He Was Joyous

Ernie on the riverWhenever Ernie laughed, he did so with his entire body, a knee-slapping, unrestrained, booming cackle that invited others to join the every-minute-of-every-day party he hosted for anybody who wandered by.

But eating corn on the cob made Ernie more philosophical: the more gnawed cobs, the more profound his utterances. During a six-cob session, he said the best thing about being old was no longer worrying about the expectations of others, but doing what he wanted. Furthermore, when he did so, people usually expressed amazement and appreciation.

Since his favorite activities were drinking beer and singing scandalous songs he learned in the Navy, I could believe people expressed amazement.

“I’m easier on myself now I’m old and retired,” he continued “I’m finally free to do things because I want to, not because I’m proving something to myself or others. At 68, I’m 200 pounds of blue-toned steel, and I can pee into the wind if I want.”

At the time, caught up in a whirlwind of goal achievement, I chuckled, but missed both Ernie’s point and the model he provided. He wasn’t offering toileting advice. Instead, his words and actions were saying that as you grow older and retire, you can laugh, create fun, and be kind to yourself. You can relax into the rhythm of the life you now have with no need to maintain your past self; and, if you take the time to look for delight and humor when young, they’ll be easier to find when you’re old.

Though I didn’t know it at the time, I had only a few years left to benefit from Ernie’s fun and wisdom. Too soon, I sat in a drab hospital room as he drifted in and out of sleep, watching his gnarled hands crawl the bed covers and listening to the shudders of his breath. I knew the day was fast approaching when I would join his family to drop flowers into his beloved Yuba River, which flowed through the Sierra Nevada Mountains as deeply and surely as his friendship and happy spirit flowed through our lives.

In memory of Ernie and to remind myself how to live well in retirement, each year I choose a summer day to eat corn on the cob and sing his favorite navy song—the one about Columbus and the cabin boy.

Have some thoughtsI
related to today’s post?
Please leave a comment below.

A Reluctant Author

I put my sudoku puzzle aside, reached for more popcorn, and remembered something I read long ago in a self-help book. Its title and author were hidden in the cloud of nonsense that fogs my mind, but an idea from it still lingered: not writing the book inside of you is more stressful than writing it.

“Well, Unknown Person, easy for you to say: obviously, you have more free time in your day than I do,” I thought—as I settled down for a nap. “Besides, I already write newspaper columns. That’s quite enough, thank you.”

I had written a weekly human-interest column for the local paper for three years. I hadn’t become rich and famous, but I liked running into folks who enjoyed my work. I sometimes thought about compiling a book from past columns and unpublished pieces, but worried it would be too much like fruitcake: a blend of ingredients tasty by themselves, but a bit much when mixed together.

woman typingStill, the book I carried inside me persisted. A year ago, listening to its quiet, insistent voice, I knew I would compile a book—and why.

I wanted, once again, to feel the nervous, anxious excitement I experience when I attempt something new, something I don’t know how to do, something that scares me, something that kick-starts my creativity.

I believe our talents and abilities unleash our creativity and the act of creating fulfills us, frees our minds to explore new possibilities for those things we’re passionate about: painting, gardening, music, carpentry, photography, cooking. And sometimes, when we set our creativity free, we accomplish things we’d thought impossible.

So, I began a book, and stuck with it, even when my mind rebelled, screamed, “Whose bright idea was this?” and sent me scampering to the kitchen for a pint of ice cream, a brownie, and all the brownie crumbs I could pinch together.

Please believe this reluctant author: at any age, you can stretch an ability or talent beyond your comfort level, and when you do, the eventual achievement will make you smile.

You can read more about the achievement that makes me smile by clicking on “About my book” in the main menu across the top of this page.

Have some thoughts
about talents or abilities that spark your creativity?
I’d like to hear.

A Recap of Comments about Some Lesser Joys
Lori’s thankful list included the first sip of a perfectly brewed cup of tea on a cold winter morning; Dawna mentioned reading glasses and a warm shower on a cool day. Janice is grateful for her new refrigerator and her husband’s bread-making ability. Sue appreciates red wine, dark chocolate, and a deep conversation with any one under the age of nine. Jacke solved Aunt Beulah’s sheet-folding dilemma by suggesting the use of one fitted sheet which you launder and put back on the bed until it wears out. No folding! Ingenious!

Use It or Lose It

I awakened feeling anxious, and my unease increased as the morning trudged along. Finally, telling myself I could delay no longer, I wiped my sweaty palms on my jeans, took a deep breath, and logged onto Facebook, determined to stay there until I figured it out how to use all its features or died with my fingers twitching on  the keyboard.

noun_project.png

noun_project.png

Technology scares me, but each time I learn another facet of it, I feel my brain flexing its muscles. “Well,” I told myself proudly after I found friends, sent messages, updated my status, inserted a photograph, and responded to others, “Maybe fossils can use Facebook.”

