I first realized that I was no longer young at age 66. Summer had me craving an iced mocha, and when I saw the drive-through to the newest coffee kiosk was empty, I pulled in.

Peggy Nelson

Peggy Nelson

The techno music was blasting from both inside and outside speakers, and an energetic, edgy, yet friendly young woman with spiky red hair greeted me. I admired her uniqueness, and she welcomed me enthusiastically, writing down my name and order.

“Hi, hon!” the boy at the window shouted (to be heard above the din). He couldn’t have been more than 18 and like the girl who greeted me, was full of tats and piercings and sported a fetching kerchief on his head.

“My name is Peggy,” I shouted over the deafening music.

“Cool! I’ll have that drink out to you in just a second darl’in.” He flashed me a dazzling smile. I considered giving him a short lecture on how not to talk to customers who were more than three times his age but reconsidered as he handed me my frosty cup and thanked me profusely for coming in.

Welcome to old age.

Since that humbling moment, I have noticed a trend when it comes to mature people and their transactions. As women, we are often referred to as dear, honey, sweetheart or darl’in. Mature men, on the other hand, are often called boss, brother, chief or pops. Terms like these tend to lump those of us over 50 into a diminutive status. We are treated much like well-meaning adults might treat a small child or a pet. Now if a man or woman over 80 were to address me by those names, it wouldn’t be so bad; however, it would be different if the tables were turned. Some traditions don’t expire — we all need to show respect to our elders.

Waitresses, nurses and even doctors seem to fall into this linguistic trap. Perhaps it’s because they see so many people in a day that they need a catchall phrase to address them. When my hip surgeon met with me for the first time, he graciously took my hand and said, “It’s so nice to meet you, honey.” I sat back, then leaned forward and took his hand and said, “Please call me Peggy; I don’t feel comfortable being called honey.” He apologized profusely, but after surgery and in follow-up visits, he still called me hon. Sigh.

What can we do to correct this situation without becoming rude or overly defensive (think crabby old lady)? If we are simply involved in a transaction, why bother with names at all? A simple “thank you” will do. I am not averse to being called “ma’am” nor would my husband resent being called “sir.” Both imply a lifetime of service and experience. I would never presume to call a nurse or clerk in a department store honey even if they were years younger than myself. After all, people like being acknowledged for their unique personhood whether they are eight or 84, a high-school dropout or a Ph.D.

Kindness, respect and “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” should be the cornerstones of our relationships to others. In a world fraught with political and social tension, one simple thing can often make a positive difference. Let’s embrace our differences and communicate clearly. Let’s use our names.

Peggy Nelson was the general education division manager and taught English at Eastern Idaho Technical College, now College of Eastern Idaho. She retired in 2017 after 30 years in education and industry.

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