I never thought about growing old until I was. I knew older folks, been around them all my life, but I didn’t dwell on the idea I would someday be old myself. I was too busy living each stage of my life in wonder about the next phase.

What 40- year- old imagines his life at age 60? At 70+? I never internalized how I would look, how I would feel, how I would act now at an age I once considered “old.”

I had a friend in college who once said “Whenever I start to get old, I will do it gracefully.” I’ve not seen her since college graduation— but I hope she has achieved this feat that has somehow eluded me.

Remember how in our late 50’s we looked forward to our “Golden Years” following retirement? Because of growing circumstances, I am finding these years not gilded, but a bit tarnished. I hadn’t planned on the love of my life becoming disabled with an incurable disease at age 64. I hadn’t planned on cancer and all the other health conditions that limit church and social activities and the travel we had planned. Several weeks ago I was honored to speak to the “Lady Duffers” golf group’s spring luncheon at the De Soto Club. They were a wonderful audience as I spoke of some of these unforeseen changes which I will repeat here.

I was not prepared for the FORGETFULNESS that comes with age…Thanks, Gary Grey for this example: Upon retirement, a group of golfers who’d played together for years decided to continue meeting every 5 years for a group “Birthday Round.” When they met for their 65th, the leader suggested they go to the Lakeside Inn for lunch because the waitresses were VERY pretty. On their 70th the same guy suggested the Lakeside Inn again because they offered “Senior Specials.” On their 75th, the leader again suggested the Lakeside Inn because they had handicapped parking. On their 80th–their last–he suggested the Lakeside Inn. “Why?” the group asked. “Well,” he said,”We’ve never been THERE before!”

I was not prepared for the TIREDNESS that suddenly appears after activities I had always enjoyed. For example…Grandpa and Grandma visited their grandson’s family. Many activities had been planned for their enjoyment. On the final night, Grandpa was SO tired that he asked the grandson if he had anything that would give him the energy to drive back home the next day. “Yes, Grandpa, go look in my medicine cabinet upstairs.” Grandpa passed right over the B-12 Vitamins and picked up a package that said it would “restore one’s eternal vitality.” He took one downstairs and said, “I’ll try this!” The grandson recognized the drug and said, “Oh, no, Grandpa! That pill is much too strong and way too expensive!” (He didn’t want to embarrass anyone by explaining it was Viagra) “How expensive?” Grandpa asked. “$10 per pill!” Grandson answered. “That’s okay, I’m really tired. Let me get change for the fifty in my pocket and I will leave your ten on the table tomorrow morning. The following day at breakfast, the grandson found a check for $110. “Grandpa! I said the pill was $10 not $110!” “I know,” said Grandpa, “The $100 is from GRANDMA!”

I was not prepared for the GUTSINESS that became a part of my aging personality. I had always said, “Yes” to every party invitation, every request to be on a new committee, every event I had no time for. But, lately, I’ve learned (‘had the guts,’ if you will) to “Just Say No.” So did the lady in this story…Her husband had become lethargic, not wanting to eat or do anything but sit in his Lazy Boy all day. She insisted he see a specialist. After a thorough examination, the doctor pulled her aside and whispered he’d like to see her first in his office. There, he told her the situation was quite serious and her husband was indeed dying. “Now there IS a treatment, but unfortunately, it depends on YOU. Dress carefully in a nice frock (no ratty housecoat) with full make-up and styled hair each morning as you serve him a homemade breakfast. At noon, prepare another good meal (no left-overs!) At night an ELEGANT meal, beautifully presented with candles and music. And…er..this is most important–display your physical love at least three times a week–this will boost his ego. Otherwise, you will surely lose him.” After the private consultation, she joined her husband in the waiting room where he asked, “What did the doctor say?” In sotto voce, she answered, “He said you’re gonna’ DIE!”

As far as the “growing older gracefully,” I’ve tried. I’ve bought all the anti-aging creams;.I bought higher heels I couldn’t wear; I bought my first girdle since 1960 which is too uncomfortable to wear; I try all of Oprah’s diets. I’ve joined “Silver Sneakers” at the gym and learned I must support my “core” as Donna teaches ( funny name for breasts, belly and buttocks,) I’m trying to revive muscles that have forgotten their former function. Instead of losing, I’ve gained–not pounds but new friends–Ann, Nancy, Dianne and others.

The flab still swings like a pendulum beneath my upper arms and I have taken all my size 4’s to Re-Store. I told you last year how I tried on a swimsuit for my sorority reunion and, after almost an hour of tugging and straining to pull up the second shoulder strap, I finally turned to the mirror and found my bosom had disappeared! After a careful search I finally found it hiding beneath my ribcage at the base of my sternum.

So, one aging day at a time, I’m learning what being ‘old’ means and how to do it NOT so much gracefully, but with determination, high expectation, relaxed-waist jeans and a huge smile for remembered youth!

Brenda Miles is an award-winning columnist and author residing in Hot Springs Village. She answers all e-mail comments at brenstar@att.net