The Little Old Lady from Pasadena by
(197 Stories)

Prompted By Ageism

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As I often do when I am writing a Retrospect story, I started out by googling “songs about [name of prompt].” For Ageism, I could find almost nothing; apparently it isn’t a topic that songwriters are inspired by. But I did find a reference to “The Little Old Lady from Pasadena” as being the first anti-ageist song ever written. It is a pretty great image, this elderly woman with a flowerbed of gardenias who shuts down all the drag racers. (“The guys come to race her from miles around, But she’ll give ’em a length, then she’ll shut’em down.”) So, kudos to Jan and Dean!

I have been trying for days to think of any times that I have been the victim of Ageism, and I am coming up empty. Of course that’s a good thing, but still, it makes me wonder whether it has been happening and I just haven’t noticed. Up until recently I was always the youngest person in any group — my family of origin, my classmates at every school (because I skipped a grade), even my mah jongg group — but now I am starting to be one of the elders in some circumstances. I am the oldest person in my book group, and recently when I was recommending a book about the solar eclipse of 1914, one of them said, “oh, were you there?” (Notice the year, that is not a typo, it was 1914, not 2014!) When I said no, but thanks so much for asking, she reminded me of the book I picked for the group about Sixties radicals and the Chicago Convention because I was there, so she thought maybe I was at the eclipse too. Just a little ribbing, but I guess you could call it ageist humor, and I didn’t love it.

I recently saw an advertisement for a computer called Wow! designed especially for seniors. Well yes, I am a senior, but I am not an idiot! Here’s some of the text from the ad, with my comments.

“Have you ever said to yourself  ‘I’d love to get a computer, if only I could figure out how to use it.'”
No, even when computers were new I never said that. Also, why didn’t you put a question mark at the end of your question?
“Computers were supposed to make our lives simpler, but they’ve gotten so complicated that they are not worth the trouble.”
Actually, it seems to me that they’ve gotten a lot less complicated than they used to be.
“With all of the ‘pointing and clicking’ and ‘dragging and dropping’ you’re lucky if you can figure out where you are.”
That is probably my favorite sentence in the whole ad, it makes me laugh out loud (LOL) every time I read it. I am very fond of pointing and clicking, as well as dragging and dropping! I do remember when my office first got computers with mice, they encouraged us to play a solitaire program for practice in using the mouse. But that was at least 30 years ago!

So who is this ad directed to? I don’t think it’s Boomers. Everyone I know is very proficient at using computers and doesn’t need one with “buttons” that are easy to see and easy to understand. We may not have grown up with computers, but we have had them since our thirties. This is aimed at my mother’s generation, the eighty- and ninety-year-olds who can’t figure out technology. There must still be some demand for it or they wouldn’t keep advertising it, but I think that demand will disappear very soon, because there will be nobody left who isn’t proficient with computers.

On the other hand, my son, who writes for TV and was perhaps dismayed that we don’t watch much TV in our house, recently gave us a Roku. Not only gave it to us, but came and hooked it up to our TV and programmed in Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime, HBO and a couple of others, complete with passwords, so all we have to do is point and click to watch pretty much anything there is. I’m sure we could have figured out how to do it ourselves, but it was so nice to have him do it, and to see how easy it was for him. Was that ageism on his part? You could call it that, but I prefer to think it was just doing something nice for his parents.

To end with another musical reference, Rod Stewart’s song “Maggie Mae” has the line “The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age.” When the song came out, in 1971, I thought that line was hilarious, and I would emphasize it when I was singing the song. Now it doesn’t seem so funny, and makes me think about how my face does look in the morning. Of course, I don’t go to bed with college students the way Maggie did. But still. . . .


Profile photo of Suzy Suzy

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Marian says:

    Great take with the computer ad, Suzy. You are right on that it should be targeted to our mother’s generation. My mom never worked in an office and didn’t learn to use a computer, and I doubt she could use even the one in the ad. And, there are many instances when my age shows, but sometimes among younger people I feel like I’m the only one who can use a pen.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Marian. When my mother complained about the difficulty of using her Dell laptop, my sisters decided to buy her an iPad, saying it would be easier for her because it was more intuitive. I disagreed, but was outvoted. She never got the hang of the iPad either.

      I like your comment about feeling like you’re the only one who can use a pen! I understand that – when my kids say they need to write something down, they mean on their phones, not on paper.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Terrific story, Suzy, particularly because it refreshingly focused on the relative lack of ageism you have encountered, rather than the “war stories” that the rest of us have put forth. A good reminder that ageism may well be out there, but it is not necessarily an all-consuming plague.

