Maybe you’ve heard the quote about growing older and aging often credited to Mark Twain. It goes “Age is mind over matter. If you don’t mind it doesn’t matter.”

I’ve read enough Twain to say with reasonable certainty the quote is not his. In my reading I never came across anything even close to that sentiment from Mr. Clemens but perhaps more importantly the phrasing does not sound like that of Mark Twain. On top of that I don’t think the sentiment or content is very Gilded Age at all and would not have been readily understood in that era. The expression sounds too modern to me. For that and the other reasons I doubt it should be credited to Twain.

A sports fan acquaintance said he’d heard the famous ballplayer Satchel Paige used to say that quote and I know Ray Charles was known to use it. I heard him. From my view the quote in style and content fits either Paige or Charles a lot better than it does Mark Twain. It sounds a distinctly American expression, though. Had Oscar Wilde said such a sentiment he’d have turned it about into “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” Wilde did say that and (if you ask of me) it is clearly non-American in style.

In any case whoever said age was mind over matter was clever but overly optimistic. A body does not outsmart or out-think the process of aging, of congestive heart failure, or of degenerated joints. When a knee howls in agony when its owner moves too suddenly the knee will not get over it being told to be happy. My take on aging is to compare it to snow plowing. I used to do quite a lot of plowing which I’d describe as a form of continual slow speed controlled crash. Moving snow obeys all the laws of physics and is spiritually uplifting. I loved doing it but as time took its toll the “controlled” part of each crash got a little less controllable as limbs moved less freely and the timing needed to hit pedals and operate levers slid into out of synch with the physics of the task. When plowing becomes a series of uncontrolled crashes it is time to quit, so I did. Oh, but I do miss it. It matters to my mind that I miss it as it mattered to my body that I could not think young to keep reflexes adequate to the job.

I don’t think the presumed Mark Twain quote is all that useful, actually, so I’ll offer my own views on age with the following observations. I’ll wager that if you walk into an unknown kitchen and see a small glass with some pills in it on the counter you are in a home where someone is over fifty. If there are two small glasses (for morning and evening) someone living there is over sixty. These are not precise calculations, but they have merit as the use of small glasses usually precedes ownership of marked pill cases. The first of these a person will own is normally the size of a 6 inch (metric be damned) school ruler.

These pill traps always begin with an S for Sunday and end in S for Saturday. (I fear it is only a matter of time before our sensitivities to others will require us to abandon use of Sunday as offensive to those who don’t believe in it and of Saturday as displeasing to those with a grudge over Saturn.) The basic that comes in between the ages of fifty and sixty will within a decade have grown a few inches in length and overall girth to accommodate the array of supplements and prescriptions used to fix what can’t be repaired. In time (my insurance company sent me one as a thoughtful holiday reminder I’d have gladly done without) the box trap has AM and PM compartments usually shown with a sun symbol or a moon to help prevent geezers from getting confused on that matter. At their peak in home care, pre nursing home attendance, the pill box will resemble a small accordion. When at that pinnacle the device looks like something out of NASA needing a technician to run it.

Another reliable age predictor is the pill cutter. These simple and useful little appliances appear in synch with retirement age. You can almost rely on that absolutely. It’s the rate twelve or twenty year old who can count a pill cutter among their treasures, or for that matter know what one is. They might easily say that such things do not matter but will change their minds as time (if they are lucky) will prove them wrong.

Time and the human body is not all about pills, their counting and cutting. There are other areas of telltale significance. If you’re looking for a shoe horn I suggest you skip visiting a college dorm in your search. As the vacuum cleaner is the natural and mortal enemy of cats and dogs the back of the shoe is the enemy of all young feet and will be mashed down on a regular basis. Starting young, people tend (a condition bypassing Velcro) to convert tied shoes into slip-ons. Laced and polished shoes are almost a memory. Hiking boots may yet be rightly laced, but skip the polish.

Now, if you visit a home and see a chair handily located near the door by a small table whereon there is a convenient shoehorn you immediately know a lot about the residents. You can tell, as well, whether they are novices or not by the horn available. These days most are forced to start with the cheap plastic horn that looks like an unhappy banana peel left out to dry. Those are for beginners. The real thing is metal. The best of those have advertising from companies that often no longer exist except in their old logo. The cream of shoehorns is the long model. Metal ones are OK, but the top of the line is actual horn. My mother’s long shoehorn was among the most intricate I ever saw. It was her way of saying that age did matter and she was not entering that land without style.