A balding young pup of 65 years or so came up to me one recent Wednesday bubbling over with a happy event in his ripening life.
“Guess what?” he said, hyping the great news, “I just received the first Social Security check of my life.”
A grand day indeed. And it’s not just the money. “Security” is the key word in Social Security. It’s a job with no work required, a job from which you cannot be fired, except perhaps by a malfunctioning Congress.
No wonder he was smiling. He had just won the senior lottery. But he was also smiling for me.
“You’ve probably been receiving a Social Security check for a few years already,” he said, diplomatically pretending to believe I might not be old enough yet for a pension.
“My first check arrived 10 years ago,” I confessed. “But let me tell you something,” I added. “It wasn’t the first time I started receiving a huge Social Security benefit. The first time happened more than 50 years ago.”
He looked puzzled.
“That was the year my parents started collecting their Social Security checks. That was the year that neither they nor I had to worry about their having enough money to live on. The first big benefit of Social Security is not having to worry so much about your parents.”
He grasped my point. He told me about a great-grandmother in his family who had to be supported by younger members of the family. That was the norm before Social Security. In those days, elders who could no longer work might become another mouth to feed in a family that already had too many mouths.
In a time before Social Security, most of us would have housed and fed the ones who had housed and fed us as children. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean that we or least of all our parents would have relished a dependent relationship. In the time before Social Security and 401(k)s and jobs with pensions, elders often moved in with the kids late in life, for better or for worse.
And now that my generation has become society’s elders, existing financially on the far end of life, I and that new Social Security recipient the other day are glad to be self-sustaining on our own.
Between Social Security and Medicare, we are taken care of. The aches and pains of aging are a sufficient challenge without leaving us ignominiously begging spending money from our children for a cup of coffee or a bran muffin.
Social Security and Medicare can be a godsend, not just to us, but to the kids and grandkids. The younger generations would probably rather pay gradually during working years into elder support systems rather than have elders like me stuffed into a spare bedroom filling the night with our wheezing, snoring and occasional shrieking.
They would probably prefer to keep Social Security afloat rather than listen to me tell the same seven corny jokes every day until my children are the ones with reason to shriek.
Most families probably do better on the whole if not living in each other’s laps day and night. There’s something unworkable about putting an elder who uses the bathroom 14 times a day in the same house with teenagers who take hour-long showers.
So just as my first happy day of Social Security occurred when my parents reached the fiscal safety of a Social Security check, so, too, is it a blessing to avoid becoming too much of a lead weight on the lives of my middle-aged children.
Our prime duty is to lift up their lives, not drag them down.Bill Hall can be contacted at email@example.com or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501