Saturday, April 23, 2011

Retirement Transitions - An Archaeological Dig

My first weeks of retirement have been spent filing for social security and preparing the house for sale. Both of these projects had me digging through years of accumulated paperwork and belongings, much of it dating back 20 years or more. Several times I went on a quest for one item, only to turn up something else important that I’d given up on. It’s as though I’ve been on an archaeological dig, working my way through layers of past civilizations. Each new level sheds light on my previous lives.

The oldest age I’ve been able to identify in my dig is what I’ll call “The Formative Years.” I uncovered my grade school report cards, the booklets with my PSAT and SAT scores, my band letter and all three graduation tassels. The band letter is like the ones that athletes earned, but in the shape of a lyre. My report cards reminded me that the only C that I ever received was in fourth grade, for singing. It was not an unfair mark, as anyone who has stood near me at a birthday party during the cake ceremony can attest.

Just above that level, I uncovered memories from my “Rebel without a Cause” period. There was my entry for the Mademoiselle guest editor competition for college women. You had to create and produce a new magazine. Mine was titled Cyclefemme and featured motorcycles and helmets designed especially for women. I didn’t get to be an editor, but I did win a free subscription to Mademoiselle for a year.

This overlapped with my “Hippie” period, as documented by a photo of me in my Jesus sandals. They had crisscross laces up to my knees and my parents did not approve. One of my aunts had a fancy 50th anniversary party in New Jersey during my senior year. I dressed properly for the event, but I changed into traveling clothes for the bus ride back to Rhode Island. When I came out of the rest room to say goodbye, I was wearing my Villager suit with tiny flowers and those sandals. My mother about had apoplexy.

My dig also uncovered “The Peripatetic Era,” which occurred mostly in the years right after college. The artifacts from this era included my old passport with all its visas and border crossing stamps. I remember that I had learned to say: “I have nothing to declare” in three languages. I also found my travel journal, documenting the places I went with my Eurail Pass, and how much I spent. I lived on an average of $3.40 a day. (It was the late sixties.)

One of the almost forgotten layers was The Jock Age, as documented by the forms certifying me to sail solo at the Club Meds in Playa Blanca and Turquoise. Also from one of those vacations—a tank top with a word puzzle on the front and the explanation in French on the back. It got me way more action than my band letter.

Just above that layer, I uncovered the hand-crocheted bikini and gauzy sarong from my “Exotic Phase.” You’ll be forgiven if you confuse this with my “Gypsy Experiment.” Both involved a lot of head scarves, flowing skirts and large flowers worn in my waist-length hair. (Pictures available for a fee…)

One thing became clear to me as I excavated through the various levels of my existence: the earlier eras seem more interesting than the recent ones. As I look through the layers I’ve identified, I’m forced to face reality. I wouldn’t have the patience to lace up Jesus sandals today. Although I’m still partial to scarves, especially at my neck, my hair is too short to hold flowers. The closest thing to a string bikini that my body could accommodate would be a unitard crafted from compression bandages. (Pictures NOT available, no matter how much you’re willing to pay…)

On a brighter note, I expect my retirement years to be full of adventure and excitement. My passport is up to date. I’ve mastered the art of traveling light. Eurail Passes are still available. I think it may be time to learn to say “I have nothing to declare” in a few more languages.

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