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Forever Young?

An aging baby boomer discovers that true wisdom never goes out of style.

An artist's rendering of Linda and her young colleague

The first gray hairs didn't do it. (I dyed them.) Or when one of my 20-something colleagues at the bookstore where I work called my shoes, "So eighties." (Was that a compliment?) Or even those times I slipped up and called CDs, records. None of that made me feel dated.

Then one day I was talking about a Michael Douglas movie with a coworker. "He reminds me so much of his father," I said.

"His father?" She stared at me blankly.

"Kirk Douglas," I prompted.

She still looked blank. "Was his father an actor too?"

Was Kirk Douglas an actor? I opened my mouth for a quick comeback, then shut it. Was I really that far out of it? Sure, I had 20-plus years on my colleagues. But I was a baby boomer. Part of the youth generation. You know, never get old and don't trust anyone over 30.

That's why I liked my job at the bookstore. My coworkers were barely out of college—some even younger. We talked all the time between shelving books and helping customers. I thought I had kept up pretty well.

Two days later I gave one of the guys a lift home from work. "What do you do for fun?" I asked.

"I play video games. Computer games too."

"What about with your friends?"

"We've got a fantasy football league."

"Fantasy? You mean make-believe?"

"No. On the web."

"Do you ever just sit around and talk?"

"We IM one another all the time." He must have caught my puzzled look because he added, "Instant messaging. Maybe you don't know about that yet."

I did know what instant messaging was, thank you very much. I just didn't refer to it by initials. I dropped the guy off and drove on, wondering about all the other things I wasn't getting.

I stopped at a crosswalk and a girl walked by with so many earrings she'd set off a metal detector. Not just two or three, but six or seven—and that was just in one ear.

Then something really disturbing happened. I caught myself clucking my tongue just like my grandmother used to over my go-go boots and miniskirts.

The thought hit me like a thunderbolt: Was I turning into my grandma?

I remembered how Grandma insisted on buying her Halo shampoo in clunky glass bottles—no newfangled plastic ones for her (like the cool new shampoo I used, Herbal Essences). And she cut up slivers of a bar of laundry soap and washed her sheets by hand, as though washing machines hadn't been invented.

Grandma even used an old curling iron, the kind you heated on the stove. It got so hot she had to blow on it so it wouldn't singe her hair. "Grandma, you should buy an electric one," I said. "It'd be much faster and easier."

"No need, Dear," she replied. "This one is just fine."

Surely I wasn't that out of it. But was the world changing so fast that I was way behind the curve? Was my youth generation now the old fogy generation?

Back at the bookstore the next day I was taking inventory with my coworker, Dawn, when in came a customer in a plaid flannel shirt, down vest and faded jeans. She could have been me in the late sixties, truckin across campus.

Discreetly I pointed the customer out to my young colleague. "Check that out," I said. "Boy, talk about retro."

"Grunge," Dawn winced. "It's so nineties."

Nineties. Sixties. I had to laugh. I really was clueless. I wouldn't know if something was in or out this season or a dozen years back. This wasn't my era. I was as far from it as my grandmother had been from mine.

I began singing softly, "There is a season, turn, turn, turn . . . "

"Hey!" Dawn's eyes lit up. "I remember that."

"You do?"

"Yeah," she said, "my nana used to quote it all the time. It was one of Nana's favorite lines."

I was almost afraid to ask. "Did your nana like the Byrds?"

"What are the Byrds?" she said. "It's from the Bible, you know, Ecclesiastes."

"Oh," I said. Of course I knew that the lyrics came from the Bible, but I didn't expect to be reminded of that by a 20-year-old. "You read the Bible?"

"Sure. I try to every morning. Ever since I was a little girl."

She was hip-hop and cargo pants, I was Woodstock and bell-bottoms. Yet there were some things we had in common. Timeless things. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven. About time I was old and wise enough to recognize that.

I began humming to myself, "I'm Glad I'm Not Young Anymore."

"Catchy tune," my coworker remarked.

"Maurice Chevalier sang it in Gigi," I said.

I wasn't a bit surprised—or disappointed—when Dawn asked, "Who's Maurice Chevalier?"

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