On: Retirement — November 26, 2020

On: Retirement


On a bright Monday morning years ago, I received an email from my friend Ellie. The message read, “Four years, three months and five days to go…”.

Ellie had begun her countdown to retirement, to that coveted place which said NO WORK, no getting up at 5:00 a.m. I might add that I’d already gone into that hallowed ( or so I thought) precinct called the “Big R”. When we met for lunch one day, she outlined her plans for that gold-at-the-end-of-the-rainbow day. She would keep her double-wide trailer home and use her savings to buy an RV.

“Ellie, you mean LIVE in the RV?”

“Uh huh!”

“”You serious?”

“Uh huh”.

“Where will you go?”

”Woman, you don’t listen. I’ve been telling you for years. I will travel.”
“Just you? Alone?”
”Uh huh!”

So the clock ticked down and at last, the fateful day came. The double-wide had been renovated and her son and family would live in it. The RV had been given the once-over. She was ready to roll. When we met for our last lunch, I cried.
Ellie had dipped her fingers in the pot of her gold. The thing is, that she knew years before she retired what she wanted to do when that day came. And she did it.

She had planned.

But me? I had made plans but they were all amorphous, nebulous, nothing concrete.
Sitting at my desk thinking of retirement, I dreamed of sleeping in, morning coffee on the back porch swing, my book open, my iPad nearby looking through the window at the morning sun on the trees and looking for the swallowtail butterfly I had seen.
Dream on.

I must get up to cook, clean and do grocery shopping, and laundry and ……

If my swallowtail butterfly ever fluttered by, I don’t know. But I have my suspicions. I think it left because it had seen my husband spraying the bejesus out of the butterfly eggs and the caterpillars. To cut this story short, I put the spray can in the garbage, dusted off my hands and later, studiously pretended to help him look for it.

I have coined the phrase “gainfully unemployed” to describe my present state of being. My family understand that “Unemployed” refers to my retired state. “Gainfully” refers to all the things I must do and don’t want to.

You see, all of this comes because, unlike Ellie, I didn’t plan. I should have bought an RV.

Retired means that you are not young. You are an established member of AARP. You get the monthly news paper and you read all the articles on Medicare and Medicaid, and how to not get scammed and how to save on utility bills. Retirement can be synonymous to being “stupidee” or in a state where your grand children take pity and must explain slowly and patiently how to navigate the unknown maze called the internet.

Talking about that specie of humanity called “grandchildren”. They’re lovely but guaranteed to make you tired when they are little. God knows why He permitted only the young to beget children. Imagine having to do what it takes to bear a child when you’re 70 years old. Eeeeew! They have their parents and you have them.
When they’re little, they visit and turn your well ordered home upside down. Then you sigh and cry when they leave. When they’re little and you’re already retired, you and they talk in baby language. They understand you. Then they grow up and when you try that same language, they say to you, “Nanny, why are you being weird?”
Your eyes turn inwards and you begin to re examine yourself from their eyes. Not so good. So my message to those of you contemplating the big “R”, buy your RV.

This state of being retired means that you get to be buddies and on first name terms with the receptionist and nurse at your doctor’s office.

“Morning Jinny Love. How’s it going today.”

” Hi there A. How’s that pain in your hip doing?”

“Not too good. I fell down. But Jinny, look what I brought you guys!”

You hand over the cookies you baked for the staff and see the glee on the faces. You know your way around the building, after all, you almost have that as your second address. Those visits must be made or something happens… maybe it concerns your deductible with your health care programs. I have never bothered to educate my mind about the legalities and the ins and outs of what it all means. Stuuuuups! I call the Humana agent and ask him all my stupid questions, one at a time so my brain doesn’t suffer and react negatively from overload. I always begin my conversation with, “Andy, can you please explain…..? I don’t know what it refers to.” Although I’ve worked at a university for many years and have helped many, I find it useful to allow people to think that I need help. I do. They help. After all retired people have grey hair and that state is (most of us are grey haired) synonymous with loss of many functions – cognitive ones not being the least.

