Home My Vegetable Love Weathering Winter Taking Retirement Letters to Kate The Made-Up Self Essayists on the Essay A Self Made of Words
February 23, 1997

Tides be damned, there's a life to be lived, and that means it's time to get started on the vegetable garden. So this morning I planned the spring garden and planted a few tomato seeds, keeping myself focussed on the task at hand, on the dry seeds in the wet germinating mix, on the prospect of fruits to come. No matter what happens at the building, I'll have home-grown tomatoes in June or early July. Fresh produce just a few weeks after I retire. Maybe Kate's right when she tells me "Just get on with your life, and retirement will take care of itself."

On days like this, in fact, I wonder why I'm worrying about it at all, especially when I think about my parents, neither of whom lived long enough to retire. Even if they had lived to be sixty-five or seventy, they'd probably have kept on working until they dropped dead in their tracks. Like most people of their generations, who were born so long before the time of ample pension plans and social security-my father in 1879, my mother in 1903-they couldn't have afforded to retire, particularly after my father, a doctor, lost everything he owned, including his home, in the stock market crash of 1929, and my mother returned to schoolteaching after he died in 1934. When I think of how hard it was for some of the relatives who raised me during the depression era in Cleveland, and harder still for the immigrant parents of my childhood friends, I feel as if I've been richly spoiled by the retirement funds I've accumulated during my years of working at Iowa. A far cry from the way it used to be for college professors. A far cry from the way it still is for many clerical, factory, and service workers, given the recent wave of downsizing and cost-cutting programs. No wonder so many people have to work two part-time jobs just to make ends meet, without any chance of a comfortable retirement. No wonder McDonald's has been running want ads for elderly employees. So, I often feel like the beneficiary of such a rare windfall that I should keep my mouth shut and get on with my life-gardening, reading, and puttering around the house, as I did today. But no sooner do I vow to shut up than something happens that starts me fretting again. And then I understand the embarrassing truth of E. B. White's acknowledgement that "Only a person who is congenitally self-centered has the effrontery and the stamina to write essays." Or to keep a retirement journal.

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