Old, older, oldest

Despite the actual numbers, I’ve never felt old. I always think I’m just a few years past being a teenager. My parents? Old. Their whole generation? Ancient.

But that’s been my thinking since I was ten. At that point, thirty seemed near the end of life. Now I don’t consider someone much older until they hit seventy. And even then, most don’t seem old until eighty or so.

When did I become the person who thinks seventy is only “kind of” old?

Yesterday, in the dentist’s office, I laughed to hear a vaguely familiar song playing. It took a minute to locate the memory way, way, way back in the early ’70s.

I started thinking: wait a minute. There’s a chance this was playing the day of my first dental appointment. When I was four. This is just weird.

The next song was Sonny and Cher. The one after that was Earth, Wind, and Fire.

And I knew both without asking. That made me laugh. The hygienist looked puzzled and I said, “I think these songs were playing when I had my kindergarten dental cleaning.”

She considered that and said, “This? It’s the oldies station. They’ve stopped playing stuff from the ’50s and ’60s and moved to the ’70s and ’80s.”

They what, now? They’ve identified the people in midlife, labeled our childhood OLD and made money from that asshattery?

Then it dawned on me. The hygienist was younger than me. By about ten years. So, come to think of it, are most of the professionals I know. Heck, OutlawMama can’t get anyone to corroborate that Flo was not being criminally insubordinate when she told Mel to kiss her grits.

What good are you if you don’t remember Alice?

Regardless of the number, I’m beginning to feel old. Or at least grownup. My peers do not work at grocery stores or bars or in postdoc positions. My peers are managers and COOs and first authors.

When the hell did that happen?

Hoardy? Me?

(No, the title is not a reference to The Bearded Iris‘s twittery use of “whorety” for forty, though I love that. Can’t wait to turn whorety next month. But this is about being hoardy. Read on.)

A post at Big Little Wolf’s Daily Plate of Crazy had me thinking. She asked how we draw the line between collecting and hoarding. The clinical definition specifies that to be a hoarder you have to collect so much and be so unwilling to shed anything that you can’t maneuver in your house.

No problem. I have lots of space.

I used to be a collector. I treasured bits and pieces of my personal history, my family’s mementos, and objects that held special importance.

But after the fire, I changed. I still like to collect and to cling. But after a few months or years, I call treasures “clutter” and shove them all into the donation bag. I put into the garage sale pile things that should be important to me.

But they’re just things.

I learned what it means to keen for lost belongings and to forget them relatively quickly. I have found small bits of what I thought I lost and mourned as deeply as I thought possible for what I would never get back.

Because what you really lose in catastrophe is a sense of safety. Of permanence. Like nothing else, a home-demolishing fire teaches you nothing is forever. Especially stuff.

And I can tell you: what I cling to now—what I cannot live without—is memories. Even if they’re not permanent, and even if they change before I can document them and certainly each time I replay them, memories serve as a lasting link from who we were to who we are.

I don’t need stuff to remind me. I treasure words, I love photographs. But I need neither to remember who I am and who I’ve been.

I joked at Daily Plate of Crazy that maybe I’m so willing to toss what I collect even while longing to hear the stories behind friends’ collections because the adventures my tchotkes represent aren’t adventuresome enough.

Maybe if I lived large and loud I’ve have bigger memories and a better collection.

But it’s not true. No matter how I live it feels large. And I preserve the memories the best I can.

And I just don’t need to keep the dust-collectors to hang on to what I want to remember.