It’s sunup. Early. I’m driving west out GA Hwy 18 with a load of trees. This is what a tree farmer does. This has been my story the last 21 years. We aim to please.
This northwest corner of Harris County is drop dead gorgeous to me. We’ve had a string of warm weeks right in the middle of winter. The rolling pastures are so green I can’t help but think of the old Shepherd’s Psalm where He makes me lie down for my own good. A man’s mind wanders.
The fence rows on both sides of the road are clean. Black Angus pulling at fresh grass after a winter of dry hay. I’ve known this my whole life, but it still amuses me. A herd of cows left to their own leisure will, generally, all face the same direction. These happen to be facing east. Even the ones lying down chewing the cud. The calves are the only ones who haven’t caught on yet.
The Canaan Farm district, as I call it, is picturesque. Red barns. Old silos. An abandoned milking parlor. The east facing windows of the old farmhouse on my right look like they are on fire with the reflection of the morning sun coming back at me as I drive by.
I’m headed into Alabama, just a little south of Alex City. One of my landscape customers does a lot of work on Lake Martin. I’m taking trees to The Willows, a very upscale community on the north end of the lake. The boat houses there put my living quarters to shame.
I’ve made this trip so many times that I don’t have to think about it, which is why I just missed my exit on the interstate. I’m thinking, but evidently not about driving. I’m thinking about retirement.
I have a thousand ideas of what it will be like to not to have to set an alarm at 5:15 each morning. Don’t laugh, but I plan on still setting an alarm. Maybe not the first week. It would be nice not to have anything to do for a week. No place to get to at a certain time. No one waiting on me to give instructions for the day. No one complaining because it’s too cold or too wet or too hot or too difficult or too much to get done in one day.
But I am a man who needs a routine. I won’t set a clock quite as early as I do now, but I am a morning person anyway. I think better in the early hours of the day. I feel better when I get up and get dressed and set my mind to some purpose. Coffee is better at 6:00am than any other time of day.
I’ve had a lot of people ask me, “What in the world are you gonna do when you retire?” This question often comes with a tone of incredulity, as if maybe my life will be over if I stop going to work.
My typical reply is, “Not real sure, but I can tell you one thing. I’m not going to sit on the couch and watch Andy Griffin reruns all day.”
The fact that I missed my exit is no big deal. I could have cut a few miles off the trip but I’m easing off the interstate into Tiger Town, home of the War #@*& Eagles. I’m headed north on US 280, a wide four lane highway. A Swift semi is trying to crowd me out of my lane. The morning work traffic is impatient with a guy in a pickup pulling a gooseneck trailer.
The possibility of retirement is constantly with me now that I’ve committed to a date. I’ve been talking about this for three or four years now. I made a promise to Beth several years ago that 2023 would be my last year. I’ve been hinting at it to my business partner for longer than that.
When my 65th birthday came and went I told Cory, “You know, I’m not going to do this forever. I have no aspirations of being the 80-year-old nursery guy still walking the trade show floor peddling trees.”
I’ve seen those guys, the ones who either don’t know how to quit or maybe wouldn’t know what to do with themselves if they did quit. They look tired. Some of them seem a little sour. From where I sit, their nursery serves as a prison from which they don’t know how to escape.
Truth is, I love what I do. Every job has its pains and thorns. But the nursery business has been good for me. I’ll miss certain aspects of this part of my life.
I got a note card in the mail last week from one of my customers. “I just wanted to thank you for the way you always take care of us. The timely way in which you get us the trees we need for our jobs and the quality of the plants you bring always satisfies our customers, and that reflects well on us.”
That makes an old man grateful.
I think, when it’s all said and done, the real value in a man’s life is about the people with whom he has crossed paths. The size of his business doesn’t matter. How many plaques he hangs on the wall doesn’t matter. The profit/loss statements don’t matter. All the stats and numbers he can put together pale in comparison to the friends he’s made.
Most of all, I’ll miss that connection to the people I’ve worked with all these years.
I’m crossing the Tallapoosa River at the northeast end of Lake Martin. It’s a cold morning. The temperature is holding in the low 30s, which is a bit of a shock after all these 80 degree days, but not surprising. In the south, we call this second winter. Winter is never done with us until after Easter, and that’s still nearly a month away.
I guess retirement can go one of two ways. Some are miserable with it and within six months are looking for another job to fill their days. Some handle it gracefully, and their only regret is that they didn’t pull the plug sooner.
I hear two arguments.
“Why would you retire when you love what you do and you’re in good enough health to be productive for many more years?”
The other is the mirrored opposite. “While you’re still in good health and could enjoy the latter years of your life doing things you want to do, why would you keep working?”
Happily, I’m in camp #2.
I’m rolling through Wind Creek State Park. Open water. Tall pines. What looks like miles of shoreline. I think I’ll visit here once I’m done with work. Retired guys can do that, right?
I’m inside The Willows now. My customer, Tim, is up ahead flagging me down. We shake hands. I’m untying the tarp, uncovering oaks and magnolias and riverbirch. We unload right next to a pristine white concrete driveway.
“So,” Tim asks me, “when you gonna finally retire?”
“Not soon enough,” I said. “Not soon enough.”
4 thoughts on “Retirement”
I will be retired 7 years in October and love every day of it. I have an inner clock that wakes me up early every day. What defines us is not a job or title, please remember, it is God’s amazing love and grace that defines who we are. If your job defines you, you will be miserable in retirement. If God’s love for us defines us, then we will use the rest of our life being useful to Him. JUMP IN, THE WATER IS GREAT!
Paul I hated retirement for maybe a week. It didn’t take long at all.
Most likely you’ll still get up at 5:15 each morning for a little while. Drink the coffee and watch the Sun Rise on nice days. On stormy days you may go back to bed for a while. After a life time of working it takes a little time to get into the groove of retirement. Next thing you know you are gonna be busy working on the house and yard and twittering your thumbs for a while. You may even take up a hobby such as carving, painting, etc.. One thing for sure, you’re gonna love it…
As we well know, life is short and we never know what’s ahead. Enjoy the years you have left, do everything you’ve always wanted to do as long as you can physically and as long as you can afford it! Unfortunately for us, the future is a big unknown, not at all what we intended retirement to be and what money we have, we will need for future care as Alzheimers is an unforgiving diagnosis.