Even though I’ve made progress, I continue to distrust technology and assume I’m incapable of tackling anything new. Judging from the Plaxo hubbub, my hesitance might be genetic.

A few years ago, my siblings and I received email notification that my older brother, Bob, had invited the rest of us to join him on Plaxo, whatever that is. We all like Bob. We forgave him long ago for sneaking into the basement and eating all the fruit cocktail Mom bottled as a special treat. So we signed up.

When we received no further messages, we called one another, asking, “What is Plaxo, anyway? Sounds vaguely dental, doesn’t it? Is Bob losing it?” Finally, we went to the source. Blaine called Bob: “What the heck is Plaxo, and why did you want us on it?”

“Heck, Blainer, I don’t know. I didn’t join anything.”

Right. He lied about the fruit cocktail, too.

A few months later, I received an invitation to join Desktop Dating. The invitation came from my oldest brother, a 77-year-old, married, great-grandfather.

Evidently, my family isn’t equipped for the brave new world we’re being forced to enter. But I’ll keep plugging away at the confusing wold of online activity; and when I master a new skill, I’ll congratulate myself for giving my mind a workout.

Maybe it will reward me by sticking around for a while.

Have some thoughts
about ways to nourish your mind
or the importance of doing so?
I’d like to hear.

Comments about Do Some Good: an Uneven Journey
Only one comment last week, but it was a treasure, too good to be captured in a summary. To read Mercy’s response, scroll down and click on the title Do Some Good below this post, then when it is loaded, click on the apostrophe to the right of the title. It will be worth the effort.

Do Some Good: An Uneven Journey

The notion that we should help those in need didn’t come to me easily; though my mother tried.

“Janet, you know Mr. Gull is in the hospital and Mrs. Gull has three young children, right? Can you think of any way you could help her?”

“I don’t know; maybe send a get well card?”

“Or maybe call and offer to babysit free of charge while she visits her husband? Maybe you should go call her. Now. It would be a big help to her and a kind thing to do.”

Closing The Witch of Blackbird Pond and donning my martyr mask, I slouched toward the phone.

On my own after college, I slid into total self-interest. Busy establishing myself in a career and new marriage, I thought I had no helping hands to lend; so I donated canned goods to food drives, gave at the office, purchased whatever children were selling, and felt virtuous.

Several years after my first marriage ended, I married a man who made community involvement a way of life and was surprised that I didn’t. Because Joel worked longer hours than I and still found time to volunteer, my “I’m too busy” argument sound silly.

dental careI heard about a non-profit organization that provided dental care to children based on their parents’ ability to pay. As a teacher, I’d known children who had difficulty learning because their teeth hurt, so I joined the board of the Northwest Colorado Dental Coalition and was soon able to speak intelligently about operatories, fluoride treatments, and the cost of x-ray machines.

Best of all, I liked knowing that after a visit to the clinic, children in the town I call home fell asleep without toothaches.

I discovered that serving others in any capacity — volunteer coach, hospital pink lady, reading buddy — widens your social circles, enriches your life, strengthens your community…and makes you feel good.

Have some thoughts
about serving others?
I’d be interested.

Recap of Comments on Aunt Beulah’s Recommendations

Dawna said Aunt Beulah’s recommendations hit home with her because she has had similar thoughts. She also felt Aunt Beulah’s ideas will help her stay focused on aging well. This response tells me that Dawna is way ahead of where I was at her age. I’ve no doubt she will age gracefully.

Mary offered the following thought about developing your talents and skills without worrying about how others may judge your efforts: “Thank you for reminding me to just take joy in the project and let the future take care of itself.” What a wonderful thought; one I agree with, but sometimes struggle to maintain.

 

Aunt Beulah’s Recommendations for Living Well

and some who modeled them for me

1. Nurture your body and mind
A California girl strode into my classroom and introduced herself as the teacher next door. Blonde and athletic, Barbara became my best friend and reacted with disbelief when she learned I didn’t exercise. “Not even speed walking? You don’t own a bike?” Within a year, I purchased running shoes and drove to an abandoned railroad grade outside of town. Knowing from Barbara that cardio conditioning requires continuous movement, I decided to run 30 minutes. New to pacing, I sprinted up the grade, then lurched up the grade, then vomited on the grade. But I didn’t quit.


2. Indulge in laughter and small pleasures

Mr. Hall, the janitor at my elementary school, carried laughter and peppermints in the pockets of his bib overalls to share with students in need. Every day, he sprinkled sunshine among us; as a result, most of my class decided to be janitors when we grew up — so we could have as much fun as he did.

3. Cherish your loved ones and friends
As I explained in my first post, when Aunt Beulah hugged me tight and listened, she did more than stifle my sobs: she demonstrated her love for me in an understated way that bound me to her forever. And she never mentioned the mess I made of her apron front with my blubbering.

