Label - Lois Greene Stone

            “Look how many years I’ve lived since my use-by date of average life expectancy!” My husband was being funny yet thinking about our luck.
            “Hm.  Sell-by or use-by,” I returned his remark.
            Our in-town son has been doing our grocery shopping since Covid invaded the world. Each Sunday, as he hands me products to wipe-down, he lets me know the dates affixed to many products that are typed out so small I’d need a magnifying glass. His younger eyes see the little grey writing on a black, thin label. With a permanent marker, I boldly write on the packages.
            I’ve questioned the use-by vs the sell-by, the refrigerate-after-opening directive but wonder why some items are okay at room temperature until the lid is released. Sugar has a specified month/ year to toss out, yet the manufacturer told me that sugar never spoils and that’s marketing propaganda. So, does a tea bag really have a shelf-life? How about bottled water that I check the discard stamped and, if unused, trash?
            So, thinking about aging, there are ‘dates’ reminding us what we can’t do anymore. One is simple: sitting on a lawn and getting up from that position. Definitely has a do-by or give up trying. Riding a two-wheeler, spinning on figure ice skates, playing singles tennis, walking uneven ground on park trails; a hilly incline seems to become a mountain, a flight of stairs has to have a banister for support, should come with ‘use by’. Lifting a turkey to cook for Thanksgiving might be stamped with an age limit before trying to hold the heavy pan and put it into the oven. Gardening tools might be tagged with age-appropriate disclaimers. Definitely a snow-shovel should say ‘at your own risk’ after a certain age number, but that’s not quite a sell-by or a use-by except it might be, as my spouse suggested, the average age for…
            We’ve thought of old age as being ten years above our current ones. He’s changed the parameters! Wonder if the fish label should say: if fresh and you got it home quickly, use-by tomorrow or freeze. But, then, it doesn’t mention how long the piece can sit in the freezer! And how long can cooked food safely sit refrigerated until the garbage can claims it? Doesn’t say. And does use-by mean until midnight of the date? 
            Since he and I have beaten the statistics for life/death, maybe I can create a live-by label. We’ve never done a bucket list as that wasn’t a priority, and still not one. And we’ve never considered ourselves average professionally or even as parents, so, maybe, the average-age for termination went by, and we didn’t notice!
            We definitely are not average with extended family as few today have fifteen grandchildren, and, so far, eleven great-grandchildren. So maybe the data about mortality is like the sugar label and only a marketing thing! And don’t many of us know that time is a use-by and cannot ever be found again once gone? Ah, but the sell-by time is future. I prefer that.

Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Poetry and personal essays have been included in hard & softcover book anthologies.  Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.  The Smithsonian selected her photo to represent all teens from the 1950’s; a large showcase in its American History Museum features her photo. hand-designed clothing, and her costume sketches. ‘Girlhood’ exhibit opened 10-2020 and will go on tour beginning Jan. 2023.