    And I had the same take as Marian did that the computer ad is not directed at us but at our parents’ generation. I have not seen it, but I have seen some for some incredibly dumbed down cell phones that are basically no more than the old flip phones but with larger digits. Again, I think we all navigate smartphones and their myriad apps just fine. So it is indeed refreshing to realize that we are not the biggest Luddites out there. At least not quite yet.

    As to Maggie Mae, I googled the song to try to find out how old she was. Apparently, Rod Stewart wrote it about the older woman who deflowered him when he was sixteen. It is not clear exactly how old she was but, given his age, she could have well been in her early twenties. How many of us would kill to be that age and considered “older?”

    • Suzy says:

      I don’t assume Maggie was only in her early twenties. He met her at a jazz festival, she could easily have been in her thirties or forties. He describes her in his autobiography as older and larger, someone who came on to him in the beer tent. He wouldn’t say the sun showed her age if she was only in her twenties!

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    Per usual, I really related to your story, Suzy. Until recently, I have always been the youngest at everything: in family and at school. I, too, struggled with this prompt, so took the scatter-shot approach, as you all saw, writing a bit about our leading candidates who are all in their 70s, some family experiences (though none of my own) and then moved to relating to the elderly myself.

    I do love your computer ad (having been out of the work place for over 30 years, I understand how technology can feel scary and much of it passed me by; Patti and John taught me a lot while I learned to use Retrospect). I particularly love the mobile phones with huge numbers and no functions designed for seniors.

    I guess I am lucky because I haven’t had someone say, “OK, Boomer” to me, but that comment and the generational divide was written about in The Boston Globe yesterday (I shared the article with you and Marian). It even mentions Ageism, so the prompt seems quite timely.

    Good for you for finding an appropriate way to think about it. And I LOVED Maggie May, which was THE song when I returned for Sophomore year.

    • Suzy says:

      Thanks, Betsy. You and I are both lucky not to have been OK Boomered, possibly because we have been out of the workforce for a while. Thanks for sending the Boston Globe article, it just shows how timely we are with our prompts (like when we and the NYTimes did Beach Reads the same week)!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    I’m so glad you wrote this, Suzy. I love the part about the Wow computer. It’s surprising they sell enough of those to advertise, although I feel the same way about those Jitterbug phones. And yes, wrong generation. I totally related to your thoughts about being the oldest person in a group. In some of my friendship groups, I am the youngest, which is fun. On the other hand, at work I mourned the retirement of the oldest teacher because that put me on top of the age chart. I learned that for the most part, it didn’t matter. Now, some of my closest friends from that era are ten years younger, but who cares? It’s all a state of mind.

    • Suzy says:

      I agree that it’s all a state of mind. Still, it can be disconcerting sometimes, like when I said something to my book group about the JFK assassination, and none of them remembered it because they were too young!

  5. I love this story, Suzy . . . smiled all the way thru it. I have to share my Maggie Mae moment: When I was in my thirties I lived in Hawaii. I was walking across a parking lot in flip-flops and beachwear and a couple young surfer dudes were walking in the opposite direction and giving me the once over. As they passed I heard one say, “Man, I dig older women.” Context is everything.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    Yikes, Suzy! Too young to remember JFK’s assassination. Now I feel really old.

  7. Too bad you don’t remember that solar eclipse Suzy, it was the best thing I remember from 1914!

  8. Ha! I recognized the source: an AARP rag. Don’t remember seeing this one. But yes, it’s totally nonsensical in so many ways. Given that AARP qualification, for lack of a better word, begins at age 50, just who is targeted here? And yes, I have to laugh at the enumerated issues of dragging and dropping and pointing and clicking. Prior to the Apple OS and Windows we had to do MS-DOS directly. Anyone remember those commands? But it makes me wonder: just what is it about Wow that makes it so simple for the simple? Does it have a mothering feature that holds the users hand? And what about the name? Wow is, of course, Mom spelled upside down (and backwards). That must be it.

    • Suzy says:

      Actually, I didn’t see it in the AARP magazine, we are not members. (Shocking, I know.) It may be there too, but I got it from an insert called Relish that comes once a week in our newspaper.

  9. Maggie Mae came out when I was hanging out with a woman three years my senior. OMG! Only in that time frame, I was braggin’ on it.

    Loved this hopscotch from hot rods in Pasadena to cyber-challenged seniors. If you do the math, the 1914 eclipse was as far away from the 1960s book you referenced as we are far away from the 1960s book. I do a lot of math like that. Know what I’m sayin’?

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