The lady by the beer tent at the outdoor concert venue said she didn’t need to check my ID. She assumed, quite rightly, that I was of legal drinking age. Requiring no verification, she quickly slapped the drink responsibly band around my wrist and encouraged me to move on. Little did she know just how far I’ve travelled.
I’m 55 and it’s been a long time since anyone has questioned my rightful age. And I don’t mind. I’ve come a long way since my first Ma’am.
In the summer of 1981 I was home from my first year of college. One afternoon I was browsing in a clothing boutique in my hometown shopping mall. I was minding my own business, thumbing through the clothes racks, when the teenage clerk asked, “May I help you — Ma’am?”
I was 19 and mortified. Where did this little twit get off calling me Ma’am? In a huff, I walked out of the store.
Ma’am is a contraction of madam. Webster’s New Dictionary calls it a polite term for a lady, used in direct address. In the clerk’s defense, she probably had been told to use the courtesy title with all female customers. But to me, at the time, Ma’am just meant old, a derogatory designation I did not accept.
Back then, I knew I was old enough. I could drink — and vote. (In 1981 Wisconsin, the legal age for both was 18.) Sure, I was an adult — but I was young, dammit! I was a Miss with my whole life ahead of me — not a Ma’am whose time had passed.
A lot of living happens between 19 and 55: college and career, marriage and family, a mortgage and so much more. Today I’m old enough to know better. The more experience I have, the more experience I want. My time hasn’t passed at all.
Being Ma’am means I’m alive — still learning and loving, still growing and gaining wisdom. So ask to see my ID, or don’t. Offer me a senior discount or not. And feel free to call me Ma’am.