When I was really little, my mom’s mother was cleaning houses for two wealthy families. I never accompanied her, but I knew some things about her job: that she liked and admired her employers and that she had once been a secretary, but during the depression had gotten laid off and in order to feed her four children with her husband gone, had ended up cleaning houses. Usually she walked down the hill to catch the bus to work, but during lent she walked in order to save the bus fare as her Easter offering at church. I don’t recall exactly when she retired, but as an adult, I remember visiting and finding her puttering about what was left of her WWII victory garden or busy in her kitchen, but never too busy to play with her great grandchildren. Retirement for her was truly a retirement from a life of hard work to one of leisure.
All three of my grandparents lived a long life, to 89, 93 and 102 and what I remember most clearly was lives spent reading, watching television and puttering. When my father-in-law retired my mother-in-law complained constantly that his games of solitaire were always in the way of whatever she was working on. He got active in his lodge, but other than that, he, too, puttered a lot. My father was the exception. He went from a lifetime of drafting and machine design to a pastime of building boats, furniture and dozens of other projects in his extensive shop. He enjoyed sailing and we went on some really neat week-long sailing adventures over the years, but I think he enjoyed the actual building of the boats even more than sailing them.
But now I’m retired, and my life looks nothing like that of my grandparents or even my own father. I was eager to be free of the nine to five rat race so I could spend more time pursuing my goal to become a published author. I spend at least as much time as I did working for someone else, sitting at my desk hard at work on my next novel. And loving it. A high school friend retired to Arizona, giving up his job with the US Customs Service, to end up delivering newspapers before the sun is even up. My cousin recently wound up her long time career with the US government and turned right around to become docent with the US Park service. I met a man on the beach the other day who introduced himself as the owner of a well known downtown restaurant and confided that he'd turned over the running of it to his daughter. But in the next moment he told me he'd just bought another long time landmark of St Augustine and was now rehabbing that before reopening it. So much for retirement! Half the baggers at the grocery store are my age and retirees everywhere are jumping right back into the working world in whole new careers. Some with paychecks attached but many as volunteers, sharing their time and their enthusiasm in new venues. Some of my friends have turned a life-long hobby into a whole new commercial adventure. And others, like me, have joined the Peace Corps for an unmatchable adventure in a far away place working harder than ever.
So, I’m wondering – does anyone ever just retire any more? Or does our better health and longer lives just give us a second chance at life and new adventures?