Ithaca Blog

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

"How Old Would You Be, If You Didn't Know How Old You Was?"

My best friend from high school just sent me a last e-mail from work. Ever. We are 56 (each), and he is retiring. From a job with the government, where he has worked since his twenties.

Apparently, you can do that (retire), working for the government. A lot of my life I worked for myself, and retirement seems like a far-off thing, if not a complete fantasy.

Financially, to be sure, but also physically and mentally. I told my friend Chris, good for you, but ain't you too young to be laying down?

I think maybe, as people are living longer these days, the word "retirement" itself should in some cases, like his, be retired. Chris, I said, maybe it's more like "graduation" for you.

In my case, the word "retirement" will equal the word "funeral." But that's okay with me. I don't have anything more to graduate from. I want to work till I drop, like John Henry, Pete Seeger, or Satchel Paige.

Let's talk about Satchel Paige, who once said (and always showed) something great about age.

Satchel Paige was the greatest baseball pitcher of all time. He was a star in the professional Negro Leagues, from the 1920's into the 40's. He was kept from the major leagues until the color line was broken, in 1947. He was signed soon after, despite his advanced age. He was at least a decade older than most players. He was great yet. But the age difference was obvious, a guy in his mid- or late forties in a game where 35 was old. Despite entreaties, he would never discuss nor disclose his age.

The story goes that, one night in a bar, a reporter friend asked Paige to please, please do what he had never done: specify his age. Tell it. Can it be true, in a game where you're done well before 40, you're still in here, maybe 45? 46? 47? How old are you? Really?

Paige looked at the guy (goes the tale). He said he would answer as a friend. But he would answer the question with a question.

"How old would you be," said Satchel Paige, "if you didn't know how old you was?" That's how old Satchel Paige was. Me, too. You, too, I hope.

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