Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Yesterday I said something to Cliff that included the phrase "when you retire in June," and he said, "If I retire".  
I don't know if he's seriously reconsidering, or if he was testing me to see my reaction.  Perhaps when he gets up and reads this he'll let me know.  
We've been counting down and making plans for months.  Now, if he really decided to work because he'd rather, that's fine; it's his decision.  I reminded him, though, about the brevity and uncertainty of life at this age.  We've talked about the possibility that some morning one of us might wake up and realize the other is beside us in bed, cold to the touch and dead as a mackerel.  (By the way, why are mackerels any deader than anything else?)  
I reminded him that if he doesn't retire and then has a stroke that messes with his mobility a few months later, he'll be sitting in a wheel chair wishing he'd had some retirement time while he was still able-bodied.      

On our walk yesterday, we got to talking about "stuff", and the way we value it.  We discussed it in the context of Cliff's dad.  That's him sitting in the chair, holding my oldest grandson, Arick.  That's a very young Cliff on the left, and my son, fresh out of basic training, on the right.   
Anyhow, Cliff's parents never had a lot of valuables, nor did they own a home.  They never had a brand new vehicle until Cliff co-signed with them for a little Toyota pickup, back in the seventies.  
But Cliff's dad would lie awake nights worrying that somebody was going to steal his stuff.  Now, granted, Cliff's parents lived in some not-so-nice neighborhoods at times.  So it may have been a legitimate concern.  But had a thief taken everything he owned, he wouldn't have been missing much.  
Cliff remembers the time the house they were renting burned to the ground.  He came home from school and the house was gone.  
He has certain happy memories of this event because neighbors and school kids donated all kinds of clothing and other hand-me-downs, among which was the only bicycle Cliff ever owned.  He did regret losing all the strawberries his mom had just put in the freezer, though.    
Cliff laughs about the way his dad thought each of his possessions was worth three times its actual value, whether it was an old clunker of a car or a 9/16 box end wrench.  He kept his treasures under lock and key and worried about them constantly.  
I asked Cliff, "If you added everything up that your dad owned when he died, what would have been the value of it?"  
"Oh, I don't know.  Not much."  
"Do you think $500?"  
"I doubt it was that much.  Really, all he had was a few tools, and I'm the one who bought those for him."
We reflected on the way we humans value our stuff; we're like two-year-old children playing, grabbing our toys and yelling, "mine" if we think someone else is going to play with them.  What Cliff and I realize is that we're only here for a few more fleeting days; every day we're here, that stuff matters less and less.  If it's worth anything, somebody else will own it when we're gone.  In a few years, someone might look at a tractor and say, "Cliff really liked that old Oliver"; or somebody might strum a Gibson guitar and talk about how I treasured it, even though I seldom played it.  
But we won't be aware of any of that.
In less years than you think, our names won't be on anybody's tongue unless they're reading their family tree.  My grandma had one of the largest-attended funerals around Harrison County when she died.  Today you'd do well to find anybody up there that's ever heard of her.  Reminds me of the old epitaph written on tombstones:
Remember me as you pass by,
As you are now, so once was I,
As I am now, so you must be,
Prepare for death and follow me.



We already wrote epitaphs for our tombstone. It gets installed at the end of this month. My hubby and I are at that age. We're planning now, so someone grief stricken doesn't have to do it. Maybe we'll be remembered by the words on it, maybe not. But I understand what you're saying about being forgotten in time.

I'm mostly known as 'MA' said...

I remember the months just before I retired and it seemed like it was just really never going to happen...maybe that is what Cliff was referring to. You'll have to let us know. I know you both are looking forward to some wonderful times when that day does finally get here.

Hyperblogal said...

Love the post. I already have my epitaph (which is almost as strange a word as mackerel) and it says, "Damn, I died too!"

Angela said...

I was trying to think of something deep to say, but I've got nothing. Life is a funny thing. Makes me think of a scrupture that says our life is like a vapor... always makes me think of the smoke coming off a extinguished match. You see it for a little while, then it's gone.

small farm girl said...

Wow Donna! This post was deep! It got me to thinking. I'm 38 years old, I think it's time for me to start making memories instead of collecting stuff! Thanks for the mental "tune up."

Lindie said...

I spent a lot of time when I was younger worrying about what my husband would do when he retired. He never made it to retirement. At least you and Cliff have some great plans and good hobbies and will do well in retirement. Enjoy yourself and if he wants to work a bit longer, make sure it is not just to buy more stuff!

Paula said...

Like this post very much. I've started giving away pictures of people my kids wouldn't know from Adam. Just a few years ago you couldn't have pried them from my possesion.

Margaret said...

My husband will never retire, even if he didn't have lung cancer, he loves to work. I hope Cliff makes the decision that's best for both of you. I vote for retirement!!

Lisa said...

Oh sweet Donna, may I be the one to say I will remember you.. and I'm praying for a long and blessed life for both you and Cliff and a very happy retirement, whenever it comes. I wish I could visit you and we could go horseback riding together.

madcobug said...

Good family picture. I hope Cliff goes ahead and retires. Have some good times before you get to old to enjoy them. Helen