“Enjoying your retirement?”
Having taught more than 3500 students for more a third of a century in the same small community, many people know me and I hear that question many times a day.
I smile and shrug. “It hasn’t sunk in yet,” and that’s true. It’s been more than a week since I cleaned out my classroom and got an engraved glass plaque from MSAD 72 thanking me for my years of service. Early summer feels about like it always has, however - going around the the properties I manage, shooting red squirrels, making sure everything works, reminding contractors about various repairs and maintenance. It’s only when I walk by the boxes of books and files from school on the floor of my garage where I unloaded them from my truck on the last day of school. That’s when I remember I’m a former history teacher now. I’ve got to update the profile on my web site this week to indicate that.
The academic calendar has ruled my life for more than fifty years. Early on, we Catholic school kids got out more than a week before the public school kids did. I’d ride my bike around the neighborhood but the others in a neighborhood filled with young baby boomer kids were still in school. I remember feeing good realizing that I had no more homework for a few months. I could slip out of the house with my fishing rod before my mother could think of something else for me to do and have Round Pond all to myself. Digging worms and fishing alone was different though. With no one to talk to, I was much more aware of the sound of wind, birds and insects and the feel of the sun on my body. I enjoyed all that up to a point. I was alone with my thoughts and feelings. If I caught a good-sized bass or pickerel there was nobody to share the experience. By mid-afternoon I’d find myself waiting at the bus stop for my public school friends to come home and try to get a baseball game going. When they finally got out for the summer I wouldn’t think of school again until those first cool days in August.
Later, as a teenager and then as a college student and teacher, I’d work summer jobs and savor the weekends. After I was married and with a growing family, I’d have building projects, the honey-do list, and planned recreational activities. I was very aware that there were about ten weeks to get everything done. Each week that was counted off, I’d measure against what there was still to do. Come August, I’d have to triage because I’d never get done all I planned before school started again. This year, one week is already in the can but I don’t feel that pressure. Though I’m just as busy as I’ve always been in late June, I feel more relaxed because my schedule will remain flexible for the foreseeable future and I won’t feel the crunch come Labor Day weekend. School will start for others, but not for me, I won’t have to jam work on unfinished chores into weekends in the fall. This time, I’ll be able to get all my work done before the weekends come, maybe even before.
Juggling three jobs for so many years put me in hurry-up mode most of the time and it became an almost permanent state of mind. Bumping into friends and acquaintances at the post office or the store, I’d have to be aware of the time because I was usually hurrying from one job to another. I’d drop off my briefcase and my car, change clothes, put things in my truck and go off again. When home, I was dealing with phone calls and emails. As my wife would put it: “You’re a human doing - not a human being.” That stuck in my mind when mulling the decision to retire last February.
As I said, my first week of summer was busy as usual, but I’m getting caught up. I should have it all current soon and then I’ll again become a human being, if I can remember how.
Correction: In my June 16th column I referred to the author of “The Forgotten Man” as Emily Schlaes. Her name is Amity, not Emily. My apologies.