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Larry Schiro: Important birthdays are few and far between

I just celebrated the last monumental birthday of my life. I turned 65. As the “big 65” was nearing reality a few months ago, my Medicare card arrived in the mail. I’m officially a senior citizen now, but even that varies depending on who you are talking to or buying from.

The days preceding this “big 65” got me to thinking of the birthdays that were the most memorable and important to me. I placed those birthdays into two categories. The first contains the “big seven” birthdays – those days that impacted my life legally or financially. The other is all the rest of my birthdays – those that impacted my life only socially or ceremonially.

The first dates of importance to me were obviously the day I was born (No. 1 on the list) and my 5th birthday (No. 2). I don’t remember anything about those days, but the 5th birthday was significant because I was able to start school in September 1956. Not too many birthdays after 5 were very important.

Then came my 16th birthday (No. 3 on the list). This was an important one because I was finally able to get my driver’s license. Freedom at last – that is, if my father let me drive the car. Our family had only one, so I didn’t get to do that very often. Dad took great pride in ownership of his aging and rusty 1959 Buick with its huge fins. It wasn’t much of car, but at least it ran.

A couple of years later, I celebrated my 18th birthday (No. 4). I was finally able to go out legally. Those of you of my vintage know what that means. All of the identification cards I had that said I was 21-year-old Joe Smith were discarded or given to some other 17-year-old.

I also had to register for the military draft with the Selective Service. I was now eligible to be drafted into the Army. In hindsight, I think my 18th was even more important than my 5th or 16th birthday.

Then came No. 5 on my list – my 21st birthday. I was now eligible to vote. (This was before the voting age was lowered to 18.) So 18 and 21 were very significant. I could now serve in the military and vote.

On my 63rd birthday (No. 6), I retired after 38 years of teaching high school chemistry. There were no really significant birthdays from ages 22 to 62.

But then came No. 7: my 65th birthday – Medicare time.

All of the other birthdays were more social or ceremonial. For my 30th, my wife threw me a surprise party. On my 40th, I was referred to as “over the hill.”

On my 55th, I was first eligible to retire from my teaching job. On my 60th, my colleagues started to ask if I was ever going to retire. At 62, I could claim Social Security, but I didn’t.

Except for the “big seven,” birthdays were more for my family’s and friends’ amusement. I went along with the celebrations because they were a lot of fun, but none had any life-changing impact. I ate a lot of cake and ice cream, blew out countless candles and opened many gifts, most of which have been forgotten.

As I look back on my life, the seven most important birthdays all had an impact on my life. The others were just space fillers to get me to those important dates.

From 66 on? They are now only ceremonial and social, so let the partying begin.

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