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Woster: It's a bit tricky growing old

A feature on a Sunday morning television program stirred my thoughts about retirement. The program involved a thing called “ageism.’’

Terry Woster
Terry Woster
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I received a buyout offer to leave my job with the Sioux Falls newspaper’s reporting staff when I was two months shy of 65.

A buyout, in this case, meant I would receive regular pay and benefits for a certain number of months but would have no job. Nancy and I talked it over. Once I got used to the notion that someone would pay me as much not to work for them as to work for them (although for a shorter time), it made sense. I didn’t feel old, though, and I was not ready to retire.

It worked out well. It worked because the Mitchell Republic asked me to write columns for them. It worked because I qualified for Medicare before my severance ran out. And it worked because within a few months, I found a job in state government. I left the state job shortly before I turned 71. I still did not feel old.

For the first several months of actual retirement, I awoke each morning thinking I should be going to work somewhere. I got over that, but I was surprised how much my job had been my identity.

Many contemporaries have been retired much longer than I have. Some left jobs at age 62. Another substantial number are still working. I talked to a boyhood friend at a funeral last summer. He is my age. During our conversation he mentioned that he had been combining with a couple of grandkids the day before the funeral. Impressive.

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A feature on a Sunday morning television program stirred my thoughts about retirement. The program involved a thing called “ageism.’’ One online definition says ageism is stereotyping or discriminating against individuals or groups based on their age.

A person featured in the Sunday morning program on ageism was 64 years old. She looked fit and alert. She seemed to have her wits about her. She didn’t look like someone who would experience discrimination because of age, and she didn’t fit any stereotype I ever had of an old person. Still, she said she had experienced ageism. Others on the program also said it happens to older folks.

I read that the term “ageism’’ was coined in 1969. That was the same year a protest leader from the University of California at Berkley warned other young people not to trust anyone over 30. I was 25 that year. I worked for The Associated Press then, and a couple of the best news folks I knew were considerably older. I never thought of them as old, just good at their jobs. I suppose there were some young reporters who thought those guys were too old.

I confess I did think my generation had it all together back then. We would save the country. Shucks, we would save the world. If our elders didn’t approve, well, I figured they should follow the advice of Bob Dylan, who sang, “Your old road is rapidly aging. Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend a hand, for the times they are a-changin’.’’

That sounds like a knock on old folks. But in my life, I learned to respect age and experience. I admit some young people I worked with at the state grew impatient when I struggled with new technology. Was that ageism?

It is a bit tricky growing old these days. Some younger folks, seeking jobs in sometimes tight markets, want the elderly to move out of their way. Isn’t that how it goes? Of course, that would mean more retirees drawing pensions. My generation is just living a long time, I guess.

Even as my 79th birthday approaches, I really do not often feel old. I am slower than I once was. I hit the hay earlier at night, and I groan more than ever when I roll out in the morning. I could not handle a full-time job for even one week. I guess that makes me old.

My granddaughters and great-granddaughters seem not to notice my age. If others refer to me as old, I don’t hear it. Of course, at my age, I don’t hear a lot of things.

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Read more of Terry Woster's commentary here ...
As things were, once we had paychecks in hand, we carved out money for rent, groceries, the laundromat and the Sunday collection plate.

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Opinion by Terry Woster
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