When she turned eighty, Wilhelmina knew that something important had happened. People began treating her differently. Apparently, they had decided that she was feeble in mind and body, but they had also decided that she was endearing and cute. Wilhelmina herself believed that she was strong in mind and body and that never in her life had she been endearing and cute. Maybe when she was one or two, but she couldn't remember back that far.
Her friends started to treat her differently after that momentous birthday. Francine, a friend who was only five years younger, called Wilhelmina the day after her party and was rather blunt.
"You'll have to begin taking it easy, my dear. Would you like me to start being your driver?"
"Francine, I'm perfectly capable of driving. I don't need a chauffeur."
"But, you know, once a person turns eighty, all sorts of things could happen."
"Oh, I don't know, a stroke, a heart attack, an aneurysm. You could be a danger to other drivers. And to pedestrians. You never know."
"I'm in good health, Francine."
"Yes, well you never know. Then there's the brain to consider."
"There's nothing wrong with my brain."
"So you say, but you never know."
"I'll match my brain with yours any day."
"There's no need to be insulting."
"I'm not being insulting. Just truthful."
"I'm only trying to help. If that's the way you feel, well goodbye."
And before Wilhelmina had a chance to say anything more, Francine had terminated their phone call.
Her next helpful friend turned out to be Verna, who was only seventy.
"Well, Wilhelmina, are you ready to go to an assisted-living facility?"
"No. Why should I do that?"
"You could fall in your house. Remember that you live all by yourself."
"Well, not quite by myself. There's MacIntosh, my West Highland Terrier."
Verna laughed. "Now, do be serious, Willie."
"It's Wilhelmina. You know I like my full name. No nicknames, please."
"Oh, sorry. It's just that your full name is so long."
Wilhelmina snorted. "If I had my druthers, I'd have at least four names, like a queen. Maybe Wilhelmina Elizabeth Carolina Anastasia. Then I might get some respect."
"You're not being serious, are you?"
"Oh, I'll leave that for you to figure out."
"Well, you take care now, and let me know if you need anything. And if your brain starts to deteriorate, you know, if you forget certain things, make a list of what you've forgotten, and I'll help you."
"How can I make a list of things I've forgotten? That doesn't make sense."
"Huh? Well, bye for now."
Her friends' reactions to her eightieth birthday sent Wilhelmina into a depression. Well, not quite a depression. She definitely did not want to call it that. Instead, she called it an "off" mood. Yes, that was better. But she had to do something. Wilhelmina decided that she had to lead a campaign to show the world that being eighty did not mean the end of life.
But how was she going to do that? How was she going to begin a movement--yes, it had to be a movement--to give senior citizens the dignity they deserved? She had her radio on, and in the background she could hear a local talk show host, Ray Sunshine. She suspected that was not his real name.
Wilhelmina passed the questions of the call screener, who seemed patronizing. Perhaps she was just getting paranoid. But she had reason to be paranoid.
Suddenly there he was, Ray Sunshine, Ashleyville, Ohio's foremost--and only--afternoon talk show host.
"Wilhelmina, you're on the air. What's on your mind today?"
"Hello, Ray. I have a concern about old people. I turned eighty the other day, and two of my friends are already treating me like an invalid. I'm perfectly healthy in mind and body."
"Maybe we should go on a date, Willie. I'm available."
"It's Wilhelmina. And that's another thing. Sometimes people treat the elderly like children. They think they're cute and endearing. I'm not cute and endearing, and I'm certainly not looking for a date from a younger man. Or even an older man. What I want to do is start a movement, Mr. Sunshine."
"Just call me Ray. Or Raymond, if you prefer. It's not my real name anyway."
"Somehow I didn't think it was."
"All right, Miss Wilhelmina, what sort of movement do you want to start?"
"Just call me Wilhelmina, please. A campaign to give old people some respect. Don't assume we are like children. Don't assume we have lost our minds. Don't assume we all need walkers and canes. Don't assume that we can't live in our own homes. That sort of thing."
"I notice that you use the word old. You also said elderly. I thought we were supposed to say senior citizens or seniors or older."
"Those are all euphemisms, designed to make us feel better, I suppose, about aging. Oh, that reminds me. When I was in England on vacation a few years back, I saw that there were different prices for OAP. I didn't know what that meant until I asked. It meant Old Age Pensioners. That struck me funny. I kind of liked it."
"This is quite interesting, Wilhelmina. Do you have a name for your movement?"
"No. It was just today that I thought of doing something about this situation."
"How about a contest? We could ask our listeners what name to give your campaign."
"Any publicity would help. Sure. That sounds promising."
"All right, folks. Think about a name for Wilhelmina's campaign. An acronym is always a good thing, but it could just be one word, or two words. I'll talk with the station manager about a possible prize for the winner."
And the calls started to come in. Wilhelmina listened to some preposterous, stupid, and/or insulting names, the most memorable being SOAP, the Society of Aged People; CARE, the Community of Aging Retired Eccentrics; and CAT, the Community of Aged Tyrants. In some ways she liked that last one, but she didn't care for cats, so that acronym was out, and she was reasonably sure that she was the one who would choose the winner, even though Ray Sunshine hadn't specifically said so.
Then she heard another suggestion. "Hello, Mr. Ray Sunshine. thank you for taking my call. My name is Francine." Wilhelmina stopped drinking her coffee. Was that her friend, or her former friend, Francine? It sure sounded like her.
"Go ahead Francine. Do you have a suggestion for Wilhelmina's group?'
Francine sounded a bit nervous. "Well, yes. I suggest CASE. It stands for Community Avoiding Stereotypes of the Elderly. How does that sound?"
"Sounds pretty good to me. Well, Wilhelmina, if you're still listening, and I hope you are, call me back and we'll put you right through. We'd like to hear your opinion on these suggestions."
Wilhelmina grabbed her phone. Within moments she was back on the air. "Thank you, Ray, for letting me comment on the suggestions. At the moment I would say that CASE, Community Avoiding Stereotypes of the Elderly, is the best choice. Some of the other choices were funny and some were insulting. This one addresses the real problem, that of stereotyping. I even like the acronym CASE because it sounds rather objective, in a way. Ray, I assume I am the one who is allowed to pick the winner."
"Absolutely. So do you pick CASE, suggested by our listener Francine?"
"Yes. Yes, I do. And I thank her for understanding exactly what our new organization is designed to do."
"Very good. Francine, you're the winner. And I'm pretty sure that you will win what we usually give out on this program: dinner for two at the Avalon Restaurant right here in Ashleyville with its wonderful view of the Avalon golf course. Congratulations, Francine. You will need to call us back to give us your information. And no imposters, please! Glad your name isn't Ann or Mary." Ray Sunshine laughed heartily.
"Well, that's the end of our program for today. Always happy to serve our wonderful community. And remember to always add a Ray of Sunshine to your day! Goodbye, folks!"
Wilhelmina knew that she had lots more to do to erase those pesky stereotypes. She went to her computer and started a file of ideas, ideas about membership and projects and a newsletter and all sorts of things.
Then the phone rang. It was Francine.
"Wilhelmina, I just won dinner for two at the Avalon. Would you go with me? Please."
(c) Anita G. Gorman