My Worst Fear: Becoming an Old Codger

Two couples stand in front of a home with smiles on their faces.
Sally Conlon Cornwell (center left) and Abigail Schade Gary (center right) were friends at Mellon Middle School. They reconnected in 2020 and are photographed here with their husbands.

One of the most distressing things about getting older is that you occasionally find yourself sounding like an old fogey. I haven’t yet reached the stage of yelling at neighborhood kids to get off my lawn, but I do sometimes hear things coming out of my mouth that came out of my grandmother’s decades ago.

Things like: That isn’t music, that’s just noise. And: I can’t believe her mother let her go outside wearing that. I’ve even said: Don’t they teach geography [civics, sportsmanship] in school any more?

Oh, dear. Have I lost touch with the times? Is that a natural part of growing older, or it a willful wish to remain in the past? Is what I’m saying and feeling wise or foolish?

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s probably a little of both. It probably is natural to hark back to the days of one’s youth and compare today’s young people with what was normal then. I got sent home from Mt. Lebanon High School in 1968 for showing up in culottes! (For those who don’t know what that is, they’re a longer, split skirt that used to be popular back in the day). What girls wear now to school is way more, um, revealing. And yet I suppose what I was wearing then—i.e., pants—seemed daring compared to what had gone before. At least to my Latin teacher, Miss Lenk, who reported me to the office.

Yes, we learned geography, penmanship and tennis serves without using a ball, along with civics and citizenship. We even learned typing on a typewriter!

But we got no help at all with important subjects like LGBTQ, civil and women’s rights, suicide prevention and bullying, let alone technology. The need was there in the ’60s, but the curriculum didn’t touch it. (We were busy reading The Count of Monte Cristo, Henry Fielding and Samuel Boswell, along with other literary works that could not have had less to do with my life then. The young adult books available now would have seemed like something from another planet to us).

Still, as quaint as some of my education seems now, I wish I could impart to the younger generation some of the knowledge and, yes, wisdom I’ve acquired over the years. Most of it was from trial and painful error.

I’d tell them: make friends with worthwhile people. Don’t waste time with people you don’t admire. There isn’t time. Believe me, you’ll come in contact with a wide range of folks throughout your lifetime. Character is important; choose wisely.

And just as important: hang on to your friends. As you move around in life, it’s so easy to let go of people. You’ll regret losing touch with your peers. Work at keeping up those connections. I recently reconnected with Sally Conlon, someone I had met in seventh grade at Mellon Middle School. We picked up right where we left off. How sorry I am that I haven’t had her in my life in the intervening years.

Also: Read. Yes, I mean books. Read books that make you think. And not just new stuff. Read literature and history, too. Our cultural legacy is too important to let go by ignoring the past. Our future is too complicated to face without knowing what went before.

And one more thing: be good citizens. That involves following current events, voting, and standing up for yourself.

Okay, that’s all the advice I have for today. Now can anyone explain this Twitter stuff to me?