Archive for October, 2012

The Elevator and the Polite Boy

“Stars and Circles” by Sparkle Girl

This column first appeared in the September 2012 issue of Forsyth Family magazine:

The other day, I arrived at the doors to an elevator just ahead of a family of four – a mom, a dad and two boys. One of the boys was small enough to fit comfortably in his father’s arms. The other was, I’ll say, 4. He was serving as the point man for the family, and, when the doors to the elevator opened, he said, “We’ll let the old man get on first.”

I don’t think of myself as old. I’m not sure that anyone ever does really. Your body may creak more than it once did and your emotions have undoubtedly been dinged a time or two along the way. But, on the inside, you still feel more or less like the same person you were when you were a kid. My mother said that the first time someone offered her a senior discount, it didn’t register that the clerk was talking to her. She turned and looked behind her.

Nobody there. Ah.

Certainly, though, no one could fault the young man for categorizing me as old. Aside from the fact that, when you’re a kid, a sizable percentage of the population looks old from where you’re standing, he had all the evidence he needed to assign me to that group – my hair (what there is of it) and beard are completely white.

His parents, though, were aghast at their son’s faux pas, and, as the family followed me into elevator (I took the boy up on his offer), both the mother and the father apologized. Please don’t worry about it, I told them. It was clear, though, that his parents were still uncomfortable and my guess was that they were going to give him what for after they got off the elevator. In hopes of letting them know that everything was fine on my end, I made a point of talking to him.

A perplexed look never left his face. I couldn’t tell whether he was confused because he was wondering why this old man he didn’t know kept talking to him or because he was wondering why on Earth his parents were annoyed with him. After all, he had clearly done the right thing by politely offering to let the old man get on first, hadn’t he?

Plus, he had acknowledged me – something that not all children do. The other day, my friend Bill Whitfield (brother of my friend R.L. Whitfield), said that, although getting older came with its annoyances, the only thing that really bothered him was becoming invisible to young people. Some of them, he said, act as if he’s not even there.

We came to their floor first. The doors opened, and they hustled off down the hallway. In the process of telling their son that you don’t call a stranger “old man” even if he looks like one, I hope the parents realized how lucky there were. He could have said, “We’ll let the fat man get on first.”

Once, I was walking down a school hallway with a teacher who had read my column for years but had never laid eyes on me until that moment. “You know,” she said, “from the picture in the paper, I always thought you were tall and thin and, instead, you’re…” Just then, she caught herself and stopped. She had nowhere to go from there, did she?

I laughed.