I remember sitting many years ago in an overstuffed chair in the living room of a house on E Street, then occupied by the Davis Free Clinic, when one of my fellow peer counselors sang to the rest of us, “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 64?”
I don’t remember why she sang, but maybe it was her birthday. Pat Allen was in her 40s at the time, significantly older than any of the other peer counselors (I was 25), and perhaps she was feeling a little different from the rest of us.
The ’70s favored youth, as did the feminist movement to which we all belonged. Unfortunately, an invisible wall had gone up between women of her generation (she was married, had four kids and loved being a mom) and mine. I occasionally declared that I would never marry at all.
We quickly assured Pat that we would most certainly love her when she was 64. But I remember thinking to myself, “Sixty-four! That’s impossibly old.” I could barely imagine her getting to that age, and it was inconceivable that I ever would.
At the time, the song she sang for us had been around for less than ten years. The Beatles introduced it in their “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, released in 1967, although Paul McCartney reportedly wrote the melody much earlier, when he was only 16.
Next month he turns 69.
Today I turn 64.
There aren’t many birthdays where you find a tune running through your head. I wouldn’t want that clunker “Happy Birthday” repeating in my brain, and no one has written a ballad to turning 25, or even 55.
The only other age-specific birthday song I can think of is the million-seller “Sixteen Candles” recorded by the Crests in 1958 and used in the soundtrack for “American Graffiti” in 1973.
“When I’m Sixty-Four” is a better song. It has great orchestration and a cheerful lilt that makes me happy whenever I think of it.
My favorite lines, addressed to a spouse/partner, are,
“I could be handy mending a fuse
When your lights have gone.
You can knit a sweater by the fireside
Sunday mornings go for a ride.
Doing the garden, digging the weeds,
Who could ask for more?
Will you still need me, will you still feed me,
When I’m sixty-four?”
How could anyone refuse to need me and feed me, especially since my 64th birthday falls on Mother’s Day?
Back in that chair at the Davis Free Clinic, however, I couldn’t imagine being a mother any more than I could imagine turning 64. That I’m a grandmother now astounds me, although the Beatles predicted it with their line, “Grandchildren on your knee. Vera, Chuck, and Dave….”
Their ability to anticipate the future is yet more proof, as if we need it, that the Beatles were extraordinary.
Last week, when I was already thinking ahead to my birthday and humming “When I’m 64,” I spent time with another person who made me think about the passage of time.
I reunited over lunch with a professional woman from Davis who was part of my daughter’s life at the age my grandson is now (almost 2), and whom I had not seen in nearly 25 years. She retired when my daughter was five.
In the hour my husband and I spent with her, we noted her sharp vision (no glasses), her lack of a hearing aid, her vigorous speech, her smooth gait and, most delightful, her penetrating questions that demonstrated a continuing interest in everything around her.
In addition, she drives. She babysits. She has opinions. (She always did.)
I know that few people — very few — get to enjoy Dr. Helen Klevickis’ degree of vigor at age 91. But I’m beginning to look ahead and think about it.
At 64, my priority is to acknowledge how lucky I am to be here, when others are not. It seems greedy to want more, but it is human to do so. My volunteer work for Yolo Hospice has taught me that built into our DNA is the fight to stay alive, even when it might be better to let go.
Ninety-one and vigorous would be wonderful. Why not hope for it? In thirty years, there might even be a song to accompany such a phenomenon.
I turn to my husband, who is younger than I am, and sing,
“Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m 91?”
— Marion Franck lives in Davis with her family. Reach her at email@example.com. Her column appears Sundays.