facts, and rollicking humor is presented in this entertaining look at the jaunt towards senior citizenship. Guaranteed to stir souls, stimulate minds, and tickle funny bones, the chapters include Why It’s Great to Be Chronologically Endowed, Grandkids Say the Darnedest Things, The Lighter Side of Aging, and Jest for


A blend of touching stories, fascinating facts, and rollicking humor is presented in this entertaining look at the jaunt towards senior citizenship. Guaranteed to stir souls, stimulate minds, and tickle funny bones, the chapters include Why It’s Great to Be Chronologically Endowed, Grandkids Say the Darnedest Things, The Lighter Side of Aging, and Jest for the Health of It. Advice on enjoying one’s golden years is featured, from how to accumulate happiness and social wisdom to the delights of retirement. With puns, jokes, riddles, and puzzles illuminating important aspects on the aging process, this uproarious guide also lists outstanding achievements by “chronologically gifted” leaders, artists, writers, and athletes.

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Marion Street Press, LLC
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The Gift of Age

Wit and Wisdom, Information and Inspiration for the Chronologically Endowed, and Those Who Will Be

By Richard Lederer, Jim McLean

Marion Street Press

Copyright © 2011 Richard Lederer
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-936863-06-8


Why It's Great to Be Chronologically Endowed

The great thing about getting older is that you don't lose all the other ages you've been.


One advantage of getting old. So many people do not share my past that I am free to invent it.


No wise man ever wished to be younger.


Americans grow happier as they grow older, according to a recent University of Chicago study that is one of the most thorough examinations of happiness ever conducted in the United States. Starting in 1972, the researchers asked a large cross section of Americans the question "Taken all together, how would you say things are these days — would you say that you are very happy, pretty happy, or not too happy?" Consistently, older people expressed more happiness than younger ones.

In 2008, an extensive telephone survey of 340,000 Americans, ages eighteen to eighty-five, confirmed the results of the University of Chicago study. The data, published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, revealed that, on average, feelings of stress and inadequacy increase from ages eighteen to fifty, after which feelings of well being steadily take center stage. The upshot is that most people are happier in their early eighties than they are in their thirties.

Hence, dear reader, if you happen to be under fifty and feeling gloomy, look on the bright side: You have years of old age to look forward to!

As they grow older, Americans also grow wiser. A recent University of Michigan study has been called "the single best demonstration of a long-held view that wisdom increases with age." Responding to narratives of social conflict, the participants sixty and older showed a better ability to recognize others' values and points of view and to accept change and uncertainty. In other words, as we age, we accumulate social wisdom.

Yes indeed, fullness of years makes for fullness of life. For one thing, you're surrounded by a lot of friends: As soon as you wake up, Will Power is there to help you get out of bed. Then you go and visit John. When you play golf, Charley Horse shows up to be your partner. As soon as he leaves, along come Arthur Ritis and his six aunts — Aunt Acid, Auntie Pain, Auntie Oxidant, Auntie Biotic, Auntie Coagulant, and Auntie Inflammatory — and you go the rest of the day from joint to joint. After such a busy day, you're Petered and Tuckered out and glad to go to bed — with Ben Gay, of course!

And you're so cared for — eye care, dental care, long-term care, private care, intensive care, eldercare, and Medicare.

Another benefit of great maturity is that you're worth a fortune. You have silver in your hair, gold in your teeth, stones in your kidneys, lead in your feet, mineral deposits in your joints, and natural gas in your stomach.

Here's another medical fact (and I'm not making this up): Studies show that one's body temperature declines from decade to decade and that the drop becomes particularly pronounced in the elderly. Therefore, old folks are the coolest people on earth.

But wait! There's more — many more advantages to attaining old age:

• You've reached the third age of man — youth, maturity, and "you're looking wonderful!" And you can't look wonderful for your age until you've grown old.

• Each year you experience less peer pressure.

• There is nothing left to learn the hard way.

• You can sing in the bathroom while brushing your teeth.

• You can say, "When I was your age ..." to more and more people.

• If you are taken hostage, you will be among the first to be released.

• You can eat dinner at 4:00 PM.

• Senior discounts.

• You can brazenly spoil the grandkids and then send them back home to their parents.

• You don't have a bedtime.

• No more zits.

• No more pregnancy scares.

• No more Phys Ed, ugly gym uniforms, Algebra, diagramming sentences, pop quizzes, final exams, SATs, study halls, or detentions.

• You watch movies that you saw when you were young, and now realize that you had no idea what the heck was going on when you first saw them.

• Fewer things seem worth waiting in line for.

• The speed limit is no longer a challenge to you.

• Your joints are now more accurate than the National Weather Service.

• You no longer have to spend big bucks to get your teeth whitened.

• If you do something naughty, nobody calls your parents.

• Nobody expects you to run into a burning building.

