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.
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.