Once upon a time in a land far away, I was the youngest. Almost always. (Except at home, where as the oldest I was gleefully “bossy”—though if I’d been a boy, I might instead have been dubbed a leader.) In elementary school most of my classmates celebrated their birthdays during the school year. They advanced in age before my eyes while I had to wait until summer to age one more eagerly anticipated year. Then came the sixth grade.
In October of that fateful year, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite. The cold war was in its heyday, and the rush to beat the Russians was on. Across the state, we sixth-graders were given a test. The goal: to identify students who could successfully accelerate our learning by scrunching our seventh and eighth grade studies into one year. If we graduated a year early, maybe we’d be more likely to go on to college and then to graduate school where we’d discover the next great thing to make our country the greatest, to beat our worst global enemies.
Overnight I became even younger than my peers, sometimes close to two years younger. All through high school, all through college, and in the early years of my adult working life, I was the baby. I got used to it.
As time went on, I began to notice something: my colleagues were getting younger and younger. So were my doctors, my dentists, my elected officials—and just about everyone else. Meanwhile, I was getting older. Old enough to be their mother.
And so it went. As I neared the end of a nearly thirty-five-year career in the field of workforce development, I was part of what, in the world of technology, is called a legacy system. My colleagues across the state looked around and realized I was now one of the few who held the vast array of institutional knowledge about our field. I knew its history, its various iterations, and the virtually forgotten rationale for various decisions and regulations that had been implemented over the years. I knew the whos, the whats, the whens, wheres, whys, and hows. When I was gone, a whole lot of knowledge would go with me. Some of my professional friends gave me a new moniker. I became the crone. In its best tradition, a crone is a Wise Woman. I embraced my new persona.
In the last weeks of my career, I was surprised by those same people with a retirement celebration. Ron (he’s my guy) was there, too. In the course of conversation, he mentioned that he thought he looked like a gnome. Height has never been his strong suit, and degenerative discs along with the effects of spinal stenosis have shortened his vertical dimension by several additional inches. And his eyes do crink with a twinkle that matches his ever present mischievous smile.
So there you have it. It was a tiny leap to brand ourselves as the gnome and crone. We think it fits us. What do you think?
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