I have always known that my retirement would not take the form that my father’s did. He was a member of the “Greatest Generation”, born during the depression, enlisting in the Navy during WW II, landing a blue collar job upon returning from the war and spending the next 39 years of his working life within the confines of Bethlehem Steel. The first two or so years of his job he was on the extra board – on call each shift – as a brakeman for the PB & NE railroad, one of six small switching railroads associated with Bethlehem Steel. He then got a full time position and later became a yard master. There was a brief tenure in the main office, but after yet another round of heart related issues, he retreated to the small middle yard office where he finished out his career, directing the crews who transported raw materials to the blast furnaces . And then he retired. One day he shouldered his share of responsibility for keeping the steel producing beast fed and moving forward, and the next day he sat in the living room, adjusting to the realization that he would never drive through the gates of Bethlehem Steel again but trusting that he would remain financially secure through the end of this life. He died 5 years later at the age of 64.
At the end of this school year, I will be turning in my keys and saying good-bye to my colleagues, bringing my teaching career to an end. Considering today’s expectations, it is premature, to say the least. I am 55 years old. A number of associates within my age range still have young children and will spend many more years in the classroom. They will enjoy the relative security and rhythm of the school calendar, the excitement that accompanies the first week or so of the school year, the emotional highs (and lows) that accompany the beginning and ending of extended vacations, the sense of accomplishment upon watching their students graduate. But they will also continue to deal with the ever increasing challenges of trying to motivate students, of trying to implement appropriate technology while attempting to keep students focused on the lesson, of trying to teach respect – a value that is becoming increasingly blurred in our society, of trying to deal with parents who have unreasonable expectations for their children and who are quick to blame the teacher when their child’s performance falls short of those expectations.
My mother often commented on the continuum of conservative views vs. liberal ones. Her observations where that younger people with conservative views often mellowed as they aged, and liberals often grew quite conservative as years passed by. I was clearly on the conservative side: old enough to know that the older guys heading off to Vietnam were facing a terrible ordeal, but full of the belief that if my country said so, it must be a just war. One of the favorite pastimes that I shared with my dad was watching all of the WW II movies of the day. How could I be less than totally impressed with our military’s intentions and goals after watching Charlton Heston and Henry Fonda lead the naval forces to battle in Midway?
Mom was right. How often have we admitted that? My young adult aged kids have asked more pointed questions than I ever did, and they have developed a healthy dose of skepticism towards the institutions of our society, and they have rubbed off on me! 🙂 I am enjoying a wonderful time of life where I can engage my kids in conversation and feel good about the fact that, while they value my opinion, they have ideas and insights of their own. And I like some of them 🙂
Early in my teaching career, I looked at some of the older teachers and concluded that they were holding on to their careers well beyond the time when they should have put the chalk away. And, I made the statement that I did not want to retire from teaching. I have repeated that statement from time to time over the years, and I find that now is the time change course. Although I have mellowed quite a bit over the years, I still reject much of what made the 1960’s memorable. But I do embrace a lot of the music J, and I embrace the idea that we don’t necessarily have to conform to the norms of society. In fact, I have been gradually shedding some of those over the years. We got rid of cable 10 years ago and never looked back. We built a house that was less than half the average size house in the US and recently built a tiny house. And now, at a time in our life when security is the top priority for the vast majority of the population, we are setting off on an adventure that has no defined ending point.
I often dreamed that retirement would take the form of selling our house, buying a larger boat and literally setting sail to far off destinations. The reality will be slightly different. We bought a travel trailer, and we are headed to Maine where we will work at a campground through the end of September. The job will entail working part time 4 days a week and having plenty of time to explore the beauty of Acadia National Park and the surrounding area. After that, we will return to the tiny house and lend a hand at the orchard during the busy months of October and November. And then… well, I will fill in that blank when I figure it out.. perhaps work at the local ski hill till the end of winter when we can return to Maine?
As we contemplated this step, the call of life at 6 mph was ever present in fact, it was a driving force. To be sure, we hope to include some significant time on the boat at some point in the coming years, but when I was writing to apply for the job at the campground, I was faced with the realty that we needed a new mantra – something that would more broadly define our hopes. I finished my letter to the owner of the campground with this sentence. “Our goal is to live simply, to engage in meaningful work, and to enjoy the gift of time in a beautiful setting”. Our access to the internet will be somewhat limited over the summer, but we will manage to keep an online presence. I hope that future posts reflect life at a slower pace, filled with wonder and adventure…