Labor Day thoughts from a retired worker

Labor Day 2014 will be my first Labor Day since retiring. This may be a good time for an old timer to reflect a bit on the matter of labor.

I am fortunate. My parents taught their brood of six the value of work at an early age. For me, the oldest, it started with helping my mother with simple things around the house and helping weed the garden. By the time I was 9-years-old I was mowing our lawn and clearing snow from the sidewalks.

Mom gave me a corner of her large garden and allowed me to raise vegetables to sell to the neighbors. I mowed neighbors’ lawns and shoveled their snow. At age 11 I took on a newspaper delivery route.

I also sold greeting cards, garden seeds and White Cloverine salve. I’ll bet the relatives hated to see me coming.

Mom also taught me some household skills. I learned how to cook and bake, how to mop and wax linoleum floors and how to dust and vacuum.

Along the way I learned how to run an old wringer-type washing machine, how to hang the wash on a clothesline and how to iron clothing. Mom also taught me how to mend clothing and darn socks.

Someday, I knew, I’d make some woman a good slave.

My parents taught me three important things about work: (a) I was expected to help around the house and yard; (b) those that can work but choose not to should not eat; and (c) if I wanted something I needed to work for it. (I was strongly motivated by point “b.”)

The summer I was 14 I couldn’t get work on area farms (too young, I was told) so I hung a sign in front of the house advertising car washing and waxing. Before school started that fall I purchased a new portable typewriter.

The next year, and for two more summers, I worked for area farmers walking beans, baling hay, shelling corn, scooping pig, cow and chicken poop and other duties as required.

The day I graduated from high school I began working full time at the county seat radio station. I worked about 30 hours a week while in college. Then it was back to full time which, in the radio business, was 60-70 hours a week (often more.)

By the time I retired, I had worked full time for more than 45 years.

I am not bragging or complaining. I was fortunate to find good jobs and I enjoyed what I did. For a large portion of my career I had great relationships with my employers.

Toward the end, however, I ran into a few bosses who were difficult to work for. When you’re in your 50s it’s difficult to find another job so I put up with highly stressful situations until my physical and mental health was on the verge of collapse. At age 59 I walked away from my job and spent four months unemployed.

While this proved to be a rough spot, it ultimately led me to The Salvation Army where I spent seven years redeeming my career and preserving my health. The Salvation Army allowed me to finish my career putting my skills to work for God’s kingdom and for the less fortunate.

Someone said of retirement that it is nice to get out of the rat race but you have to learn to get along on less cheese. The prospect of less cheese (and ice cream) was scary. I announced my retirement a year early so I was committed to it and would not “chicken out” at the last minute.

It has been seven months since I retired and there have been no regrets. My health has improved (less cheese can be a good thing,) I sleep well and can actually sleep past 5 a.m.

Though my career did not go as far as I dreamed it went farther than anyone would have predicted 50 years ago, thanks to the work ethic taught by my parents.

So, you ask, if work is all that great why did I retire?

I have not retired from something; I have retired to something. Canadian author Catherine Pulsifer, describes retirement as “a time to enjoy all the things you never had time to do when you worked.”

I have a rather lengthy bucket list and many of the items on it involve work. Now, however, it’s the kind of work I didn’t have time for before.