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My World: How much stuff do we old folks really need to carry around?


So, what's the deal with backpacks?

I realize young folks like them, as they have all sorts of stuff to lug around that they can't live without: school books, lunches, sports gear, etc. When I was in college and law school, some of us carried briefcases. But never backpacks that I recall. And in high school, we never carried anything that would have made us appear studious.

But for older folk like us now? Why backpacks?

More and more often, I see middle-age and even elderly people with backpacks on, marching along to the mall or the supermarket, or just out walking in the park. And I wonder, what in heaven's name do they carry in there?

Women have always carried purses, of course. Men usually carry wallets. Everybody needs some money, a few credit cards, one's driver's license. But that's about it. What more does the average adult person need to get along in a modern urban society? Well, a smartphone. But that goes without saying and certainly doesn't require a backpack.

So, I'm left to wonder, what's in there?

With all the concern about terrorists and suicide bombers, I think this phenomenon of toting backpacks just adds to the angst of living in the modern world. On a serious note, the Boston Marathon bombers carried their explosives in backpacks right into the crowd, and no one questioned it. They fit right in. So while I realize folks have the right to strap on a backpack if they so choose, who, but for the kids, needs one?

And then there are the various styles and sizes. Some are utilitarian and look like they came from the REI store and would work well on the heights of Mount Everest. Others are dainty, or at least as dainty as a backpack can be, and are made of materials such as soft suede leather with fancy trim and sometimes even rhinestone decorations. They scream "Nordstrom." Some seem so small it is hard to imagine they have any real use at all. Just a fashion statement. But what fashion statement?

Yesterday, I saw a couple, middle-age or beyond, striding up the street together, two peas in a pod, looking long married — he with a large, hefty backpack, she with something smaller and more feminine. Hers seemed to be almost empty, as it just lay flaccid against her back. His contained something, but it was hard to say what.

They had looks on their faces that suggested they might have just scaled Mount Hood, or walked in from the Outback. But Lake Oswego is nothing like the Outback. There are convenience stores everywhere. There is probably no necessity that one can't buy on the road. There is very little need to carry your provisions with you.

This morning, I saw an elderly man pushing a walker at the mall, slowly but surely, getting his daily exercise. Yes, he was wearing a backpack. Perhaps it contained his oxygen equipment or defibrillator paddles. Something that might have saved his life in an emergency. Or perhaps it was just his lunch.

I suspect I am never going to find the answer to these rhetorical questions. Fashions come and go, however meaningless. The next fashion statement to magically appear may be for everyone to carry an accordion at all times. Just in the event someone asks you to play for them. Even if you don't know how to play the blasted thing.

And, believe me, we're hoping you don't.

Lake Oswego resident Ronald Talney is a retired trial lawyer, writer and poet. In 1985, he wrote the official dedication poem for the statue Portlandia. Look for his column, "My World," on the second Thursday of every month in The Review.