Visitors and thoughts about retirement

After they left, I thought about Christmas; how just after all the celebrations and visits are done, you look at your house that was sparkling clean and ready for visitors such a short time ago and now the little bits of daily living are creeping back into that pristine lodging as the first tiny spring buds of normality return.

Here I was, house empty again after an all too short, three hours visit. It wasn’t Christmas. It was February, but the snow was falling again after four days of respite. The silence which I appreciate so much on most days, was sounding thunderingly quiet and the view out the window was decidedly grey. I walked slowly about the house noting that I had forgotten to give them some homemade chutney that I’d put out so that I wouldn’t forget to give it; and I had forgotten to show them my little sun porch at the back. Three hours hadn’t been long enough.

So what was the best thing for me to do for the remains of the day, now that they were gone? I thought about digging into the big paper box of estate duties, correspondence, bills and miscellanea that I had to do (Heaven’s knows what is lurking there to bite me, I haven’t looked at the pile that was there waiting for me since I came back from Ottawa a whole month ago). I rejected that. What a way to let down a five star afternoon! What a way to break a magic spell!

I thought about playing the piano, but that would have been an abrupt and jangly transition from my now pensive and peaceful mood.

I looked at the dining table with the remainder of lunch sitting on it and considered tidying it and doing the dishes, but that too seemed such a letdown, so I rejected that, too. No one else was coming. Dishes could wait until I felt like it.

In my night owl manner, I had stayed up to odd hours of the night for a week running. Then knowing I would have visitors and I couldn’t let anyone see the disorderly depths that I had sunk to, especially for a first visit to my home, I set my alarm clock for an early rising so that I could get some daytime hours of sorting, boxing, putting away and getting ready as well.

In that silence that followed, I looked at the clean and tidy living room which even this morning had been strewn with the sorting of various boxes of papers in toppling piles, waiting for their final destinations. The long flowered couch looked mightily inviting. The thick green afghan so tidily rolled at the end of the couch promised warmth. I had no desire to start any activity that might return the house to its daily disorder and so,

gently,

kindly,

unusually,

entirely out of character,

I gave myself permission to take an afternoon nap.

And a nice long warm nap it was, too, wrapped up in that thick green woolen afghan, two throw pillows at my back, and the long four-seater couch stretching before me to cradle me and my long legs into the land of nod.

My friends come from Idaho just outside of the city of Coeur d’Alene. I knew them when I was teaching. We were all living in the Slocan Valley of British Columbia. That was thirty years ago. I went to Europe, to France, to Art School. They continued on in their lives and eventually, as so many of us did over the years, their careers morphed into something completely different.

He had a penchant for carpentry and began buying houses to fix up and sell, then began building brand new ones. He’d created a comfortable income from that and knew how to enjoy life on his own terms. Freda had moved her way inexorably up the ladder in her school district until she was running it.

She has flair, this girl. She knows everyone in town; everyone in the School District; everyone in school. Because of her work, she knows half the State politicians. That’s how she gets things done.

Everyone loves her. She’s bubbly and dynamic and yet contains that depth of feeling and empathy that makes a life long friend. She has a fierceness about her that no one would mess with. She stands her ground. And yet her softness and kindness is legendary.

Even today, we talked about that time when her closest friend in Coeur d’Alene, dying of cancer, was not getting the care she needed as her friend’s three sisters, her caregivers, so unthinkingably fought over the potential upcoming inheritance. Freda got a lawyer and took them to court to ensure her dying friend’s care! I swear, this is one person you really are privileged to call Friend.

The years go by and we work in the same job year after year, not counting the changes that come with promotions and special projects. We finally get tired of some of the political nonsense that pervades our jobs, whether it be in the corporate world or the public sector. It’s the politics of who rules who, who makes the decisions, whether those decisions are wise or not. It’s the competing interests of one department of the organization over another. Eventually, if you don’t have to stay, then you don’t. The mental stress isn’t worth it. And you can go do something else.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I loved my job while I loved it. It was exciting and I met people from many and various walks of life. I made good work friends with so many of them. I enjoyed the responsibility and the constant learning. But after twenty plus years, and it not being my life’s work, I was ready for a change. All the petty miseries of it crashed in on me when I was doing double duty, looking after my dying mother. When it was time to go, all those pluses disappeared. I wanted to leave. It was time to go.
Fortunately, we are in an an age when there is lots of work and not enough people to do it. We could go hammering on a construction site. We could unstressfully work in a coffee shop. Barrista Kay! I thought, with a smirk.

One of my colleagues took a sabbatical and amongst other things she did with that time off, she worked at Starbucks. And loved it! I’ve dreamed of running my own art gallery, but I don’t know much about how to do that. I’d like to volunteer in a public one until I do know how. Wouldn’t that be cool!

I saw a lady holding a party for young girls, each of which was dressed up like a princess. The girls were awed and giggly. The attending mothers were thrilled. Now wouldn’t that be a fun way to earn a living?

