The average life expectancy of an American woman in 1921 was 60.1 years. Since I am currently 50-point-I don’t want to do the math years old, that means that a mere 100 years ago I would be an old woman, damned near death. As recently as 1907, I would be OLDER than the average living American woman. Old Lady Duff, they’d say, that creepy old lady who paints her toenails blue like she’s some kind of young person. Can’t she just trip off into her dotage with any kind of dignity?
They sure as shootin’ wouldn’t expect me to be working three jobs and looking after teenagers – why isn’t my 17-year-old daughter married with children yet? Why am I still wasting an education on her? Doesn’t she know if she waits any longer she’ll be an old maid and no man will want her? Who is going to work the farm, if not strapping grandsons? Old Lady Duff can’t be expected to pick okra at HER age.
Modern medicine has extended our lifespans to unreasonable degrees. At the moment it’s reasonable for me to expect to see my 80th birthday. Probably closer to 85, since I don’t smoke or drink excessively and I always wear my seatbelt. I’ve had the genetic testing and I don’t have any of the known marker genes for cancer. I should, therefore, have many decades ahead of me. Realistically, I know that if I’m going to finance that much more time on Earth, I need to keep on working a while longer.
I stubbornly insist on calling myself middle-aged and will for some time, though I’m only middle-aged if I live to over 100. In many ways, I feel like I am at the prime of my life. I’m young enough that my body doesn’t inhibit me from doing anything except fitting into single-digit sized clothing. I can run (slowly and awkwardly, but that has always been so) I can jump (I have a 3-inch vertical!) and I’m strong enough to lift anything in my orbit that needs lifting. I still don’t have grey hair, and a combination of oily skin, staying out of the sun, and lots of fat-based padding means I have no wrinkles. I am old enough to have finished paying most of my dues, my college loans are long gone, and I have enough money do more or less do whatever I want whenever I want, so long as my tastes remain modest.
But I am tired. Hoo boy, am I tired. Biologically, my body is gearing up for a medically-prolonged old age. I’ve got arthritis in one finger and one toe. Occasionally my back spasms for no good reason. My feet swell if I wear heels for more than a half hour. If I’m up past 10pm I know I’m going to suffer for it the next few days. I can do everything I need to do and everything I want to do, and a few things I am forced to do, but that doesn’t mean I want to or that it won’t hurt the next day.
If I had stayed in my first job, which actually had a pension attached to it, I would be a mere four years away from a permanent, financed retirement. At the ripe old age of 54, I could settle into my Old Lady Duff years, crocheting afghans and wringing the necks of chickens for my dinner.
But I have miles to go before I sleep a decent number of hours every night. Never mind that evolution hasn’t caught up to the doctors that will help keep me healthy until then. I was designed to go to sleep a whole lot earlier than I will. And thank God for that – there’s so much to see, and I can only do that with my eyes open.
 Seriously, I am not making these numbers up. See: Life expectancy in the USA, 1900-98 (berkeley.edu). It wasn’t until 1949 that a woman could reasonably expect to see 70.
 This is the kind of language old people in 1921 would use.
 Say what you want about okra, but I have no idea where else you can get your slimy vegetable quota.
 Except on those bad days.
 Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert… | Poetry Foundation
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