Someone once jokingly suggested that all one needed to join a particular church was a professed belief in God ... and ownership of a 9-by-13 casserole dish.

Ah, the church potluck, a staple in this part of the world.

We call ours the “Over 50s” potluck, a reference to the number of years diners have been alive. Suggestions of names like “Over 60 potluck” and “senior citizens potluck” were dismissed. Seems a lot of folks who would attend were reticent to admit they were over 60, though the half century mark was considered acceptable for dining with one’s peers. A quick survey of the most recent ones we attended found that everyone there was past the age of 70.

Age and maturity are not always synonymous. We’ve all known teen-agers who were far more mature than folks who remember the Truman presidency. Some folks grow up, while others just grow old, refusing to relinquish youthful ideas and activities until their minds and bodies throw up a roadblock.

As children, we can’t wait for our next birthday ... I’m almost 6, I’m nearly 10, I’m 14 and a half ... I’m 16 and ready for the road. At 18, the assumption is that independence is available, though the draft once made that a dreaded benchmark. And then came 21, when drinking alcohol legally was the objective of many. Bob Dylan reminded us to “never trust anyone over 30.”

At 39 (Jack Benny’s eternal age and gag line), we knew that the “big one” was really a year away. At 40 (along with black cake icing and the resultant black teeth and tongue) came the realization that we were half way to expected longevity.

Along about then we chose to either ignore the calendar or let folks guess. Exhaustive fitness routines and the wonders of Revlon helped with the lie we tried to tell without speaking.

But there came a point ... Several years ago, one of our grandchildren suggested the reason I wear hearing aids is because I’m “old.” He was reminded by his father that such references were impolite. I heard him well enough to find the comment amusing. I even did an “LOL,” as young folks used to say on phones that were smarter than I will ever be. Now I use the phrase more as an abbreviation than an attempt to identify with younger folks.

Parents in my mom and dad’s generation frequently admonished their children to “act your age.” I’ve also heard that admonishment addressed to folks who fit the legal definition of “adult.”

Poet Maya Angelou said, “Most people don’t grow up. Most people age. They find parking spaces, honor their credit cards, get married, have children and call that maturity. What it is, is aging.”

Maturity, it seems to me, comes with the passage of time and the lessons of life along the way. When we fail to learn from those lessons, we fail to reach maturity.

While there is nothing wrong with “thinking young,” there are merits to acting one’s age ... to acting with the maturity years of experience have offered. We cannot re-gain our youth, no matter how much makeup we wear, how much we alter our physical appearance or engage in activities we enjoyed as teen-agers. Nothing wrong with dreaming about our “glory days,” so long as we display some degree of maturity in the process.

There is much wisdom available to young people from mature adults. The years have given them the opportunity to learn from the mistakes the young may be contemplating.

To Mom’s advice of “act your age,” I would add a caveat. Do so with the maturity that earns respect, not the foolishness that simply says “you’re old.”

Peace.

Tom Clinton retired as executive editor of The Messenger in 2011. He and his wife, Barbara, live in Lone Oak.

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