The Break

We shut down operations at the farm from Christmas through the New Year. Changing the routine is good for the soul.

In the quiet of the dark mornings, I sat in my pjs, drank coffee, and read Wendell Berry. During the days when it was colder than the tater tots in my freezer, I kept a continuous fire burning in the fireplace. In the evenings, I drank real hot chocolate made with milk and cream. No hot-water-fake-powdered mix for me.

In between these monumental events, I worked on a few projects in my shop. I administered at least two band aids. One puncture. One cut. I pulled an astonishing 1,427 splinters from my hands with a needle dipped in alcohol. The rubbing kind. I would wear gloves, but I can’t operate a tape measure and a pencil with clumsy glove fingers.

The break was not so relaxing for Max. Since I didn’t leave the house early, or almost not at all, his routine got all out of whack. He went outside much later than usual to pee. Which, for some dogs, could be a problem. But Max has a bladder made of cast iron. I have always admired this about him. I can now verify that he has at least a 14-hour holding capacity. Maybe more, but I didn’t think it wise to push his limit.

When he goes with me to the tree farm, he usually stays underfoot. In the truck. Out of the truck. Walking 10 feet away. If I stand too long, he lays down and watches for my next move. I move. He moves. I eat. He eats. I scratch. He scratches. He is the poster dog for loyalty.

It took him about two days to realize I was doing my own thing which did not necessarily include him. My truck mostly stayed put in the driveway. He doesn’t like the noise of my tools in the shop. So, he got in the habit of disappearing for the day.

I was unsettled by his newfound independence. I whistled and hollered for him to come home about every hour throughout the day, but to no avail.

I know for a fact that he didn’t go far. My neighbor, Glenn, asked me what was going on with Max. “He’s been hanging out with me around the barn all day.” Which means that Doofus-Dog could hear me. He just chose to ignore me.

Somewhere around 9:00 in the evening, I’d hear one quick “Woof” at the kitchen door. That’s his signal for, “I’m home honey. Let me in.”

I thought about ignoring him, but I couldn’t. I stood at the door and looked at him on the porch through the glass. He had that “so what” look on his face. I cracked the door open enough to have a talk with him but not wide enough for him to come in.

“Where you been all day?”

“What’s it to you?” he said.

“We’re buddies. We’re supposed to hang out together.”

Eye roll. “You do your thing, I do mine.”

“That’s not how it works.”

“How do you like my cologne? See this dark goo I rubbed all over my neck.”

“Bleep. You stink.”

“I know. Isn’t it great.”

I guess even the best of couples need their own space every now and then. What do the suave folks call it these days? Me-time.

I haven’t had many days in my life when my time was completely my own. There have been a number of vacations over the years, but those trips were always with someone and there was always a schedule of things to do. Things to see. Places to go.

This holiday break was different. I literally had the best part of eleven days almost completely to myself. To tell the truth, it kind of grew on me. I got a lot done.

For one thing, I caught up on my washing. In recent months, I have fallen behind. Gotten lazy. I was washing the bare minimum to keep myself in a few pair of jeans and shirts for work. Slowly, the dirty clothes basket filled and was spilling out over the edge to the floor.

Being by myself over the break meant that I didn’t really care how I looked. I think I wore the same pair of jeans four days straight. Maybe it was six. Sawdust. Glue stains. A wet knee where I kneeled on the ground. Same goes for the sweatshirt I wore. I won’t mention other items of clothing.

The towel and sheet basket was full, too. There was a pile of dish towels and tablecloths on the floor in the laundry room. I had several jackets in the closet, which, every time I pull them out, I say to myself, “I should really wash these.”

So, one morning after my PJ-reading-coffee time, I put on a clean pair of jeans along with clean other stuff. That was after I took a shower for the first time in a couple days. Then, I started digging into the piles of dirty laundry.

By the end of the day, the only way I could have washed one more piece of clothing would have been to wash naked. That was not in the cards.

When you’re on break, you check out from the norm. I left my phone alone so long I got a message one day from Google telling me that if I didn’t start using my phone more often it was going to pack up and leave me. Even my phone knew I was out of my routine, which I admit concerns me a little bit.

I didn’t cook much. I lived off Christmas left overs, especially the cookies and fruit salad.

I didn’t write at all. Georgia Bred took a short winter’s nap.

I forgot to take my blood pressure medicine most days. I have a morning regimen, and that was completely out of sync.

I couldn’t keep up with what day it was. I had no reference in my debunked coming and going by which to set my internal clock.

All in all, it was perfect.

I hear that retirement is a lot like this. Dirty clothes. Odd smells. Vehicle sitting idle in the driveway. Forgetting to take your meds. Not sure what day it is.

I am, therefore, considering this holiday break of mine as a practice run on real retirement. That’s right. I said it. 2023 will be my last year. Six or eight months from now, there will be no more trees to sell for me. I stopped planting new trees last spring. One sure-fire way to get out of the nursery business is to stop planting. Eventually, you run out.

People ask me why. A few have advised me that I might regret it. They tell me that as long as I’m in good health and enjoy what I do, I should keep working. I’ve been warned about going stir crazy. Retirement is not all it’s built up to be.

All that could be true. But I’m convinced there’s a “next chapter” for me.

Besides, now that I’ve tasted it, I’m ready for a real break.

4 thoughts on “The Break

  1. Paul, Loved your story and it touches my heart & soul. I’m in the same boat…………. sort of, but I won’t be retiring this year. All the Best to you. Regards, Blake


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