“There’s gold in them thar senior hills.” A retiree, given the time and opportunity, decides it’s high time to take life by the reins…
by: Terry Riccardi
Every winter, for thirty years, I flew down to Florida to visit my mother. She had moved there after my father died to make a new life for herself. As soon as Thanksgiving had passed, she’d call me and answer my “Hello” with “So, when are you coming down? The weather is beautiful, in the seventies.”
During those visits, each Saturday night was always spent with my mother’s circle of friends. Their routine was unvarying. For a few minutes, they would ask me how I was and inquire about life in New York City. Once assured I was fine and the city was still there, they devoted their attention to playing cards or mah jongg. In between the shuffling of the cards or clicks of ivory tiles, they discussed their various maladies, doctors, surgeries, and medications. I pasted a smile on my face to conceal my boredom and thought, I’ll never be like that when I get old!
Fast forward a few decades, and bang, there I was —retired! How had that happened? I wasn’t sure, but it did and I was now free from the rigid time schedule of a teacher’s life. Off I went to Elderhostel, to learn how to be a stand-up comic, and then to Earthwatch, where I spent a sweaty, rigorous week helping a scientist gather data on the effect of fire on the scrub country of Florida. In Spain, I saw my first bull fight, and soon after, I booked a private tour at the San Diego Zoo.
There’s gold in them thar senior hills, I’d been told, and for several years, I agreed wholeheartedly. I reveled in being free to do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I loved it.
But nothing is forever, and time moves on. Older friends passed away, and years of my life that they’d been a part of seemed to go with them. My husband became ill and all too soon was gone. My two other loves, writing and bowling, were now lifelines. I became an editor of a writers’ magazine, saw several of my writings published, worked on my long-neglected stamp collection, and even had time for books and jigsaw puzzles. Life as a retiree was still good.
And then I fell. In a matter of seconds, life changed in a definitely un-golden way. A fractured wrist showed me how much simple everyday movements depended on two working hands. Using my keyboard or lifting a bowling ball was out of the question. I had to call a neighbor to come over and open a can of soup for me. I needed a car service to go anywhere. I couldn’t even lift a book, let alone read one.
People were drawn to my cast like a magnet. After commiserating briefly, they would then proceed to share, at length, their own medical mishaps. Good lord, what next? Move down to Florida, learn mahjong and canasta, and yak about all my health problems?
The only glimmers of gold were that I had hurt my left hand, not my right, and that I had lived this long before breaking a bone. Once fully healed, I treated myself to a weekend at a quaint hotel in the Pennsylvania boondocks. The bed was so high I had trouble climbing up to get in it, the toilet so low I thought I’d never be able to get off it. There were no grab bars in the tub, and I almost couldn’t get out. Listen to me! I’d fit in perfectly with my mom’s friends!
Except I wouldn’t. And I won’t. I signed up for a paddlewheel cruise on the Mississippi. Next in my sights are the Galapagos and the rainforest of Costa Rica. Who knows? I may yet find some gold in them thar hills!.