Thursday, June 19, 2014
As I move along in life, more and more people I know have started to retire. Realistically I know I will not be able to work at my tasting room job forever; at 52 I am already the oldest member of the tasting room staff, and at some point I will probably find the long hours spent standing behind the bar are simply too much for my hips and feet to handle.
But the other day I was in Pier One (armed with a discount coupon and looking for something fun to buy for a new a shelf we put up) and an elderly lady approached me and asked if she could help me with anything. When I turned to answer her, I noticed she had on a nametag and a blue Pier One vest, meaning she was an employee. She was probably between 70 and 80 years of age.
I later heard the manager reminding her to "check in" with all the customers on the floor, which indicated to me she was, in fact, a NEW employee. I don't know the circumstances that brought her into new employment at Pier One at her age -- I only hope that it was a choice and not a decision mandated by survival.
I see similar things going on at several retail locations throughout town, and I watch these older men and women seem to struggle a bit to keep up with the younger set, hustling around moving stock, mastering the intricacies of the point-of-sale system (cash registers as we knew them are gone from the landscape) and attempting to sell, sell, sell to a demanding and often harried public.
I know my first few months at the winery were a challenge -- I felt like an old dog trying to learn new tricks, and they weren't coming easy. Oh, eventually I mastered them, but I wonder how much harder it would have been had I been 20 years older, in a harsher, corporate retail environment. Judging by how hard it was at 51 compared to 21 at the winery, I'm guessing it would have been a lot harder.
Anyway, these older workers are making minimum wage and doing physically demanding jobs at a time when our grandparents were already collected their social security. And I worry that they don't have a choice -- that something went wrong in their lives that necessitates them working until they drop. I also worry that something could happen that would put me in the same position -- the position of having to work when my body is clearly ready for the rocking chair.
And of course, there's always the lifespan factor. With people living longer than ever, retirement must, by necessity, come later. When people retired at 55, they usually lived until about 65. When we are all living to 80, does that mean we'll be working until we're 75? Maybe.
But on the other end of the scale there is retirement, where we supposedly hang out contentedly, playing with grandchildren and getting senior discounts at our favorite dining establishments. But to me, retirement looks like the bus stop in life that comes right before death. After all, what other Big Thing comes after retirement? There are, simply, no more big life events after it. No babies born or careers started or changed -- it's just somewhere between one and thrity years of whatever you can afford and would like to do. Which sounds great except for the open-endedness of it. So maybe retiring at 55 would be nothing but a colossal bore, especially if you're planning on living until 90.
Maybe Pier One is not such a bad option after all.
As I intend to keep homesteading until I'm put into the ground myself, I have no worries about keeping busy once I do retire, but something about that open-endedness scares me a little. OK a lot. I should probably learn to live more in the present, but it does seem that our senior years are the worst time to have a lot of contemplative time on our hands, because contemplating what's up ahead can be a challenge, once there are no more career moves, no more babies to birth and eventual physical decline to anticipate.
And maybe feeling as I do is the biggest sign I'm not ready to retire yet. Perhaps there will come a day when that rocking chair will beckon and I will gladly sink into it, crocheting a blanket while my grandbabies play at my feet. Or maybe you'll find me at Pier One, running the register and showing people the newest table linens.
Either way, I hope the circumstances allow me to have a choice.