Woodside Story: Ya feelin’ it yet?

It takes us a while to realize that these are the good old days.


We’ve all come up with different phrases for it: “the beginning of the end”; “the last chapter.”

Here we all are in our “sunset years.” These adages hardly summon our “golden years.” We are elderly, achy, worn out, ugly (sorry, but true dat), gray, and hobbled.

So it might surprise you to learn that dozens of psych tests — more than dozens, scads of psych tests — reveal that, even though we limp along, beyond limping, as we crawl on desert sands with bleeding knees, hoping for an oasis that’ll provide luxe nursing home care: “You up for a massage, dahling? Finish with a perfectly grilled shepherd’s pie from Julia Child’s special-occasions files?”

OK, are you ready for the punchline?

Those scads of psych tests show we’re happiest not in our gorgeous youth, as we get swabbed in silks for our proms! Not in our 20s and 30s, as we start to bring home big paychecks, and portraits on the cover of Time magazine, and dinners at the White House, as we shine from our careers. And not in later middle age, when we play jacks on the floor with our grandkids. Nor in our 50s or 60s, when we retire and enjoy vacations in Sicily. Nah! It’s when we turn 70 that we’re rewarded with the best moods of our everloving lives. Yeah, 70! And, it continues in a dream of maximum contentment all the way to 94.

After 94? Who knows? If we’re not yet (shhh!) gone to the astral plane (where we all, according to near-death stories, feel better than we ever did in this crappy mud box). Suffice to say, that at 70 — well beyond caring that we never let our veins be pricked with Botox, or kept our 2012 Maserati Grand Turissmo in good working order — stand back while James Brown says it for us: “I FEEL GOOOOOD!”

Hard to believe, ain’t it? This is as good as it gets? I did my own quick survey, and asked aged friends and neighbors here on the Island if they harbored memories of a long-ago golden time? I knew they did. One missed the Wintertide Cafe, with all its warm evenings of special events. I got pulled into a night of cooking Russian foods in celebration of, who remembers, ancestral nights in that little village that the Cossacks raided?

Others missed the Hot Tin Roof. Well, who wouldn’t? The lights and the merry lobby and the miles-long bar that eventually triggered cops to stand by on the main road to lay siege to all the smashed drivers. (Among them, as I recall, our legendary Mike Wallace.)

And here’s what wound up happening. While all these earlier memories gave my interviewees a sense that they’d had better times long ago, when I switched to a new question: “So were you happier then?” they’d cock their heads — heads shrouded in gray or white haircuts — and they’d say with broad grins: “Uh-uh! I’m having my best years now!”

And they meant it. One woman, a talented 83-year-old illustrator, still bent on her craft — in D.C. and Chilmark — confided a love of her continuing talent, and admitting to a fondness for, of all things, the internet (a tech advance that most of us boomers find perplexing). Other oldsters residing locally also jiggled with joy as they realized … (refer back to James Brown).

Is it because we realize if this is good as it gets, well, that it’s worth working with? Some of us have scaled back on our possessions — just as Jesus prescribed — and we find ourselves the glad recipients of the advice of Henry David Thoreau from his memoir “Walden”:

“Simplify! Simplify! Simplify!” All of us know how this very same homily was adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous with the astute slogan, “Keep it simple!” And we don’t even need a long history of drinking all night and puking in the gutter to know how useful it is to wrap a life around that prudent concept.

You would think what gets in the way of being supremely happy now is our long résumé of grieving. A neighbor of mine, an 81-year-old locally celebrated artist who lost all sensation in his painterly right hand from a couple of years of thrice-weekly dialysis to save his kidneys, confided that he’s immersed in missing all the friends who’ve moved away, or died.

But on the other hand, he reveals, sensation is returning to that long-annihilated right hand, thanks to exercises he’s been doing daily. “I think I might paint again,” he whispers, squeezing the fingers the way he hasn’t managed in a long time. “Does missing his loved ones still engender too much grief to be borne?” He doesn’t hear the question, as his eyes stay riveted on the flexing fingers.

So look, if you’re not feeling in top form in these triumphant 70s, 80s, and 90s, just wait a moment. Keep it simple. And somewhere along the line, you’ll see those lost loved ones again, if not in new incarnations, then in Heaven. Or wherever we all meet up next. Maybe at the P.A. Club on a night they lock up?