Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 718 The Coffee Shop

This is Retirement Talk. I'm Del Lowery.

My niece recently posted a picture on Facebook of my mother and her good friend of 40 years having a cup of coffee. They sat at her friends kitchen table with white cups sitting in saucers in front of them. There was an empty cookie plate off to the side. They both wore sweaters over their dresses. Their lips were pressed firmly together and turned up in a slight smile. Both had their arms folded. Their white hair looked carefully fixed. They looked like two old ladies; satisfied. They both lived into their nineties. My niece wished that we could all pause each day and enjoy conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee. It would be a time of peace and perfection for all. I agree.

Not only do I agree with the satisfaction this coffee and conversation might bring to one's life or retirement but I practice it. My wife and I have been retired now for almost 35 years - remember we retired very early in life - and I can't recall a day when we have missed our coffee and conversation on a single afternoon (with the exception of during the time of COVID). I suppose there have been a few but they have disappeared into the thousands of days we have paused in the middle of each afternoon for this ritualistic delight. It's habitual.

Aristotle used to say that we don't have good habits because we are good, but that we are good because we have established good habits. It is amazing what habitual behavior can do for us. We can fall into the habit of exercise, watching TV or eating too much. The results are as expected. We need to be careful when we establish these habits.

As for the coffee habit Brenda and I pause around 3:30 every day. No matter what is scheduled; we go to coffee. It is a social hour for us. When we retired and relocated we took into consideration the distance to restaurants, grocery stores, drug stores, book shops and of course, coffee shops. We wanted to be able to walk to all of them. We can, and we do.

When we travel we stop for coffee. We drive off the freeway and try to find a locally owned shop. When we were in Tucson on our recent road trip we had to drive 10 miles one way to a coffee shop that fit our style. We could have had bad coffee in bad shops or we could have stopped at a Starbuck chain store but we went the extra mile for this great coffee shop. The proprietors were a couple who had come to America from Kosovo in the last year. It was worth the trip to us. Of course, to folks living in Tucson, I guess the drive wouldn't seem like much but it was a big deal to us.

The farthest we ever drove for coffee was just off Interstate 10 in New Mexico. We had just entered the state and roads were few. We were told at a visitor center that the closest espresso shop was 45 miles north of the Interstate in Silver City. We went. Ended up spending in the night in this beautiful small town.

We have managed to find coffee shops that suited us in surprising places across the country. Some are amazing creations by dedicated proprietors. These people are devoted to their coffee being prepared with care. They also uniquely decorate or furnish their shops. I vividly recall shops from Vancouver, BC south and around the edge of the USA as far as Chesapeake Bay. The one in Chesapeake Bay was done in bright yellow and red and blue and was situated so the colors were bathed in sunlight; such a pleasant place. We stopped twice in one day.

Our usual local shop is a beauty. It is in a building that is over one hundred years old. It is colorful and friendly. It sits amidst a busy walking area. It is easy to sit and stare out the window for an hour. The floor is old growth fir and has been worn by many a feet. It is rough and the tables often sit a little unstable under the cup.  There is a fireplace for cold, dark, rainy days. And there are three ice cream shops nearby for the grandchildren.

Our first priority is to engage in conversation with the baristas and the patrons. The baristas are all young; usually college students. They provide us a little contact with the younger set. We have had some of them to our house and we have been invited to parties and weddings. It's nice to have this interaction with the younger set.

We never turn down a chance at conversation but never intrude upon someone who seems to be seeking a bit of solitude. Brenda always has her crossword and sudoku at the ready and I always have the iPad geared up to write or read. We can chat or we can lose ourselves in our own individual pursuits.

I suppose the baristas sometimes think that we just sink into our own individual worlds while we are there but we are always talking on the 15 minute walk to and from the shop. And upon our arrival the chance that some conversation might spring up with a third party is very good.

Appreciation and love of this coffee habit has never wavered. There is something about sitting around a small table and settling life's major problems or engaging in a little speculative conversation about the people passing by. "Where did they get that coat? What a beautiful dog. Those people look lost. Those folks are really in love."

My mother and her coffee friend both died within a year of each other just twenty years ago. Maybe they couldn't go on without their sharing of a cup each day. Maybe the same will happen to Brenda and I. Sounds like the perfect ending.

This is Retirement Talk.

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