• All those things you couldn't have as a youth you no longer want.

• Your ears and nose may be growing bigger, your skin may be wrinkling, and your nose and chin may be sprouting hair, but your failing eyesight doesn't record all those changes.

• At class reunions you feel younger than everybody else looks.

• Your investment in health insurance is finally paying off.

• Whatever you buy now won't wear out.

• Thanks to acid reflux, you can eat your cake and have it, too.

• You tolerate pain better than younger people because you know that pain is better than no sensation at all.

• People no longer view you as a hypochondriac.

• Any sexual harassment charges filed against you will probably be dismissed.

• You can wrap your own Christmas presents and hide your own Easter eggs.

• Adult diapers are actually kind of convenient.

• You feel righteous because memory loss passes for a clear conscience.

• The older you get, the better you were!

• It's such a nice change from being young.

• You are in possession of a gift that too many others have been denied.


Age Before Beauty

Beautiful young people are accidents of nature. But beautiful old people are works of art.


Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

–JOB 12:12

Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.


It seems as if only now I really know who I am. My strengths, my weaknesses, my jealousies — it's as if all of it has been boiling in a pot for all these years, and as it boils, it evaporates into steam, and all that's left in the pot in the end is your essence, the stuff you started out with in the very beginning.


Old age, I have come to see, is a gift.

As a chronologically endowed American, I am now, probably for the first time in my life, the person I have always wanted to be. I think of myself as a "sage" — "experienced," "wise," "seasoned," "venerable," and "well tempered."

Oh, not my body! I sometimes despair over my body — the wrinkles, the baggy eyes, the spots on my hands, the sagging rear. And often I am taken aback by that old person that lives in my mirror. But I don't agonize over those things for long. I know that, as the years accumulate, the beauty steals inward.

I would never trade my amazing friends, my wonderful life, and my loving family for less gray hair or a flatter belly. As I've aged, I've become more kind to myself, and less critical of myself. I've become my own friend.

I don't chide myself for eating that extra cookie, or for not making my bed, or for buying that silly ceramic gecko that I didn't need but that looks so avant-garde on my patio. I am entitled to a treat, to be messy, to be extravagant. I have seen too many dear friends leave this world too soon, before they understood the great freedom that comes with aging. Whose business is it if I choose to read or play on the computer until 4 AM and sleep until noon? It is my choice to eat dessert every single day that I feel like it.

I will dance with myself to those wonderful tunes of the '40s and '50s and '60s and '70s. And if I, at the same time, wish to weep over a lost love, I will. I will walk the beach in a swimsuit that is stretched over a bulging body, and will dive into the waves with abandon if I choose to, despite the pitying glances from the firm and slim of body. Never mind them. They, too, will grow old.

I know I am sometimes forgetful, but that's in part because I have more life to remember. Then again, some memories are just as well forgotten. And I eventually remember the important things.

Sure, over the years my heart has been broken. How can your heart not break when you lose a loved one, or when a child suffers, or even when somebody's beloved pet is hit by a car? But broken hearts are what give us strength and understanding and compassion. A heart never broken is pristine and sterile and will never know the joy of being imperfect.

I am so blessed to have lived long enough to have my hair turning gray, and to have my youthful laughs forever etched into deep grooves on my face. So many have never laughed, and so many have died before their hair could turn silver. So many do not receive the gift of age.

As I get older, I find it is easier to be positive. I care less about what other people think. I don't question myself anymore. I have even earned the right to be wrong.

I like being old. It has set me free. I like the person I have become. I am not going to live forever, but while I am still here, I will not waste time lamenting what could have been or worrying about what will be. The past is history. The future is a mystery. But now — this very moment — is called "the present" because it is such a precious gift.


Distinguished But Not Extinguished

They shall bear fruit even in old age. They shall forever be fresh and fragrant.


He who has a hundred miles to walk should reckon ninety as half the journey.


I am always doing that which I cannot do,in order that I may learn how to do it


The man who works and is never bored is never old. Work and interest in worthwhile things are the best remedy for age. Each day I am reborn. Each day I must begin again.


My heroes are the two Pablos — Picasso and Casals — who pursued their painting and cello-playing well into their 90s; not the corporate titans whose golden parachutes landed them safely within gated communities for unbroken days of golf, bridge, and sunsets seen through a martini glass.


When the artist Francisco Goya was eighty, he drew an ancient man propped on two sticks with a great mass of white hair and a full beard. To the portrait he added this inscription: "I am still learning."

* * *

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. was and still is generally regarded as one of the most outstanding justices in the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. He was known as the Great Dissenter because he disagreed with the other judges so much. Holmes sat on the Supreme Court until he was ninety-one. Two years later, President Franklin Roosevelt visited him and found him reading Plato. "Why?" FDR asked.

"To improve my mind," Holmes answered.

