Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 138 Retirement and Reunions

High in the Chugach Mountains overlooking Anchorage , Cook Inlet and land as far north as Mount Denali , my friends from days of work built a beautiful house. He was a physics teacher and they wanted to build an energy efficient place. He built double outside walls out of 2x6s all around with a one foot dead airspace in between. He jokingly claimed that when he was done he would be able to heat it with a hair-dryer. He installed an air exchange system so inside air could exchange warm molecules with colder air being brought into the house. He allowed massive crawl spaces so that pipes and wires could easily be reached for repair or rearrangement. The house was perched on this piece of property with a million dollar view. A few weeks ago they graciously held a large party for retired faculty members. I attended with high hopes of seeing old friends, this unusual house and the incredible view.

This is retirement talk. I’m Del Lowery.

I had never attended any kind of reunion. It is not something that has ever appealed to me. Thinking more closely, I now remember that I did attend a massive breakfast at my high school for alumni one summer when I happened to be back home. I guess that sort of counts. There were classes members from perhaps a sixty year spread there so I had no connection to most people. It wasn’t, “my class reunion”.

This reunion in Alaska was for faculty members, spreading over a thirty to forty year period; again, not a class reunion, but a reunion of type. I knew many of the people. Brenda accompanied me as she knew the hosts and a few others. We decided to take my bicycle so that she could take the car and leave any time she wanted. I would be free to mingle without feeling that she was being left out. Then I could enjoy the 15 to 20 mile ride back to our son’s house which was downhill most of the way. Brenda stayed for about an hour.

It was nice to see some of the folks there. However, few of the faculty had been close friends in days gone by. Most people were “Hello, how are you?” type friends; coworkers, passing in the halls. We traded casual comments back then and there was no reason to expect anything different now. “Where do you live? How many grandchildren do you have?” Or there was the more than expected statements concerning bad knees or  steel parts placed in their bodies. Pleasantries exchanged, we would move on to someone else. I remember feeling like they knew nothing of what my life was really like. And as well, I knew little of theirs.

There was one couple there whom we had met two nights earlier for dinner. We see them once a year whenever we visit Alaska . We know the names of their children and what shape their lives have taken. They know the names of our children and what they are doing. We keep in touch with Christmas Cards and our annual rendezvous in Anchorage . During the reunion we hardly talked. I think they were trying to give us time to visit with others.  

The thing that stood out from the reunion: it all took place in the garage and driveway. Don’t get me wrong. This was summer, but summer in Alaska , and high on a mountain. It was cold. This house with a million dollar view has the garage built on the back side with a drive leading in off the road behind the house. I never saw the front of the house or the million dollar view. I never saw anyone enter the house. Even a port-a-potty had been rented and placed at the end of the drive. I’m not sure why all of this was so. I do know that back in the Midwest it is common to hold big gatherings in the garage. Tables and chairs can be set up and rearranged with some ease. But, I still have a hard time figuring it out.

My idea of getting a tour of this house and a description of how living in the house had worked out over the last twenty-five years never materialized. I did get to talk to the host for a couple of minutes and the house seemed to live up to his expectations. But our conversation was cut short and I never got past the heating bill. Not much luck. Next time I am in Alaska I am going to call him and perhaps meet over coffee or dinner and truly catch up.

I did get to talk to a few former colleagues and that was fun. But our time always seemed short and conversations rushed. Someone else would join us and the conversation would shift. There was no time to develop any sort of meaningful exchange. I would like to have had an hour or two with several of them in a  one on one conversation. That would have been great.

At any rate: my reunion experience was not the best. Perhaps it is my own fault for not mingling more than I did, or being more outgoing. I have never been high on attending the usual cocktail party. I am not good at standing around with a drink in my hand and making small talk. But, I wished I could have had that view and the descriptive tour of the house.  

I have talked to other people who love reunions. They go every chance they get. Like most things in life, I suppose a lot of the value of reunions depends on the expectations and actions of the participants. Not comfortable putting myself forward in these kinds of situations I came away a bit disappointed. I hopped on my bike. Then came a real rush.

This is Retirement Talk.



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