Late Bloomer

Memoir and Essay
A Late Bloomer (McSweeney’s April 10, 2020)
Judah Leblang
Medford, MA

I was born in 1957, the expansive peak of the Baby Boom. My generation, as The Who reminded us, wanted to die before we got old. At least that’s what I heard growing up, listening to the music on my transistor radio and watching my older peers protest the Vietnam War, go to Woodstock, and partake in the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll lifestyle that I could only glimpse from my perch in suburban Cleveland. I wondered if I was born too late.Fast forward fifty years. In the midst of the pandemic, I find I’m eligible for “senior hours” at my local grocery store, one of the few privileges of age. The other morning, I trooped into Whole Foods with my funky homemade mask crafted from a yarmulke I ‘borrowed’ from my synagogue. A man of about 70, with a real disposable mask, stood inside the doorway and asked, “Can you tell me your age, please?” The answer, 63, felt strange on my tongue, a foreign substance. I’ve always been a late bloomer. After bouncing around in work and in life — I was a special education teacher, a career counselor, a sign language interpreter, and a kitchen worker at a yoga ashram, all by age 35 — I became a writer in my 40s, and finally fulfilled a dream by writing and performing a one-man show in my mid-50s.

Now, I’m constantly reminded that I’m over 60, a member of a high-risk group. The constant COVID coverage tells me what I already know – that life is finite. And though I’ve reinvented myself several times over the past few decades, Father Time is the ultimate arbiter, and he always wins in the end.

My last name, Leblang, means ‘live long’ in German, but men in my family usually don’t. My father died at 61; his father was 65. Still, I’m hunkered down at home, thankful for my relatively good health, and hoping that as a “Junior-Senior,” I’ll still have more time.