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To many, middle age means more than more birthdays

September 14, 2000

To many, middle age means more than more birthdays



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


To some people, middle age means creaking knees, first grandchildren, AARP membership notices and sounding like their parents.

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Middle age for others means having more patience, knowledge and financial responsibility.

Middle age for some signifies a time to explore new hobbies or re-examine old interests.

To Beth Beckner-Mills, 53, middle age has meant a renaissance.

The Boonsboro-area resident in 1996 left a satisfying 20-year overseas career as a management trainer for the U.S. State Department to focus on her fledgling marriage and interests she had "put on the back burner."

After years spent leading workshops in Africa and the Middle East, Mills is searching for a new career path, and having a great time doing it, she said.

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She arms herself with a fire suit, camera and notepad to chronicle her husband's road-racing hobby from pit stops across the United States.

Beth and Doug Mills travel together and teach ballroom and swing dancing.

Beth Mills started painting watercolors, and her work hangs in the Washington County Arts Council Gallery in Hagerstown, she said.

"Life has just gotten better and better."

Your life is what you make it, no matter how old you are, said Gerald L. Zeigler Jr., 57, of Washington Township, Pa.

Middle age, which the U.S. Census Bureau defines as ages 45 to 64, is "just a set of numbers," Zeigler said. "You are however old as you feel."

Joanne Dickinson, 52, of Mont Alto, Pa, said her bifocals are just about the only sign that she's older than her 32-year-old daughter.

Rebecca Leverett feels 50.

Middle age has meant more aches and pains and a loss in agility, said Leverett, of near Smithsburg.

"I can't even watch the Orioles game any more," said Pat Turner, 62, of Charles Town, W.Va. "And I think that's because everything is in such a rush today. When you sit down in a chair any time from 8 o'clock on, you're just gone."

Anna Puffenburger, 51, of Martinsburg, W.Va., agreed that her energy level has decreased in tandem with her level of agility.

"I can't get down and sit Indian style and get back up like I used to," Puffenburger said.

But she thinks she has more energy than her friends who have children. Having kids "speeds up the aging process," Puffenburger said.

Eric Wetzel, 49, of Frederick, Md., agreed - kind of.

"I never thought it would happen," he said. "I've started to sound like my father."

Having grandchildren has made the middle age mark hit home for some people.

Carol Henicle, 52, said she first took note of her years when her first grandchild was born.

"Also, when you reach 50 you start getting notices in the mail to join the AARP," added Henicle, of Waynesboro, Pa.

She joined other middle-agers in saying that a quarter of a century of seasoning has given her a better outlook.

"When I was 25 I used to worry about things like getting a house, a mortgage, taking care of children, saving for college. Now that's all behind me and life is more comfortable," Henicle said.

A heart attack and five-way bypass surgery earlier this year spurred Lawrence O'Toomey Jr., 56, to slow down and enjoy life during his middle age years, he said.

"I am going to do the things I never did as a kid. I didn't hunt or fish because I was always working," said O'Toomey, of Martinsburg, W.Va.

Hagerstown resident Dan Carmichael, 45, said he's doing more of the things that he enjoys the most, but he spends more responsibly.

"I knew I was middle-aged when I thought twice about charging the new stereo system," Carmichael said.

Samuel Rook, 59, of Mont Alto, Pa., said he started noticing physical changes after he turned 40.

"The cartilage in my knees went," he said. "I knew something was starting to go wrong. I grunt when I get out of bed in the morning now, but it's still a lot better than being over on the dark side."

Like Rook, some middle-agers said they have grown more aware of their own mortality.

"The more time you spend here, you realize the less time you have here," said Darlene Boyd, 61, of Gaithersburg, Md. "I've been looking more closely at how I use the time I have left."

Race car driver Doug Mills, 58, said he's been more aware of his mortality since sliding back into the driver's seat after an eight-year retirement.

"Now, I prefer to underestimate my skills rather than to have the cocky attitude I had when I was younger," he said. "It concerns me about getting hurt."

But Mills agreed with his wife that middle age was a good place to be.

"When I look behind me, I see the most incredible mosaic," Beth Mills said. She doesn't know what lies ahead, "but for the first time in my life, I would say that excites me."

Staff writers Richard Belisle and Bob Partlow contributed to this story.

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