You Know You Are Old If …

by Don Meyer, Ph.D. | Mar 07, 2015

“At age 20, we worry about what others think of us. At 40, we don’t care what they think of us. At 60, we discover they haven’t been thinking of us at all.”
Ann Landers

One of hardest things to understand is what it means to be old. I am beginning to realize what Bernard Baruch meant when he said, “To me, old age is always 10 years older than I am.”

When I attended the one-room Isabella Elementary School outside Lebanon, Pennsylvania, anyone who was going to Cornwall High School seemed much older than me. When I reached high school, those who graduated from college or were married or joined the military were the old ones.

When Evie and I first got married, her parents celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary. They seemed so old. Now, when a couple celebrates their silver wedding anniversary they almost seem like young people to me. And I must admit it was quite a shock when AARP informed me that they included me in their ranks when I turned 50 years old. 

But it was a product made popular by Joseph Pedott that changed the way I finish the sentence “You know you are old if … ” On September 1, 1985, Pedott first sold to the public a sound activated electrical switch called “The Clapper,” with the advertising slogan, “Clap On! Clap Off!” 

Over the years Evie and I have watched that commercial around the holidays and it always makes us smile. The jingle gets stuck in our heads and we can’t get it out. The commercial usually features an elderly person needing to turn off a light ​that is always just out of reach. Then, with three steady claps, the light goes off or comes on and you hear the oft repeated refrain “Clap On! Clap Off!” If there was ever a commercial that screamed “old” it was that one, at least for people “always 10 years older than I am.”

But this year when I went to find the switch to turn on our Christmas tree lights I said to Evie, “You know what we should get: The Clapper.” At first she thought I was joking and I was, sort of. But the more I talked about it, the better the idea sounded. 

Because the commercial said they were sold at Walgreens, a few days later we stopped by to get one. Evie said if I wanted one, I had to get it by myself while she browsed elsewhere in the store. I looked everywhere and couldn’t find it. And because of the stigma that “old people” used it, I sure didn’t want to ask for help. But after checking each aisle, I finally had to ask someone but that person couldn’t find it either. 

So, at the top of her voice the clerk hollered, “Does anyone know where The Clapper is?” I wish you could have seen the look on Evie’s face as our eyes met. She was in another aisle sort of pretending she wasn’t with me. And both of us about died when moments later, a voice came over the loudspeaker, “Does anyone know where The Clapper is?  We have a gentleman looking for one.” 

Fortunately (or unfortunately), we found The Clapper and I picked up two of them, quickly paid for them and, with our mission accomplished, we hurried out of the store. When we got to our car, we sat there doubled over with laughter.

I have told this story to a few close friends and only after some persuasion has Evie agreed for me to tell it here. Now that we have two Clappers, does that mean we are old?  I don’t think Evie would want me to answer that question. I will tell you, though, that our 11-year-old grandson sure had fun clapping when he was here for Christmas.

Think about it.

Dr. Don Meyer is President of  
University of Valley Forge, Phoenixville, Pa. 
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