Living among the young

I was in Duluth this week, and had to flash my driver’s license at the pharmacy to buy cold medicine. The pharmacist checked out my address and said, “Oh! You live in my old neighborhood!”

“Do you mean Minneapolis or Uptown?” I asked.

“Uptown,” she said. “But then, everyone lived in Uptown once — back when they were students.”

It’s true. My husband and I, while not exactly being in our golden years, are at least partially tarnished in a semi-metallic sort of way. And we are surrounded by people who not too long ago kept their Lunchables in lockers in a high school hallway and now ride ramshackle-looking bicycles to classes at MCAD or the 21A bus to the University of Minnesota.

Living among the young was not our primary goal when we bought this big old house in Whittier 16 years ago. It was an unexpected benefit, and one that keenly differentiates our daily life from those of our suburb-dwelling friends who live among the cul-de-sacs.

Now, I like people this age. I raised three of them, and they were excellent company during puberty, not something you can say about everyone. I chose to become a college professor, which causes me to live with this tribe at work as well as at home. And I even chose to go back to school in midlife, doing astronomy homework with a lab partner younger than my youngest son and carrying reading glasses and premarin around campus in my backpack.

Beginning to be an adult is a charming developmental stage. Still, as practiced adults we’re living outside of our age comfort zone.

The grocery stores stock a lot of junk food and foods one might eat when under the influence of munchies. The cafes are cheap, the coffee plentiful, the hygiene iffy.

My husband says he feels tattoo inadequate. He’s very unpierced, but that may be a transitory state since he seems susceptible to peer (well, at least neighbor) pressure. And he worries that his hair is, well, merely brown. No pink or purple streaks.

I sometimes have to stop myself from shouting out guidance from the front steps: “You kids, don’t you make me come over there!” and “Stand up straight, for crying out loud!”

There’s an energy that is decidedly non-midlife. The late night, far off rumble that sounds ominous as it grows in volume until I realize it’s that sweet-faced kid with the red high tops working his way home on his skateboard. They travel in clumps, the young, and they laugh and tease one another as they walk back and forth to coffee shops and bars. It’s often a happy time of life, and now and then, I consider pointing that out to them, too.

It’s good for us, this exposure to the underaged. It may not keep us young, but it helps keep us flexible, being around people who have yet to be beaten down by car insurance payments and high cholesterol.

Now and then I see a student of mine who seems genuinely startled to discover that her professor lives in a house, sometimes carries in groceries and occasionally wears garden gloves. Who knew that old people eat and wear shorts? Having us aging folk in their midst probably offers the younguns a needed dash of diversity.

They walk by and ask questions about the garden (“Is this a weed or a plant?” “Can people eat these?”) and are often quite complimentary (“I like those pink things”).

But there is a certain downside to this age dysrhythmia of ours.

The kiddos miss our references. I suspect they only recognize the names John, Paul, George and Ringo from the animated version of “The Beatles: Rock Band.”

We have a large metal moose sculpture under the pines. Three young women in pigtails stopped to ask me if we named the moose. “Not yet,” I said. “Maybe Bullwinkle?” Blank stares.

At Kowalski’s the other evening, a cashier asked my husband, “This may seem like a strange question, but are you the moose?”

Bill wanted to say, “No. I am the walrus. Are you the egg man?”

Or maybe just “Coo Coo Catchoo!”

The kid would’ve just said “Bless you.”

Which is hardly a curse.

Pamela Hill Nettleton is one of the oldest living persons in Whittier.