85: Beyond the Gold Watch

85: Beyond the Gold Watch

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman

Beyond the Gold Watch

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

~Abraham Lincoln

Well, I got the gold watch — figuratively, that is. In reality, unless someone was on the board or a department manager, they just left. There was no gold watch for retiring.

I had turned sixty-five the year before, and my co-workers started asking: Where was my place in the sun? Tucson? Tampa? They said I was so lucky that I wouldn’t have to get to work with two feet of new snow on the roads.

I started to wonder if they were hinting. If I left, my spot was a chance for a move-up for someone else. To quiet speculation, I said, “Fourth of July.” And I regretted it later when that date kept creeping up on the calendar.

They threw a party for me, a “surprise” on July 3rd during lunch break. I got a cake and a beach umbrella — for that dreamy beach, I suppose. At the end of the day, I received a few hugs, pats on the back, keep-in-touch comments, and a couple of tears from those who had become real friends during my fifteen years there. I hoped they would still include me in the card games and dinners out we sometimes had.

The kids were grown and gone. There were grandkids, but since everyone lived a state or two away, I couldn’t just drop in.

July 4th, of course, was a holiday, so it was normal to sleep in, plan a family picnic, or have a “paint-the-kitchen day.” The 5th was a breeze, too, being as it was a Saturday. Church was on Sunday, so nothing changed in my routine.

Monday, I woke at the usual time, despite not setting the alarm. The neighborhood of working blokes was empty. Everyone else had gone to work. So I sat in the kitchen, lingering over my second cup of coffee.

My eyes still flicked toward the clock every few minutes. My body tensed as I fought the urge to leap up for a shower and dash out the door. My brain panicked when I got to the point where I would be late.

I had no plan. No retirement dream beach. I had no friends to call; they were all hurrying to work. Oh, yes, financially I would be fine. That much was planned. I had gone to the seminar and set up a wise plan for “when I retired.” But my mind was not prepared. My mind kept saying, You’re unemployed. What will you ever do? I had the education, résumé and know-how for my job. Who was I now?

I was glad for the knock on the back door. It was the gal next door, Jenny-something. She was in jeans and a T-shirt. “I hate to ask, but could you possibly drive me to drop off my grandson? My car won’t start, and I need to have him there before nine.”

It turned out that her grandson was in a preschool program not far away. I agreed.

I didn’t know her well, even though she and her husband lived next door for a few years. I didn’t even know her grandson was four years old until he got into my car and told me. He also told me his birthday was in August; he had the same name as his other grandpa, Colin; he was going to New York at Christmas time to visit said grandpa; and his grandma had packed a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich because they were having fish sticks for lunch at school, and he hated fish.

“As you can tell,” Jenny said as we drove along, “he’s rather shy.”

She added that she knew I worked, so wasn’t it fortunate I was at home that day to so graciously give her a lift. I gave her the abbreviated version of my retirement, which ended as we pulled into the school parking lot.

It was a nice building, though obviously used for a business before it became a preschool. The sign above the door said: Daybright Preschool for Exceptional Children.

Jenny laughed. “Because they believe all children are exceptional.”

“I like that,” I replied as they got out.

“Come in and have a look for yourself,” she said, as Colin galloped across the lot toward the door. I followed.

Children’s art lined the hallway, and I could hear young voices singing in one of the classrooms. I followed Jenny as she took Colin to his room, and he quickly joined his classmates as they sat in a circle on the floor while the teacher outlined the day’s activities. The children interrupted with questions and unrelated subjects, but it seemed somehow organized. The teacher asked what song they would like to sing to begin their day, and after a short burst of suggestions and a quick vote, they decided on “Tomorrow.” Then they all stood and happily sang, some out of tune.

I liked what I saw.

As Jenny and I were leaving, we met the principal, and I was introduced. A former elementary school teacher, she had started this preschool after noting that so many children were not prepared for school, for the change from home to the stricter routine of the classroom.

I spent my next days organizing closets, sweeping the garage floor, and picking out paint for the bathroom.

“What’s wrong with the color we already have?” my husband asked at dinner. I didn’t know. I admitted that, as a retiree, I was still in working mode and had the urge to do something.

I spent another week painting, cleaning, and going out to lunch with my former co-workers — and became totally wretched.

“Retirement isn’t working,” my husband finally said to me. “Take some time. Figure out what you really want to do — I know it isn’t painting the entire house — and do it.”

I found my niche. I now fill my days with my new calling, and have no time for painting walls or sweeping garages. Yes, I went back to Daybright, talked at length with the principal, and am using hidden skills as a story lady. I am reading to the children, listening to them read, and then discussing what they liked or didn’t like about the story. My new young friends have such unique observations of the world I thought had grown old and stale. I feel awakened.

Retirement is glorious when we follow a passion.

~NancyLee Davis

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