More people have been calling me “ma’am.” I’ve noticed this lately. More people have been offering to help with my groceries. I’ve noticed that lately, too. Of all the milestones and markers ticking off the years – having a colonoscopy, or being called “grandma” by a mouthy kid – this gradual, notable, not-objectionable uptick in the kindness of strangers hits me as the weirdest.
First: Because I’m not that old. I’m only 51! Gimme a break! It’s not like maggots are crawling up my nose! Sheesh! Second: Because, and I say this with some pride, I am actually pretty darned good at carrying groceries. If you saw me unloading my latest supermarket haul from the car and up the porch steps and into my house, gracefully juggling ten bags of Empire Apples and twelve jars of Nutella totaling fifteen tons from each of my mighty hands with their grips of steel, you’d say: “HoooooEEEEEE, girlfriend! You got some serioso muscles on you! Will you carry MY groceries?” Yes. You would say this. And you would not call me “ma’am.”
Third: Whatever age you think I am, I’m not. Inside I’m a 12-year-old. Inside I have always been a 12-year-old, and if you need proof, I point to the previously mentioned megatons of Nutella. At the same time, and this is going to sound well and truly bananas, I have always been an octogenarian, maybe a nonagenarian, possibly even a centenarian. At some point I may actually be an octogenarian, maybe a nonagenarian, possibly a centenarian, and if and when that happens, I give everyone around me express advance formal permission to carry all of my groceries anywhere they like.
But the old lady is in there, and she always has been. The hidden senior buried within me has perked up her lively and opinionated head at regular intervals, such as those moments in my youth when folks around me were super-high or super-drunk or some super-funky-and-adorable combo of both, alternately munching and puking away, and I inexplicably turned down the opportunity to be and do same. Not because I was moral or mighty or opposed to munching, but because I just wanted to go home and drink tea while watching “Magnum P.I.” with a blanket on my lap. I still have this urge, though I no longer watch “Magnum P.I.” Tom Selleck now bugs the crap out of me. But the tea-and-blanket impulse remains.
So maybe this is why young people (HAVE I REALLY STARTED CALLING THEM THAT?) are now addressing me as “ma’am.” It has nothing to do with my actual chronological age. When that kind bagger at the supermarket last week hefted the last of my groceries and asked if I “need help with those,” she wasn’t suggesting I couldn’t carry them myself. Nope. Of course not. She sensed mighty hands and their grips of steel. But she also sensed my urgent wish to sit down and blob with a hot beverage in front of the tube. It wasn’t the gray hair or the baggy smudges under my eyes or the unmistakable fog of exhaustion that tipped her off; it was the spirit of tea within me.