anne mikolay 2012 120`Twas a nice, sunny day, the kind meant for meandering through the farmers' market, and I was feeling rather chipper...until the cashier offered me my senior citizen discount, and my euphoria came to a sudden halt.

While I am admittedly no longer a spring chicken, I don't yet qualify for senior citizen discounts and don't quite think of myself as “old”. And that got me thinking: what exactly was it that caused the cashier to identify me as a senior citizen? Was it my graying hair? My sensible shoes? My glasses? Or was it because everybody, myself included, categorizes others born generations before themselves as “old”? What, then, is “old”?

The internet defines “old” as “having lived for a long time; no longer young”, hardly an enlightening description for a word that makes the post-thirty set shiver. The thirty-somethings can relax; according to a 2013 Huffington Post survey, middle age does not begin until the age of 53. If you're middle aged in your 50s, then, are you “old” in your 60s? Tell that to Christie Brinkley, who claims 60 is the new 30. If Brinkley is 60 but says she feels 30, will she be “old” when she's an octogenarian claiming 80 is the new 50? And if 80 is the new 50, by the Huffington Post's standards, won't Brinkley then be approaching middle age?

All these numbers are nonsense, of course; a far more practical definition of “old” is needed. Allow me to take a stab at it.

You're old when teen idols of your youth begin denying they have had plastic surgery. Case in point: David Cassidy and Marie Osmond, who no longer resemble their former selves. In fact, if Marie keeps having work done to her face, she will soon rival Joan Rivers.

You're old when teen idols of your youth begin using canes and advertising for mortgage companies. Donny Osmond only recently gave up the cane he used while recovering from a ruptured tendon in his right gluteus maximus, and Henry “Fonzie” Winkler now does television commercials pushing reverse mortgages to seniors.

You're old when admired actors of your youth become unrecognizable, like Richard Dean Anderson, aka “MacGyver”, and Mark Hamill, aka Luke Skywalker.

You're old when you visit a 55-plus community, look around and think, “I could live here!”

You're old when you don't think you look as old as celebrities your own age until you see a photograph of yourself and realize you do.

You're old when songs you loved in high school are now used for commercials. You're old when you remember the song, but not what the commercial is for.

You're old when you see a movie like 2013's comedy “Last Vegas” (Michael Douglas/Morgan Freeman), and you laugh aloud at the “senior citizen” humor because you identify with it.

You're old when popular television personalities of your youth start popping up on “Where Are They Now” segments on television and internet.

You're old when you go upstairs to get something and forget what it was.

You're old when you instinctively raise your head to stretch out your double chin when being photographed and then crop yourself out of photos because you didn't raise your head high enough.

You're old when you shun new technology because you don't see the necessity, and you don't think you will understand how to use it.

You're old when you remember how to use a rotary phone.

You're old when you refer to stylists as “beauticians”, hair salons as “beauty parlors”, and the only product you put in your hair is conditioner.

You're old when you can't figure out how to unlock the doors in the most recent model cars, and you think the dashboard has as many do-hickies as an airplane control panel.

You're old when you use words like do-hickies, meandering, and chipper.

You're old when you use words like do-hickies, meandering, and chipper.

You're old when you say the same thing twice.

You're old when you ponder what it means to be “old”.

I could go on, but I won't. You get the idea. “Old” is relative, a word that means different things to different people, but certainly provides great fodder (another “old” word) for humor. The legendary Bob Hope once said, “Middle age is when your age starts to show around your middle.” (Tell Christie Brinkley to put on her Spanx.) Hope also declared, “You know you are old when the candles cost more than the cake.” Andy Rooney once said, “The last birthday that's any good is 23.” Since I don't eat birthday cake and can't remember my 23rd birthday (cuz I'm “old”), I propose a more philosophical definition of “old”. “Old” is when you look back on your years and prefer the present version of yourself. Maybe the younger version looked fresher (nice way to say “less wrinkled”) and less tired (nice way to say “less used up”), but the present you is wiser, kinder, and more appreciative of the moments that make a life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “The years teach much which the days never knew.”

Touche, Mr. Emerson! Touche!