In the golden sunset of his life, financier Bernard Baruch told a reporter that he intended to learn to speak fluent Greek by the end of the year.

"Mr. Baruch?" asked the reporter. "You're ninety-five years old. Why would you want to speak Greek now?

"It's now or never," explained Baruch.

* * *

A young reporter once asked Pablo Casals: "Mr. Casals, you are ninety-five and the greatest cellist who ever lived. Why do you still practice six hours a day?"

The renowned musician answered: "Because I think I'm making progress."

* * *

Let us now praise famous men and woman who at the age of seventy or older achieved magnificently:

• Michelangelo was carving the Rondanini Pietà just before he died at eighty-nine. Throughout his life he proclaimed, "I am still learning."

• Anna Mary Robertson was the classic late bloomer. When her fingers became too stiff for embroidering, she started painting in her late seventies. Under the name Grandma Moses, she had her first one-woman exhibit when she was eighty and painted some sixteen hundred works to wide acclaim before dying at age one hundred and one.

• Also at the age of eighty, Jessica Tandy won an Academy Award as Best Actress in a Leading Role for her role in Driving Miss Daisy.

• At eighty-two, Ruth Gordon won an Emmy as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in Taxi, ten years after her Oscar for Best Actress in a Supporting Role, in Rosemary's Baby.

• In 2010, comic actress Betty White became, at age eighty-eight, the most chronologically gifted person to ever host Saturday Night Live. Her appearance on the show garnered the best ratings in eighteen months. When asked if there was anything left in show business she still wanted to do, Betty White replied, "Robert Redford."

• When she was seventy-nine years old, Grace Hopper was elevated to Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, the first woman to hold that rank.

• Golda Meir became Israel's first female Prime Minister at seventy-one.

• As of the writing of this book, Elizabeth II is Queen of the United Kingdom at the age of eighty-four. Should she rule for five more years, she will surpass the reign of Queen Victoria, who sat on the throne for sixty-three years until her death at the age of eighty-two.

• Ronald Reagan became president of the United States at the age of sixty-nine, one month short of his seventieth birthday — the oldest man ever to ascend to that office. So we'll count him as seventy and note that he left the presidency one month shy of seventy-eight. In a televised presidential debate against his considerably younger opponent, Walter Mondale, Reagan quipped, "I will not make age an issue in this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience."

• In 1962, John Glenn became the fifth man to travel in space and the first American to orbit the earth. In 1998, after serving twenty-four years in the Senate, Glenn, at age seventy-seven, lifted off for a second space flight thirty-six years after his first mission. His nine-day journey as by far the oldest ever astronaut was designed to study the effects of space flight on the elderly.


A Dozen Ageless Athletes

How old would you be if you didn't know how old you are?


The trick is growing up without growing old.


It's a mere moment in a man's life between an All-Star Game and an Old-Timers' Game.


Ty Cobb's lifetime batting average is .366, seven points higher than that of anyone else. He won eleven batting titles, batting .401 at the age of thirty-five and .321 at the age of forty-one.

Long after his retirement, a newspaper reporter asked Cobb how he would do playing modern baseball. "I figure I'd bat around .280," Cobb replied.

"Only .280?" asked the reporter. "But your lifetime batting average was .366."

"Yep," replied Cobb. "But keep in mind that I'm fifty-four years old."

Seriously though, here are some athletes for the ages:

1. In the 2008 Olympic Games, Dara Torres was the oldest Olympic swimmer ever, at forty-one. She captured three silver medals.

2. Quarterback and kicker George Blanda retired from professional football at forty-eight.

3. Martina Navratilova won the mixed doubles championship at the U.S. Open at age forty-nine.

4. Gordie Howe played professional hockey (including a stint with his two sons) from 1946 to 1980, retiring at fifty-two years old.

5. Satchel Paige pitched for the Kansas City Athletics at fifty-nine.

6. Tom Watson is by far the oldest golfer ever to lead the field in a major championship. In the 2009 British Open, Watson was the leader or co-leader each of the first three rounds and right through the seventy-first hole, finally losing in a playoff. He was fifty-nine years of age, and it had been twenty-six years since he had won a major title.

7. In 2008, sixty-year-old Saoul Mamby became the oldest boxer to compete in a professional bout. Okay, he did lose to his thirty-two-year-old opponent, but he did go ten rounds.


Excerpted from The Gift of Age by Richard Lederer, Jim McLean. Copyright © 2011 Richard Lederer. Excerpted by permission of Marion Street Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Richard Lederer is the author of more than 35 books, including Anguished English, Crazy English, Get Thee to a Punnery, More Anguished English, A Treasury for Cat Lovers, and A Treasury for Dog Lovers. He has been named International Punster of the Year and Toastmasters International's Golden Gavel winner. He lives in San Diego.

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