At home in Fort Worth
I can distinctly remember how uncool I thought my parents were in my formative years--which, much to their dismay, lasted about three decades.
It was not out of necessity that my parents fed our family largely from dad's vegetable garden and the occasional catch of the day from his trips to the fishing holes. They did so because it was just the best food on earth. I am ashamed to confess that, in my adolescent fog, I lacked a proper appreciation for my dad's gardening and fishing skills and my mother's total mastery of the art of cooking the fresh food that was in such abundance then. To me, it was all so very, ah, rural.
I guess I fancied myself then as a dazzling urbanite--somewhat fanciful, it would seem, there in Nacogdoches, my east Texas home town of some 12,000 citizens. I tended to turn up my nose more often than not at my mother's smorgasbord of beans, greens, squash, okra and the like. How nice it would be, I thought, if we could just have the Wonder bread hyped on TV instead of the incessant parade of homemade cornbread, biscuits and rolls from mother's kitchen. If only we could eat at restaurants, I thought. What an ignoramus I was...and what I would give now for just one more of those meals!
Yes, my folks were hopelessly square geezers, I thought. They were so old school that they didn't have a computer or a credit card...or any debt, for that matter. They occasionally watched TV, especially Lawrence Welk, but their favorite form of entertainment was something called "visiting." This curious practice involved gathering with friends or relatives and doing nothing more than talking and storytelling for a few hours. Yes, I know, this custom has largely disappeared today, having been replaced with TV, Facebook, Twitter, text messaging and email, but I still miss those stories and being in awe of the storytellers.
This provides a background for my assertion above that I have become a geezer, too. What, you ask, precipitated this catharsis? Well, it was my recent visit to the dentist, of all things.
I had gone to the dentist to have a sensitive tooth checked out and afterward, when I stopped to pay the bill, I was greeted by a willowy young girl with brown hair who almost certainly had not yet seen her twentieth birthday. After smiling and officiously checking my account on her computer terminal, she said, "That'll be twenty-one dollars today, Mr. Mills." (It was a co-pay; I have dental insurance, in case you're wondering.) I opened my wallet and retrieved a twenty and a five, laying them on the granite counter in front of her. At this point, she looked at the two bills, studying them momentarily, then looked up at me, bewildered, her eyebrows raised and her brown eyes now a good deal larger than before. At one point, she looked over her shoulder at her comrades as if to say, "What do I do now?"
Since the appearance of the two bills on the counter had clearly flummoxed the young lady, I instinctively said, "I can give you a bank card if it'll make things easier for you." Instantly, she broke into a big smile and eagerly pushed the two bills toward me. One swipe with my card, and I shuffled out to my car. As I sat down in the driver's seat, pondering the young lady's recoil from my offer of cash, it hit me: She had probably never done a cash transaction. Cash must be for geezers! For perhaps the first time, I wondered why I had not just gone ahead and used my card in the first place; it would have been so very simple and easy.
For years, I have had a habit of carrying a few hundred dollars in my wallet because cash--until now--has just seemed a simpler way to pay for small purchases. However, I have observed that more and more people are paying with plastic and young folks, like my daughter, Mindy, use a bank card almost exclusively to pay for everything--even things costing less than a dollar! I had also noticed the arrival of card swipe-thingies at the drive-in windows of fast food joints, but I considered it more of a curiosity than anything else. I couldn't imagine why anyone would use a credit card to pay for a hamburger! We geezers are clearly the last to connect the dots, aren't we?
For most of Mindy's life, I frequently asked how much cash she had, knowing that if she had any at all, she would probably have found it on the ground. Then I would surreptitiously put a few bills in her purse, because geezers--especially geezers who are fathers--just can't cope with the thought of anyone--especially their daughters--carrying little or no cash. Now I find myself wondering why I was thinking that having cash was so important.
As I pondered this, I remembered an article in the newspaper (the reading of which also probably qualifies me as a geezer) about Sweden's imminent changeover to become a cashless society. When I arrived back at the office, I did a little research (with Google, what else?) and found that Sweden is getting rid of cash because only three percent of transactions there involve an exchange using cash; for them, maintaining a national currency is more trouble and expense than it is worth. The article went on to reveal that only seven percent of transactions in the U. S. are now made using cash! Upon reading this, I'm sure I gasped audibly! When did this happen, and how did I not notice it, I asked myself. Was the descent into my currency-laden geezerhood as insidious as, say, bladder problems? Maybe so; I didn't realize I had those, either, until trips to the bathroom became my most reliable and frequent source of exercise.
Feeling suddenly old, I quickly took stock of all the modern gadgets I use--an iPhone, an iPad, an iMac, a GPS and wireless internet, among others--and I felt a little better. Surely geezers don't use those, right? Then, I began to worry that I still may be fighting a losing battle, because I always seem not to have the latest version of anything. My iPhone doesn't have Siri, and I still have an iPad II, for goodness sake! Does that make me a geezer? I'm not sure but, as I write this, I'm becoming even less sure that I care.
Since this paradigm shift, I've been having a little trouble with the weirdness that comes with my realization that carrying a bunch of cash is, well, frowned upon, I suppose. For example, when I retrieve cash from my wallet to pay for something, I am careful to hold my hand in such a way that the bills I have are not visible, for fear of my being ridiculed as being a member of the one-percent group or something else that's out of favor today. Before this latest enlightenment, I used to be careful with my wallet for fear of attracting criminals, but now I'm not even sure they want cash anymore. Pretty soon, I guess, using cash will be like offering a chicken or goat to pay for something. People will be amused, but then a call will be made, and some men will come and gently lead me away.
More thoughts on becoming a geezer in the next post.