When this sailing trip was haphazardly conceived, I did know one thing. That I would like to spend at least a month with my parents. The unintentional neglect of family is a toxic by-product of the American work culture. Short visits during Thanksgiving and Christmas have been the norm for the last ten years, so it was time to make up for lost time. We sailed our boat to Port Charlotte, Florida and for the first time since I was 18, I was living under my parent’s roof.
My parents live in a docile subdivision where the homes proudly display perfectly manicured lawns with a swimming pool in every backyard. Just about everybody’s retired and a transplant from someplace else.
My dad was hosting a monthly investor’s group meeting where he introduced me to Dean who is from Tennessee, John who is from New Jersey, Dick who is from Michigan and then there is my Dad who is from Germany.
I’m not sure if I meet anybody who is actually from Florida.
Some parents will enthusiastically and embarrassingly sing the praises of their offspring to the point of nauseam to all that are in audience.
These would not be my parents.
My dad announces to the investor’s group, “This is my youngest son, he’s unemployed you know.”
John chimes in a sympathetic and understanding manner, “Yeah, I have one of those.” I heard someone else say, “I’ve got two.” It was a game of one-upmanship in loser offspring.
I was labeled and nonchalantly tossed into a group that I didn’t want to be associated with, so I tried to explain, “Well, I purposefully quit my job so we could sail down the Bahamas and Caribbean. The term unemployed implies I’m looking for a job but can’t find one, I think we need a new word to describe being purposely unemployed.”
John, who I really don’t know, starts laughing and says, “They already have a word for that.” Everybody was paying close attention as he spoke a little louder to make sure all the 70 year old ears could hear his joke, “It’s called being a bum!” Lots of laughter erupted from around the table.
I just smiled and gave a respectful chuckle and turned to exit and John continued, “Do you need some cardboard and a marker to make a sign?” Lots of laughter.
I was halfway down the hall when I heard someone say, “How about, will work for food.” Somebody else chimed in, “That’s no good, he gets all the free food he wants here from Fred and Mary.” I could still hear them all laughing as I made it to the bedroom door.
There is an ease, a tranquil likeability to retired people that’s hard to explain. Worries and stresses of their former selves have washed away as they become what they always wanted to be and they do what they like to do. Rarely are they idle. Even in the morning, just as the sun is making its first appearance, there is a routine.
Mom will make her way to the back of the property with a cup full of seeds and nuts. Rabbits, birds and squirrels will come out of the woods and hop to her feet as she pours the food on the ground and talks to them like Mary Poppins. All that was missing was an umbrella and song.
Mom sat at the back patio table and offered us all another cup of coffee. Roxanne was amazed that wild animals would come to her. When they lived in Mississippi, Mom would walk to the back fence waving an apple in the air and the bull in the pasture next door would mosey on over for his morning treat.
My dad looked a bit shocked and blurted out, “You mean to tell me that you had been feeding that bull my apples all of these years!”
Mom shot back at him, “What were you doing eating the bull’s apples!”
And that’s about how every day starts.
But more than just routine, they do things. Sue wrote a play and had here friends help her perform it at a local theatre. Ted, the retired machinist, is now a bird carver and is ranked third in the world. Dad is flipping houses and running a tax business and Chuck , the retired fireman that likes to be called 2×4(two by four), is building stuff.
For some reason, lack of time I guess, we all wait to do what we want to do. We follow careers that we haphazardly fell into because it seemed like a good opportunity. And maybe it was, but unfortunately most of us save what we want to do for the unknowing and unpredictable end.
The end is closing in on the retired folk, and they know it. They all like to joke about death. Not in a morbid, I fear for my soul kind of way but in a “Do I really need to go to the dentist if I’m only going to only live 10 more years kind of way.” Every purchase, surgery and dentist visit must be balanced against how much time they have left.
My dad sat down and started talking, “The dentist wants to pull some teeth and build a bridge or two.”
He continued, “I asked the doctor how much? He said about ten thousand and that it would last 20 years. I said, hell doc that’s no good, I only have about 10 years left, do you have anything cheaper?”
It was sort of a joke, sort of.
Their social calendar is full, and yes they actually have to keep a calendar with all the different parties and get-togethers that are being hosted. It’s a peaceful existence. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a peace about life until I hit the age of 12. High school is when the peace treaty was broken, college was about the time war was declared, by the time work and children came into the picture I was deeply entrenched in a long conflict but it appears that retired people once again live in the tranquil bubble of peace. And why not, the only thing the have to worry about is death and from what I can tell, they aren’t really worried about that too much.