Art Linkletter for 25 years had a program called House Party on CBS. Linkletter’s show included interviews with children titled “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” I thought of Linkletter, who died in 2010 at the age of 98, when I was reflecting on something my granddaughter, Ella, said to me on our recent visit to her home in Ouray, Colo.
Ella, who just turned 8, leaned over to me one morning before she headed off to school, and said, “You know, Pop Pop, it’s really interesting having grandparents around because they’re always looking for something.” She was reacting, as I recall, to Gretchen’s search at that moment for something she had set down somewhere in the living room.
I shared Ella’s comment with Gretchen and Ella’s parents and we all had a good laugh about it. On reflection, though, I’ve questioned my retelling the story with such glee. I admire Ella’s observation and frankness; I’m totally charmed by my grandchildren, all of them, of course. But I’d rather that they didn’t accept the stereotypes of grandparents as forgetful, feeble and somehow less capable because of their age.
To some extent, those of us of a certain age feed those stereotypes every time we use age as an excuse not to do something. We accept discounts on food, clothing and cost of admission just because we’re over 55 or 65. We feed stereotyping when we make casual jokes about being old. We accept the status “retired” even though, in fact, we remain busy in a variety of ways, albeit often without compensation.
There is research that says the way we view aging may influence how we age. If we think of it as negative, those of us older than 50 could be reducing our lifespan by as much as 7.5 years, according to one study. In other words, we need to adopt an attitude of confidence and competence whatever our age.
Role models are important, then. Linkletter, for example, was still active in his 90s as a philanthropist and spokesman for the United Seniors Association. He was a member of the President’s Council on Service and Participation. Let’s see. What other role models can we think of?
So you know now where I’m going with this, We’ve arrived at the topic of the age of many of our presidential candidates. I’m sensitive on this subject; I’m the same age as Bernie Sanders, one of the most energetic contenders, who would be 75 if elected, compared with Ronald Reagan, the oldest president when elected at age 69. Hillary Clinton would be 69 if elected, a few months younger than Reagan was, and Trump, 70.
A Chicago Tribune writer said that Sanders’ age should disqualify him for the office, saying that there’s “nothing ageist about recognizing the genuine risks of an elderly president.” One might respond that that’s why we have a presidential succession plan; a vice presidential choice is critical regardless of the age of the president.
I may not vote for Sanders and certainly not Trump, but my vote will be based on factors other than age. And I’m pleased to see the strength of Sanders’ support among young people.
Elizabeth Siyan Lee, a junior at Middlebury College, explained: “Age becomes meaningless when candidates emphasize the right principles.” Lee, the founder of College Students for Bernie, said in a New York Times op ed piece that Sanders has support from young people “because he focuses on the issues that young people truly care about.” She cited efforts against climate change, expanding affordable college education, ending abusive private prisons and breaking up the big banks on Wall Street to address economic inequality.
As Linkletter put it, “kids say the darndest things.” Imagine that, actual issues making a difference.