But back to my visit with Freda and Alan. Just lately, Freda, like a number of my friends, has retired, glad to be free of the politicking that was driving her crazy. For such an active woman, sitting around was not an option (although she can take a vacation and enjoy it to the full) . She took her exams for a Real Estate license and began practicing right away. It’s slowed since Christmas in the USA because of the mortgage crisis, but for the preceding months, she instantly had more work than she could take on. That is to say, that if you are dynamic at what you do, you most certainly have the ability to take on something new and become dynamic and successful at career number two.

Freda’s husband Alan is a great hobby cook. Good thing, too. Freda doesn’t like to cook at all. After our first burst of hugs and a tour through my new-to-me house, we fell into our previous modus operandi of telling about our lives through stories. I set them laughing about Charlie the Painter (see previous post). Alan was about to tell a road trip story when I signalled for a halt.

“We’d better sit and eat lunch while we talk or you’ll be leaving here in an hour needing to find a place to eat and I’ll be regretting that the quiche in the oven has turned overly brown and dry. ”

I shared my lemon grass soup recipe with Alan: a fresh lemon grass stock as the liquid addition, paper thin slices of celery, a bit of finely chopped fresh parsley and a tin of mushroom soup to make it creamy.

We downed a delicious new red wine discovery, Luigi Leonardo, a Sicilian product. Unfortunately, I had purchased the last two bottles at our local liquor store. Due to renovations, they were liquidating end of stock items and this was one of them. It might be impossible to get it here again.

We ate baby bok choy smothered in a butter and pesto sauce. The Caesar salad sat on the table untouched. It was a bit much – quiche, a veggie and soup – for a lunch. The salad would be a fine dinner – I wouldn’t have to cook.

Alan told his tale of speeding on the highway. He loves his cars and he had just bought a new luxury model suburban. “Turns on a dime,” said Freda.

“It has Idaho licence plates. The cops see you coming. I couldn’t have been going more than ten k’s above the speed limit and I saw the police car with flashing lights behind me. I pulled over and he stopped right behind me. I knew I was in for it.”
“You might as well admit it when you are caught, ” he said. “So I got a ticket and lumped it.”
“I noted the time on my dashboard when we took off again, driving sagely within the speed limit. The cop warned me that although the speed was 100 in this zone, it was 90 only a few miles up, and I kept that in mind.”

“Not four minutes later, I saw a cop coming towards us and pass. In less than a minute he turned around and was coming up behind us, his siren going and his red light flashing. I thought he must have an accident to get to; but we were his target. Can you imagine? Twice in a day. Twice in five minutes, really. They must look for out of State licenses as targets. They must have a quota, and who from out of State is going to come back and fight a ticket?”
“The cop said I was going 120. Now do you think I would be going 120 four minutes after having received a speeding ticket? I told the policeman all that. He told me to get my speedometer checked. It’s a brand new car. You don’t think I’d be starting off with a faulty speedometer do you? But I have to check back in within a week with them to prove I’ve had it tested. At least he gave me benefit of the doubt. It ruined my timetable for getting here though.”

We went on to discussing common friends from the old days. Where was Elena? What was she doing? Had I heard from Margaret? Did I know that Martha was undergoing cancer treatment? There was altogether too much of that going around. I knew of five people in my acquaintanceship that had cancer and were in various stages of chemo or radiation.

We had moved onto a feminine bit of gossiping that would have fazed many a male. But Alan loves his Freda; and he loves women in general. You can see it on his face. His eyes have some gently carved laugh lines. They light up as he watches the banter go back and forth. These two are a healthy, happy couple and it shines through.

Now all of this might sound a bit banal, with talk of people you don’t know – Freda, Alan, Elena, Margaret and Martha – but this is the stuff that friendships are made of. The caring for individuals that we know. The network of support that weaves through our lives whether we see each other daily or whether we see each other after a hiatus of two years or ten, makes the fabric of our lives.

Regretfully, Freda rose and announced they had to go. Alan rose with her, and I followed to go get their coats. They were expected in Whistler by four.

I saw them away, standing at the front door, not willing to go out in the steadily falling snow. It was cold out and slippery. Outside, there was a general greyness with a polka dot screen of white falling snow. It was accumulating on the ground. Since their arrival, an inch of fresh white had deposited on my car and on the roundabout.

I could be a Realtor too, I thought, as an odd non sequetor. The silence that comes with snow wrapped around me. The silence that comes from guests leaving wrapped around me. I was alone in the house, savouring the flurry of friendship that had come in the door and warmed it up toastily for three hours.

I napped my nap. I got up and had a hot cup of café au lait. I sat down to write. I didn’t want to lose the moment. I wanted to capture it somehow; to freeze frame it; to solidify something elusively undefinable and extraordinary. Friendship.

I didn’t know where to start; and once I did, I didn’t know how to end. After all, it’s wonderful when friendships are endless.

I got up from my computer and went for a second cup of coffee. I stepped out of my little study into a blackened hall. Where had the time gone to? Without a light on in the house but that of my study and the computer screen, it was very dark.

Friendship had lit my whole day. My whole afternoon.

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