And another thing. In most cases, your husband is older then you are. And now you are both living in the same place every day after years of spending your days apart . You are the one doing the things that call for trips outside of the home because, he can’t be trusted. Driving up a one way street is calculated to bring a police officer pounding on your door. There are also things that test his credulity and utilize his four score years and more.
So here’s the story. I came home from running errands to find this set of forms on the table with lots of printed information in small print. The highlighted line was waiting for a signature. I believe that in my absence, someone had come to the door and corrupted his mind with visions of money if he agreed to sell them the house. Now here is where you must take pity on me and congratulate me. The red in my eyes was tinged with fire, but I quietly took that set of papers and put it in the garbage. I called my daughter. Then I went to STAPLES and bought a Quit Claim deed. The people at the Government , County Office were very sympathetic and he ( my husband) was helped to understand that this was for his personal safety and well being. Seething, I was still seeing fire.
I don’t believe anyone would bring forms to anyone to cajole them into selling an RV.

Scammers are all around. I am not exempt. Medicare told me after a very bitter experience that THEY DO NOT CALL. They will write. I received a call from a person purporting to be a Medicare representative which elicited information no one should ever give out over the phone if you didn’t initiate the call. Retirees are always at home and are very eager to answer the phone. They are also at the mercy of the scammers who know how to work on their credulousness. I disconnected my phone.

And yes, you have no place to go. You are in the house all day 24/7. Why must you wonder why your utility bills are higher than when you were working?
I must ask Ellie what her utility bills are like in the RV. I guarantee you that they are nowhere near that of the double-wide.

The father of my children has lost most of his hearing and forgets to wear his hearing aids. I need someone to talk to. He is not a good talking partner because I have to repeat things five times. At this point in time, I have begun soliloquizing. I used to sing, but now I carry on these conversations that only I can understand. He watches the news. I soliloquize about what to do with the fish I bought for our dinner, or the conversation I must have with the utility company re: their overly high water bill. I must remember to remind them that I don’t have a swimming pool. I end this part of my soliloquy with a long suck- teeth.

My closet….. since I retired and since I have no place to go, I have not bought a single new item of clothing. My closet is home to all the silk blouses, tailored skirts and trousers, linen, cotton and everything else one wears to look nice at work. I have tried wearing a few of them at home just because. My grandson, who was visiting, looked at me wearing my white linen trousers and a colorful blouse while I made breakfast.

“Nanny, are you going out somewhere?”

I look at him with eyes that say, “Pardon me child! I’m trying to look nice here man. Why you putting a spoke in my wheel?” But the words refuse to roll out from behind my tongue. It’s not a soliloquy., just an unspoken thing in my mouth. I was “saving” my good clothes in the vain hope that I will be once again going somewhere nice and be called up to riffle through my hangers to CHOOSE. It’s not his fault. It’s that he’s accustomed to seeing me dressed in at-home-old clothes. So like my sister up the I- 95 in Jacksonville does, I will give away the entire contents (or almost all cause hope still burns in my heart) of my work closet. Lighten up is her mantra.

I must ask Ellie about closet space in her RV.

On: Family — November 9, 2020

On: Family

The word “ family” denotes a group of people who share the same bonds in the same home. While the greater number of members of this group may share the same genetic codes, there will be others in the group who have been added through circumstances – marriage and adoption. It is in this setting of physical proximity that shared values, habits, cultural practices, traditions, family history, ideas and most of all affection become the ties that bind the group together. It stands to reason that strongly knit and well adjusted families will contribute to a well adjusted society.

When my grandfather died early, he left his two very young children in the care of one of his sons, my father, who was himself relatively young. My grandfather died young and our grandmother followed him soon after.  As a result, the care of their last two children, Hashim and Shamyune, fell to my father and his young wife. My father held fast to that responsibility even after both siblings married and moved on. He saw to their schooling and arranged a suitable husband for his sister when she reached the right age. In many cultures, be it Greek, Caribbean , or Argentinian,  the family is a unit that is expected to remain as a whole.

In many eastern cultures, the concept of family differs vastly from that with which we, in the West, are familiar. The family is the unit that is expected to remain as a unit with each member being an important, and very often indispensable part, of that unit – emotional and physical health, wellness, education, finances, employment – all being the responsibility of the UNIT until one member moves away through marriage. Then it is that the other members come together to make that transition as smooth and as seamless as possible. This new family retains its ties with the parent family, paying great attention to what is expected of it, retaining the bonds of blood and culture and passing on what it has learned to its own children ensuring the survival of the family beliefs, habits and behaviors being cognizant of, “ This is how my mother/father did it.”

