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The Newcomer

Retiring gracefully

I have retired twice, once without retirement funds and once with, but neither time did I do it with grace.

I am an admitted workaholic. If there is one thing I know how to do, it is work. I thrive on it. What I don't know how to do is play.

And that is nothing to brag about.

Perhaps if I had balanced work with rest and relaxation, I would have been a successful retiree. But I always worked as if I were killing snakes-full out, as if my life depended on it.

Even when I had cancer and intensive chemotherapy treatments, I worked 40- to 50-hour weeks. When my doctor found out about it, he didn't believe it. No one, he said, could work while receiving the doses of toxins I was getting.

Well, he was wrong.

I think if I had stayed at home in bed during the six months of chemo, I might not be here to write about it today. Work was my antidote.

But, strangely, as soon as my last chemo treatment was finished in February 1990, I handed in my resignation at work. By May I was out of the office and on the road to Delaware, taking that lengthy trip by myself just because I could...and also because I had never been to Delaware.

Because I had an extremely beneficial employment contract, I was entitled to receive monthly checks for one year and health insurance until I reached the age of 65, but I had no other income in sight.

I knew that I didn't know how to play, and I decided to dedicate 1990 to learning how.

There were only three things in life that I wanted to do that I hadn't yet done, and I shared that information with my eldest son.

I told him I wanted to white water raft, take a hot air balloon ride and re-learn how to drive a stick shift.

He laughed at me and said I could drive a stick shift that very day. When I suggested I get behind the wheel of his car to do it, he became more than a little hesitant.

On the drive east, I visited Mark Twain's Hannibal, Missouri, where I took a steam boat dinner cruise on the Mississippi, visited the old and beautifully kept plantations along the James River in Virginia and, on the way back home, went white water rafting on the Little Salmon River in Idaho. That water is cold in May.

I enjoyed spring and summer on the Long Beach Peninsula, where my little cabin was the last before hitting the sand dunes. I did all the touristy things-picnicking on secluded beaches, clamming, visiting museums, hanging out at the downtown gazebo where musicians entertained us every weekend. I spent autumn and winter in my birth town, Walla Walla, where I took writing courses at the community college, was invited to be part of a writer's group led by the instructor...and ended up teaching a journal-writing course for adults.

It seemed that even my "play" turned quickly into work.

And I was back in the fast lane.

When I turned 62, after five years of splitting my work week between care-giving for Alzheimer's victims and writing for a weekly newspaper in Cle Elum, I felt I was ready for a real retirement with a steady retirement pay-back.

It was great. I volunteered about 20 hours a week at church and 10 more at the public library, then moved back to the beach where I volunteered at the visitor's bureau for a year and, finally, volunteered three full days a week at the Red Cross office.

It took me awhile to realize I was still working. I just wasn't getting paid for it.

Then I came to Sunnyside and spent a year vegetating in the apartment that felt like home as soon as I saw it. Reading, sleeping, eating and more reading.

Finally, I was truly retired.

And bored.

The Sunnyside Daily Sun News rescued me, gave me freelance work and then, this past year, the opportunity to work full-time.

It's been great. This newcomer has been introduced to the Sunnyside community in a way that would be impossible as just a new resident. I've met lots of people, who have amazed, impressed and inspired me with their stories. The growers of this area have been especially generous in sharing with me their love and knowledge of farming for our dairy, farm and harvest editions.

But I think it's time I try once again to retire and leave this position open for someone from the younger generation. Someone who will, I hope, thrive on reporting in the way that I have over the years. So, it is with some regret that I close out my time here at the Sun and move on.

It would be ideal if I could still turn my hand to writing now and then. If that happens, well and good. But top priority will have to be learning how to retire gracefully this third time out.

I recognize that playing is very important and should be done right. I just have to learn how.

This past September, I finally took that hot air balloon ride, courtesy of Cheryl Isaacs of Tigard, Oregon, who piloted us over about 10 miles of Prosser scenery during that city's balloon rally. It was wonderful.

So, while I have experienced the wind and water, there is still a stick shift somewhere waiting for me. Hey, son......

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