Now that we are past Labor Day, I can say that I had my first summer “off” since I was 17 years old. That’s a long time in human years. When I retired from my management job at UMass Lowell last March, the thing I looked forward to more than anything else was having more time to do what I want to do, just being in control of my own schedule. Yesterday marked six months since I retired. When I left I told people I was not parking the car, I was changing lanes.
I’ve been lucky with jobs, especially at the Lowell Historic Preservation Commission, U.S. Dept. of the Interior, (1981-89) and the university (1978-80 and 1994-2016), and with a lot of part-time and free-lance work before, after, and in between those salaried positions. I can’t say I ever had a job I hated other than two days as a scouring-train operator in the stinking basement of a wool production mill in North Chelmsford where my father worked as a skilled wool grader for decades. Like most people, I did a variety of things to earn money on the way up: lawn mower, house painter, baseball umpire, licensed elevator operator, bookstore clerk, library aide, house sitter, etc. I’m not “not working” now because I have writing and editing projects in progress, am teaching part-time in the Honors College at UML, and sometimes think my community volunteering has turned into a quasi-job. But those last few things are choices and still leave a lot of down time for pursuing happiness in other ways. I’m fortunate that I was in a position to retire, and I hope that readers who are near making that decision can go for it while other readers who are already there can savor every day as a bonus.
I needed some weeks and months for the retired status to sink in. At first I felt like I was having an extended vacation and then a long string of no-school snow days. Gradually I realized I was not expected at the office. I didn’t forget my homework, after all. I didn’t have any homework. What a relief. One of the first things I did was build a pile of books to read. I hadn’t been reading books with purpose for a long time. Yes, I would read four or five books a year, but it was nothing like what I did when I was younger and the world was my library. I read best when I have a clear mind and long stretches ahead of me to sink into a book. Retirement cleared a lot of room in my brain. We had a hot, dry summer that made it easy to sit with a book in the back yard. It wasn’t like having a random Saturday or a couple of vacation days with no place to go. This would be an ordinary Tuesday at 10 a.m. Take a book outside and read for a couple of hours. That’s a good idea, as one comedian used to say. Reading has always been a catalyst to get my writing going, too, so there were dual benefits.
The extra time allowed me to deal with the back yard garden with more energy. I’m happy with the results over the summer. We had so many beautiful flower blossoms: tall vibrant zinnias, irises in three colors, day-glow orange lilies, beach roses, yellow coreopsis, purple pansies, hand-sized red hibiscus flowers, paper-white morning glories, robust red geraniums on the front porch, and more. A group of plum tomato plants failed because I didn’t use the right fertilizer mix. All the house plants thrived outside. Some of them are so big that I dread dragging them back indoors. Isn’t that a tree now? It has to go inside?
Another activity that has occupied me since the spring has been tending to household tasks. We’ve had a lot of changes because of my wife’s parents’ declining health and increasing age. Rosemary has been fully engaged on the elder issues front, and I’ve had to pick up the pace at home. There have been a lot more tasks to address at the family residence and beach property. All of a sudden the two of us are fully in charge—at our own advancing ages. The good aspect of these responsibilities is that the tasks are usually finite and don’t involve a committee as in the bureaucratic world I knew for so long. Need to cut trees? Call the tree guy. Empty the attic? Get a dumpster. Paint the beach cottage? Check. And you see the result of the work quickly. Feels good to get things done in a concrete fashion. Not that we did not do such things in the past. But everything ramped up over the summer. After six months, we’re getting on top of a lot of deferred maintenance and required sprucing up.
I’ve adjusted to the new routine and look forward to the next six months. Rosemary still goes in to her office downtown, so we’re not on a golf-and-travel schedule yet. I’ve been able to turn to my personal writing projects with more gusto. At least one serious book idea is gestating. I’ve never attempted a novel. October has been a good month for me when it comes to writing. We’ll see what happens when the leaves turn colorful.