Dear Nice Young Lady at Target,
You’re busy being a 20 something so I’m going to get right to it.
You and I may have babies the same age. We may live in the same housing tract. We may even go to the same church. Even so, you should not be calling me “hon”. Not just because you don’t know me—which honestly, should be reason enough—but also because I am older, and there’s a hierarchy to familiarity. As much as I hate to say it, to you I’m a “ma’am”.
So is the older lady laboriously writing a check while three of us wait behind. As crazy as she makes you, she’s definitely a “ma’am” to you and to me and mostly everyone else in the whole dang store. Not a “hon”, with patronizing patience. She’s 85 if she’s a day and we all should be “ma’am”ing her and asking if we can help her out to her car. She’s earned that respect by living this long.
I would have kept quiet, except you called the WWII vet behind me “hon” as I was leaving. He fought in the Pacific—I know this because we chatted it up while the nice old lady wrote her check, a conversation that I ended by saying “Have a nice day, sir”. But you said “Don’t worry about it, hon”.
He might say that he likes it when a cute young thing calls him “hon”, but that is not the point.
The point is this: we used to revere the elders in our society, or at least reached for that standard. At the same time, we cut them serious slack. They could take as long as they wanted. They could say what they thought. They could even belch at the table. And everyone more than ten years younger was required to stand in their presence until invited to sit and address them respectfully as “ma’am” or “sir”.
You know this is a small town dominated by a master planned retirement community built in the 40s. The median age in this community has to be 80. There is no new retirement blood coming in because 60 is the new 50 and Boomers don’t know how to retire. We have all these folks, with their experience and their wisdom—and yes, their checkbooks and their belief that no one should drive a car over 35 miles per hour—who are learning to live in today’s world.
Can you imagine what that must feel like to someone who was 18 in 1943?
So these older folks, they may seem like they are obsolete, or child like. But they aren’t. So let’s agree not to treat them that way. Let’s find our “sir” and our “ma’am” and spread respect like we are called to spread love.
And let’s leave the rest of the sentiment for the kids.