4. Do some good
My oldest brother played free-spirited games he created with his much younger siblings, and we adored him. That’s why we sat in the car and sobbed as he walked toward the exhaust-spewing bus that would start him on his long journey of service to his country in Korea, then to the many students he taught, followed by his more recent service to his church in China, Laos and South Africa. Now 80, he serves the dying as a hospice chaplain, and my experience tells me that he serves them with understanding and generosity.

5, Utilize your talents and skills
When I called my mother of 78 on a Sunday afternoon, we talked about the speech she had given in church that morning; and she described her latest project: a chest she refinished and painted with graceful red poppies. She planned to take  it on Monday to the artist’s co-op where she sold her crafts. A few days after our conversation, she died. I sat in my living room, surrounded by cherished items she made for me, and wept.

Parents at Hoover Dam

My parents in front of the dam Dad helped build.

6. Develop financial fitness
My dad worked in the depths of the Hoover Dam, the gold mines of California, and the iron-ore tunnels of Utah. At 35, fearing miner’s lung, he went to work at an iron mill in the fiery heat of a blast furnace. When laid-off or on strike, he took any job he could to prevent “going on the dole,” which he considered more demeaning than bucking bales in another man’s field or cleaning coops at a neighbor’s chicken farm. And always, he saved, avoided debt, and made double house payments whenever possible. Every time I buy something I want, rather than need, I sense him shaking his head in dismay.

Have some thoughts
about your role models for aging well?
I’d be interested.
Please comment.

Recap of last week’s comments
Janice wrote that retirement should be about pursuing any dreams you put on hold when younger; Jeannie wishes she had abandoned her dream of being taller by wearing 4-5 inch heels that eventually did her harm. Kathleen senses retirement looming, but admits she’s a grasshopper. Sue fretted about pursuing too many interests too briefly, even as she understood that her varied interests helped her teach well. Dawna was flooded by memories of her loved ones and thinks she should start planning now in order to age well.

As I read your comments, I appreciated the spirit and personality evident in each response. Thank you.

Old Age Is Not An Option

I know, I know, you find Aunt Beulah’s blog slightly amusing, but basically non-relevant. You’ll never be old, at least not old-old, and retirement is a concept as vague to you as Einstein’s theory of relativity.

Right.

Like many of you, my job consumed me. My life was career-centered and goal-oriented: another degree to earn, position to seek, skill to develop. I entertained the illusion that I would teach happily and well until I died a painless death, clutching my red pen, my head slowly sinking onto a pile of beautifully written student essays.

As a 1st-year teacher assuming eternal youth

As a 1st-year teacher assuming eternal youth

My classroom would be sealed and a placard hung: “Mrs. Janet Bohart Sheridan taught here; so use your quiet voices and spit out your gum.”

Now, six years into retirement, wondering when my skin began to resemble crepe paper, I’m glad I came to my senses in time to prepare financially and mentally for old age—a journey detailed in future posts.

When my father retired after forty-five years of blue-collar work in mines and steel plants, he tried to rearrange Mom’s cupboards, took up weaving hats for a miserable month, and mailed his offspring articles touting the consumption of large quantities of raw garlic.

Now there was a man ill equipped for retirement.

Fortunately, he rediscovered his enjoyment of reading, particularly Matt Helm novels. He started walking to the supermarket, post office, and bank rather than driving, and expanded his gardening repertoire—growing giant cabbages and purple potatoes. He also began driving his truck into the mountains to cut and haul firewood, which he split during the winter for all the “old folks” in town.

He was happy.

Take it from my dad and me: you will age as surely as your favorite team will eventually lose; and the more you think about what you want in retirement and take steps toward it now, the easier you’ll find the transition.

Have some thoughts
about retirement—
whether it’s forever away,
growing closer,
or your current status?
Leave a comment and make my day!

A Recap of Your Comments on Last Tuesday’s Blog
Evidently, sciatica hit a nerve. Deb expressed interest in easing her aches and pains by stretching, and thought rum and coke would enhance her efforts; Shelley noted that her posture, as she typed, was ramrod straight.

Mary remembered acting like me in high school: wearing flat shoes and slouching a bit so she wouldn’t be taller than the boys she liked. Fortunately, she self-corrected sooner.

Kathleen briefly contemplated giving up Diet Coke to improve her aging, but dropped the idea because without it she’d be even meaner.

Lucy and Noelle chose to ignore the suggested response and instead made connections between Aunt Beulah’s term “half-baked” and Colorado’s recent pot legislation. Jewels connected it to Jimmy Buffett. Ladies, ladies, ladies.

I hope to hear from more of you. Your comments are the reason I get up at 5:30AM to publish my posts—well, full disclosure: the smell of brewed coffee might get me out of bed even more than your responses.