When did I become ''Hon''?
Was it when the color dribbled from my beard, leaving behind puffy clouds of patriarchal white?
Was it when I had to begin taking three or four warmup steps out of the car before the creaks in my knees loosened up into a decent hobble?
Was it when the youthful smoothness of my skin sunk beneath wrinkles, bumps and a few brown spots?
Whenever it was, at some point when I wasn't looking, I slipped from eliciting the buoyant greetings of ''Yo, dude'' to the reserved-for-gramps coddling of ''Hi, Hon.''
(Yes, I concede that I am a grandfather, but only for two years. It's not like I've accumulated a lot of seniority at the job yet.)
It was six or seven years ago when a smattering of waitresses started it - ''What can I bring you, Honey? A senior coffee?'' I was still in my 40s.
Last fall, the clerks at the convenience mart where I buy my NOT senior beverages started calling me ''hon'' - ''Here's your change, Hon. Oops. You better not try to bend over all that way to pick that up. I'll get it.''
I wanted to snap, ''Thanks, little girl. Does your mommy know you're playing store before your homework's done?''
The last time I went through the drive-through, the kid gently handed the bag through the window and said, ''Here you go, Honey. Be careful, now. It might be kinda heavy for you.'' It was a taco and a bag of chips.
I harumphed my way home, pulled out the laptop, adjusted my bifocals, upped the light setting, and asked ''Burt's Eye View'' readers on Facebook, ''Is this what happens to curmudgeons of a certain age?''
I learned I was not the only distressed ''hon.''
''I knew,'' Valerie W. said, ''I'd passed some invisible barrier that I don't remember passing when retail clerks and fast food folks said, 'Thank you, ma'am' when they gave me my order. Hmmph.''
Shellie P. groused, ''I got called 'sweetie' by a younger waitress and felt like socking her.''
Susan C., a missionary in Moyobamba, Peru, said, ''Here they have started calling me 'Madrecita' - little mother. It's not senora anymore.''
Beth T. philosophized, ''Don't worry about it until they start talking to you louder and slower - CAAAN YOU UNDERSTANNND ME, HON?''
Ahh. So that's what happened at the grocery.
My daughter, a 24-year-old twerp who runs a retail store, soothingly said, ''Dad, it's just them being polite. I call all sorts of people 'hon.' If I don't know someone's name, they adopt the name 'hon,' 'honey' and 'sweetie.'''
Easy for her to say. She lives deep in Virginia. ''Hon'' doesn't sound like such an old person title in the South. Up here in northeast Ohio, it means the spring in my step sprung a leak and the laugh lines tickling my eyes burrowed trenches of guffaws - or grumps.
The doctor said, ''It's just a sign of respect for the normal maturing process, Mr. Cole.''
Mister? MISTER! That's my dad, not me!
Sometimes it's difficult to hear the truth. Thankfully, my ears should be giving out any time now, Hon.
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