I am turning 75 years old this week. Three quarters of a century. Help me digest that for a moment. I was born a week after FDR won his fourth term as president; these days one term seems more than enough. A month later, the monstrous and bloody Battle of the Bulge happened, making it clear that World War II would drag on longer than had been hoped; I have learned in the conflicts since then (I count five) that wars tend to do that.
Growing up, we had one phone in the house that had a rotary dial and hung on the kitchen wall; it didn’t fit in a back pocket and butt dials never happened. We had one television and you had to get up and walk across the room to switch among the four available channels; streaming was something you did in a canoe.
I walked eight blocks to the elementary school often wearing a rain slicker and galoshes, and my mother said it was healthy for me; today’s kids are driven to and from school because parents are more worried about predators than bad weather. My dad and I sat and read the daily newspaper together every afternoon when he got home from work; today, we read digital clips alone on a phone or computer — if we read any news at all.
Compound all that with my doctor’s reminder during my physical a couple weeks ago that I have shrunk an inch over the last 50 years and I have gained 10 pounds since moving to the Rock a decade ago. He then sent me for a bone density test. Sigh. It’s enough for me to deliberately induce senior hard hearing and memory loss.
By now, I’d guess everyone under 40 has yawned, stopped reading and clicked on something else; fortunately, those over 40 occasionally still turn printed pages.
But here’s what cheers me up: I am most definitely not the only Three-Quarter-Centenarian on Whidbey. I am fascinated by the number of people I meet on the Rock happily hiking at age 80, gardening at 85, bicycling at 90 and volunteering at 95. Not a lot of rocking chairs or wheelchairs are used here.
As an amateur student of demographics, I did a deep dive a while back on population characteristics of our beloved island. No surprise that because of the Navy the average age in North Whidbey is 32. But the farther south you go, the older it gets: Coupeville, 53; Freeland, 55; Langley, 58; Clinton, 62.
And here’s what I love: In Island County, 31 percent of the population is 65 or older, compared with 16 percent in Washington state and all of the United States. And ever better, 9 percent of the population is 75 or older. That compares to only 5 percent in the state and nation.
The Rock is a mecca for Medicare and Social Security. The numbers tell me that we “older folks” (however defined) move here for the healthy, active, fulfilling quality of life. We don’t reinvent ourselves here so much as become our true selves, once we’re finished with big cities, the career rat race, kids in school, etc.
My years on the Rock have been among the very best of my life. I am busy doing things I love, putting skills I’ve learned over the years to positive use for community organizations and tackling projects I never had time for (a vegetable garden, writing a column for this newspaper and digitizing old family photos, for instance).
Yes, indeed. To me, this is a Rockin’ happy birthday!
- Harry Anderson is a retired journalist who lives in Central Whidbey.