Now, in the West, there is a much different model. Children leave home, and are expected to, when they reach eighteen years (or a bit more) of age. They set up their own establishments and are responsible for their lives; their own well being, education, health, and provisions are things that they must work for. They too, are expected retain their connections with the parent family. This move erodes the idea of proximity that lends itself to the strong familial bond, thus putting some stress on filial relationships. This is why it is incumbent on each member of the group irrespective of where they live, to be mindful of the benefits of having a family.

The family, whether as a single unit or in disparate locations, provides a background and safe place for survival as a member of the larger society. This IDEA of family teaches its members the social skills of living with others – in the home as well as in the larger society. The stable family transmits and develops virtues of love, respect, and understanding, pity, concern and sociability without which its members will lose their standing in the society. My mother used to tell us, “ Never have someone come to your home without offering them something to eat. You never know when they last ate.” This simple but honest and heartfelt notion of hospitality we have passed on to our families.

We all have a strong desire to belong to something or to someone. This desire must arise from an understanding of the the ideals that hold the group together. Should you not believe in these values that bind the group, you will disturb the equilibrium of the structure. For example, the rights and obligations, the ideas and opinions, and the privacy of the other members must be safeguarded and upheld. Some examples of this might be manifested in behaviors that are mindful of such actions as turn- taking in discussions, respect for the privacy of others, speaking without disturbing the equilibrium of the discussion, speaking with respect to each other, mindful that oftentimes, words cause pain and once uttered cannot be recalled. These behaviors are strongly upheld in our family discussions and anyone who breaks the rules is called to order.

Strong family relationships do not just happen. They must be nurtured and paid attention to. The bond strengthens when experiences are shared, when there is mutual participation in decisions concerning the welfare of each member, when there is mutual sharing of problems and common interests and combined efforts in crises. My sister had been diagnosed with stage four breast cancer. My other sisters, nieces and nephews and I took turns to spend week ends with my sick sister and her family, comforting and consoling, wiping away the tears, and just offering our presence that said “We care.” These traits can only result in a strong sense of family security. If these bonds are to remain strong, these attitudes must be carefully nurtured in the same way that a gardener cares for his prized roses. When family bonds are broken and no attempt made at mending them, it destroys the basic woof and warp of the fabric. Very often we must swallow anger and be conciliatory, or persuasive. We must learn the value of negotiation, show respect in the face of confrontations, and more often than not, learn the value of forgiveness and bow, not to personal ego, but to the greater good. How much better it is to say, “I’m sorry. Forgive me” and so, preserve the equanimity, restore peace and feel good about having done so. Holding on to resentments and anger never did anyone any good. The feeling that comes from mending broken fences is above any price.

In every family there will be two or more members who do not see eye to eye. Personality differences, petty jealousies or imagined wrongs will certainly result in conflicts. If we understand the Guyanese idiom “Family cutlass does not cut deep”, we know that these petty squabbles can, like a superficial cut, mend quickly. When I am asked by young family members what to do in these situations, I tell them, “Imagine your relationship with this person two months, or one year from now, and where you want it to be at that time. You do whatever it takes to reach that point in your relationship with this person.”
What this all means is that one person must make the effort and take the initiative.

People who love each other WILL have disagreements because they feel that it is this arena that they can be at their worst and be forgiven because love is the common denominator that will over ride and overlook the ill feelings. However, learning to conquer our baser emotions must be practiced first in the home. Mutual understanding must guide discussions of ideas, hopes, dreams, accomplishments. Family members must celebrate each other’s successes, accomplishments, joys, with the same deep fervor and intensity as they might console and commiserate with failures and losses. Remember to send each family member a kind word, a congratulatory message, or a lilting text that might just make their day. When a message like this is expected and never comes, it is marked with sadness. Doing these small acts has enormous rewards. This is the way we will come to know each other intimately and be better able to show these same behaviors to the world.

One of the most heart warming things any family member has said to me was when I sent a text message to say “Thanks“ for something. The reply was, “ No thanks needed. You have given me more than you will ever know.” It still makes me teary-eyed with gratitude to have this person in my family. I consider each person in my family a blessing.

Times change. Families disperse. Modes of existence improve. Ideas morph. We might each put emphasis on different things. But the one thing that does not change, the single constant in our lives, the thing we all turn towards in the end is FAMILY LOVE.