69: Don’t Take My Wheels!

69: Don’t Take My Wheels!

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Don’t Take My Wheels!

Take the power to control your own life. Take the power to make your life happy.

~Susan Polis Schutz

My husband’s 62nd birthday was only months away when he made an announcement. “I think I’m going to retire at sixty-two. I’ve given it much thought, checked into Social Security differences, and financially we can do it.”

Ken’s decision came as a surprise, but I liked the idea. Earlier discussions had helped us decide to move closer to where our grown children lived, back to a community where we had many longtime friends, but that plan was set for more than three years away. The “do-it-at-sixty-two” part came as something new, but after a long career in the banking business, Ken was ready for some leisure.

The next day, as I did household chores, I started thinking about what life might be like with Ken home full-time. Every day would be like a Saturday or Sunday. That might be nice. As I moved clothes from the washer to the dryer, a new thought stopped me with wet laundry in mid-air.

My dad had taken an early retirement, too, and he and Mom were joined at the hip from day one. The only time she had to herself was when he went to get a monthly haircut. Mom didn’t drive, so Dad accompanied her on errands. No more public transportation for her. He helped in the house, pointing out new and better ways to do the tasks she’d done for close to fifty years. She went out to lunch, but only with Dad. They were inseparable by my dad’s choice. My mother lost what little personal life she’d had prior to this new stage in their marriage. She hadn’t asserted herself, bowing instead to Dad’s wishes.

My own active life provided a good deal of enjoyment. I volunteered at a local hospital. I lunched with friends and belonged to several bridge groups. Would Ken want me to give that up? Would Ken expect me to put aside my freelance writing so that I could go to the hardware store with him? My stomach began to churn. I moved the vacuum cleaner with more force that day than I ever had, and my iron flew across the ironing board as I contemplated this new life filled with possible changes that didn’t get my stamp of approval.

I kept my reservations to myself as we began to make plans for his October 1st retirement — listing the house, sorting through our belongings, and making moving plans. I’ll adjust, I told myself. The only thing was, I didn’t believe it. I kept thinking about my mother’s retirement years with Dad. And then one night, Ken made a simple statement that left me with my mouth open and words stuck in my throat.

He said, “We’ll sell your car. We can easily make do with one. It will be a big savings.”

When I was finally able to speak, my words were blunt. “Absolutely not! I’m not giving up my car.” I’d never even considered getting rid of one car. What could he be thinking?

There was going to be no argument since Ken just smiled and said, “We’ll see.”

I knew then that I’d fight for my independence. No matter how much I loved my husband, we both needed a life of our own. I would not turn into my mother who always stopped whatever she was doing to have Dad’s lunch on the table precisely at noon. I realized after my father passed away that it was too late for Mom to create a full and happy life for herself.

We dropped the one-car subject, but it swirled around and around in my mind. I conjured up several situations. Ken would head out to the golf course and leave me stranded for five hours. Or I’d go out to do some shopping, and he’d say I needed to be back in forty-five minutes so he could go to wherever it is retired men like to go. My stomach started that churning again.

One afternoon, I sat at the kitchen table with a cup of tea and came up with a plan. I knew what I needed to say to Ken. After all, he was usually a reasonable man, although when it came to saving money, he could be stubborn. That evening, I made some of his favorites for dinner — steak grilled medium rare, baked potato with lots of sour cream, a salad full of our homegrown tomatoes and crisp Italian rolls. Earlier, I’d baked a chocolate cake to crown the dinner, and then slathered chocolate frosting over it. No harm in satisfying his sweet tooth.

After dinner, I brought up the car topic. “Let’s start out with both cars and see how much we use them. Then we can go from there.”

Cutting himself a second piece of cake, he agreed my proposal might have merit. While he ate, I gave him more food for thought. “You know how my parents were never apart once Dad retired.” He nodded and took another forkful. “I don’t want that to happen to us. I’d like both of us to have a life of our own. I’ll do my volunteer work at the hospital, and you can find something of your own that interests you. I’d like to continue with my bridge clubs and my writing. And I’d expect you to play golf however many days a week you like and putter in the garden to your heart’s content. Sometimes, we’ll go places together, just not all the time.”

Ken added a guideline of his own, one that would keep our life from a dreary routine. “I don’t want to eat dinner at 5:00 or 5:30 every night like some seniors do.” I readily agreed.

All that happened fifteen years ago. We still have two cars. We go our separate ways on a good many days, but we also do things together. If I’m home, I fix lunch for both of us. If I’m out somewhere, Ken makes his own lunch. At 5:00, we usually pour a glass of wine, watch the news on TV, and discuss our day. Then I fix dinner. It works for us. I have both a loving husband and my independence.

~Nancy Julien Kopp

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