PRIMETIME Not acting their age
By Darryl E. Owens
Knight Ridder Newspapers
ORLANDO, Fla. -- After two cosmetic surgeries in her 40s, Perola "Pearl" Halikman wasn't alluding to the Beatles classic when she asked her husband about a certain milestone barreling her way.
"I asked him would (he) love me at 64," she says, "and he said, 'I still love you.' Then I said, 'Give me $10,000 -- I need another a face-lift."'
Now Pearl -- whom her husband, King, 71, affectionately calls his "queen of denial" -- flaunts her "$10,000 neck" and delights when her teenage granddaughters' friends mistake her for the girls' mother.
"I feel young again," she says of her nips and tucks. "There's a whole new world out there."
That brave new world is this strangely familiar period of re-evaluation, rediscovery and reinvention that many older Americans now confront just as -- or well after -- Social Security kicks in. It's deja vu all over again: The Golden Years have morphed into what experts are calling the "second mid-life crisis" or "second adolescence." Not only do seniors endure mind and body changes, but after investing in careers and families, many Americans in their 60s, 70s and beyond are asking: What am I going to do with my life?
The question was moot a century ago when few lived long enough to enjoy AARP discounts. Modern medicine has spawned longer spans of good health and facilitated opportunities for searching seniors to "find themselves." Now, life expectancy has topped 77 years, and the older population (people 65 years and older) numbered 35.6 million in 2002, up 10.2 percent since 1992.
Too much time to rock away on a quiet porch. Instead, seniors are hanging out and hooking up at broadband speed. They're pumping up and slimming down.
As Abigail Trafford writes in "My Time," which explores making the most of life in the years between middle and old age: "The biological calendar has been reconfigured so that people are physically younger than their chronological age."
Adds Marilyn J. Sorensen, author of "Breaking the Chain of Low Self-Esteem," "Now, finally they can dress how they want, do what they want, buy what they want. They don't care if their children think they've gone (off) the deep end. They feel it's their time."
A kick out of life
When cancer pushed Charlotte Chambers into retirement 20 years ago, childhood memories consumed her -- of the elderly who passed their remaining time dipping snuff, and "sitting on the porch when I left school and sitting in the same place when I got home."
The former teacher determined not to rust away in retirement. She tutored kids, gave poor kids tennis lessons and became active in a slew of community groups.
Yet, it wasn't until her 90-year-old mother died that Chambers, then 69, confronted the realities of aging and an accompanying depression. Rather than pop Prozac, she chose to pop running backs. She tried out and was signed by the Orlando Starz of the Independent Women's Football League.
Now 71 and headed into her third season as a reserve safety with the Starz, she shows no signs of slowing. "We don't have to follow the status quo -- old people aren't supposed to do this or that," she says. "If you're going to go out, go out kicking."
A new pattern for him
When his wife of 55 years died, Bob Hoenshel not only had to figure out how to live without Mary but also had to discover who he was without her. All he knew was being a husband and owner of a printing business, from which he'd retired in 1998, the year Mary passed away.
Hoenshel felt as if he'd lost his mooring.
"The best advice I received was three words: 'What was isn't.' It was just a matter of realizing I couldn't live with the past and had to make the most of the present."
Mentoring students at a nearby high school and in adult literacy classes helped fill a void. Dating filled another.
Hoenshel dusted off his courting ways and spruced up his dating duds. Never into the shorts, black socks and sandals look, he preferred classic patterned golf pants and had about 50 pairs tailor-made with daring, whimsical patterns.
His unique attire seems to suit his latest lady friend, neighbor Sylvia Morrison, 72.
At 83, Hoenshel finds himself in a minority. Currently, women 65 and older outnumber older men at 20.8 million older women to 14.8 million older men.
Setting the pace
Eva Kahana, a sociologist at Case Western Reserve University, who has studied 1,000 retirees in Cleveland for 15 years, predicts aging baby boomers will be avid health-care consumers, workout warriors, attentive to appearance and self-help and spiritual pilgrims.
Already their elders are setting the pace.
Fashion-conscious seniors are leading clothing companies to dump fuddy-duddy fashions for styles that are functional and stylish.
Meanwhile, the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery reports that the number of cosmetic surgeries performed on people age 65 and older has spiked 352 percent since 1997.
Pearl Halikman swears by it.
"Every time I have a face-lift, (King) looks older and older, but he doesn't mind," she says. "He says it's great for a man to have a younger-looking wife."