Retirement Talk for Boomers, Seniors and Retirees

                                                                                                                                            What to do with the Rest of Your Life?

Episode 118  Road Trip: Part 11 Visiting Old Friends

Bay Saint Louis is a small town in western Mississippi. It was devastated by Katrina. “We were in the eye of the hurricane” a local told me. It is a small town and the downtown lays a mile or two from the main highway. We drove in for lunch: quiet except the sound of sledge hammer pounding a cross into a fitting on top of a new steeple on a local church. A woman was standing on an extended arm of one of those lifts that utility workers use to reach the top of tall power polls. She was putting the finishing touches on a newly erected steeple. Our guess was that the steeple had disappeared with the wind. Katrina spread her arms.

This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowry.

Bay Saint Louis is a beautiful small town right on the Gulf. There are many new buildings. Even the streets are new. New water and sewer lines are being laid. A few older buildings are sprinkled along the streets. We ate at the “Buttercup” restaurant: well lit, well appointed and the food was delicious. We walked the mostly empty streets and stumbled into a great Internet Café with great espresso. The barista was from the state of Washington – wouldn’t you know.

That night we were in Pascagoula, Mississippi another town that was severely damaged by Katrina. Convicts with the word “CONVICT” printed in big bold letters on their T-shirts worked on the streets. They also wore pajama looking bottoms that were green and white stripped: hard to miss. Bellingraff Gardens called from a road sign. Brenda had read about it some where. That meant another two hour side trip to ramble about the beautiful grounds and view the results of one rich man’s costly gift to his young wife. This guy had obtained the franchise to distribute Coke throughout the region during the early part of the twentieth century. He made a fortune and spent a portion of it developing this splendid river house for his wife. It did afford us a quiet, beautiful walk in Alabama shore lands with natural and native gardens to arouse the senses.

Our next real destination was in Panama City, Florida to visit John Graham, a friend from my old teaching days in Anchorage. Alaska.  John had gone to Alaska in 1968, the same year we had. He taught Special Education. At the annual Fur Rendezvous John was the Alaskan Beer Drinking champion for more years than I can remember. He was a big guy in many ways. He had a heart of gold for the underprivileged and took special pride in siding with anyone who was being mistreated. He used to walk down the halls through hundreds of students holding the hand of some individual who was physically and mentally impaired. It was like he was holding the hand of Marilyn Monroe. He smiled and students would part like the Red Sea and return his caring efforts with special respect.

John also had a way of getting in trouble. Alcohol and drugs became a personal problem. It cost him his wife and kids along with a great deal of self respect. Thirty years ago he had his last drink. He became a regular Alcoholic Anonymous member. He has gone to meeting every since. He says that he always tells others to go to the meetings; find someone who is worse off than you are and then help them. It’s good for them and good for you.

His 14 years of retirement have evolved around this practice. He helps people. Right now he takes daily care of a three year old boy whose mother uses the time to attend AA meeting every day. She needs the help. So does the young boy, and so does John. He councils another AA member and in exchange she comes over and helps him with house hold chores and daily tasks.

John has always had obsessive compulsive behavior problems and since the alcohol and drugs have been arrested food has become a problem. Weight accumulates. He’s on the far side of 300 pounds. He has a hard time walking and getting around but he persists. It’s taking a toll, but there he was on his 70th birthday living in a beautiful house on the shore of North Bay still sharp mentally and still trying to assist people.

We stayed two nights with John; reminiscing and laughing. He has to be the funniest man I’ve ever met. Of course, we never had a television and John lived for Comedy Central. He always had these “one liners” he would zing me with and I would think he made them up. Only much later did I find out he was lifting lines straight from TV on a daily basis.

This was one of the high points of our trip. We have known John for over 40 years. Traveling and stopping to see old friends is a special treat. Retirement doesn’t get much better. We are headed to Sarasota – to see another “old” friend.

This is Retirement Talk.