In 1974 at the age of 15, I started working for 75 cents an hour grading papers for a high school teacher.
“Be a secretary, you’ll always have something to fall back on,” my father told me. His advice bit me in the butt a few years later when as an Army Reservist 1976, I applied to be in the first class of women to be admitted to West Point. I missed the age cut-off by one year because I needed a year of prep school.
I’ve lost track of the number of jobs I’ve had over the years: medical clerk typist, pharmacy tech, “Officer Friendly” in military police community relations, C-130 cargo plane loader, publishing manager, small business owner, production control analyst, realtor…and secretary.
Sometimes I felt sentenced to being a secretary because I’d boomerang back yet again. Now, after all these years and perspective, it was an awesome way to get my foot in the door of some solid, well-respected companies. I’ve made the most of that opportunity the last 11 years and am grateful to have been able to bookend my career with the Army, first as a 19-year-old reservist and now as a retired civil servant.
I retired from my day job today. It’s going to take some time for that reality to sink in…but it definitely feels good.
I’ve been intending to write a post for the past month and a half, but I’ve been busy preparing to leave my home base to travel back to Michigan to work my final days in the office. It’s been a whirlwind.
As of today, I’m down to three days and a wake-up which seems surreal…but it’s finally here. Although my shoulder surgery delayed and changed my plans, if life has taught me nothing else it’s how to be resilient.
I’m grateful to be blessed with friends who have opened their homes to me during this interim period. I plan to hit the road and be a nomad for time, meandering where the spirit moves me, then winter in Tucson.
The comfort zone is a psychological state in which one feels familiar, safe, at ease, and secure. You never change your life until you step out of your comfort zone; change begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Roy T. Bennett
This month I’ve struggled with how to process the last year. I’ve wanted to write a post remembering the last week of normal life before the world shut down. The sign in CVS saying they were sold out of isopropyl alcohol and antiseptic wipes. The lines of worried patrons pushing toilet-paper topped carts down grocery aisles waiting to check out. Feeling foolish wearing a mask for the first time, like I was playing cops and robbers.
Shit got real for me when I heard Tom Hanks had Covid-19.
Michigan locked down, we were third in the nation for covids deaths, and every day seemed more surreal than the last. Each lockdown day was marked on the calendar, as if I was doing time. I dyed my hair purple. I doomscrolled social media searching for the coronavirus cavalry and watched a young woman in YouTube videos explaining the pandemic to her past self…and was horrified when she asked what year it was.
As the telework days turned into months and Spring turned to Summer in the chaos that was my personal life, I tried to hike every day at the state park across the street to prevent the walls from closing in. I needed something to look forward to so I set a retirement date of 31 July 2021. I moved closer to family to have a home base and quit numbering the lockdown days on the calendar.
Searching for and buying a home via Facetime turned out easier than I imagined, and packing up and selling the home across from the state park I loved to hike was gut wrenching. Having worked from home with a lockdown mentality, it was tough having people in my home getting it ready for sale, but it had to be done.
I was nervous about traveling because the last thing I wanted was to catch was the virus. With the Uhaul hitched to my Outback, I headed to my new life, and spent a restless night in a hotel halfway there, the first since being locked down.
Moving back to North Dakota in September, it seemed as if people were in denial about coronavirus and I felt like I was living in an alternate reality. The first weekend in my new home, the neighbor across the street with the Trump signs in her yard wanted to have a gathering of the neighborhood ladies to get to know my daughter and I.
“Where would we have the gathering?”
“In my Living Room.”
“I don’t really feel comfortable with that. I just moved from Michigan where we had refrigerator trucks parked outside hospitals.”
“Well, by October can be pretty cold. I guess we can play it by ear.”
The Friday before the Sunday gathering, my neighbor called to say she had Covid and the gathering had been delayed. I was relieved. Shortly after, local cases skyrocketed and the state hit the national news becoming North Dacovid. I questioned whether I had made the right decision to move back to my home state.
The upsides of the move were the first holidays spent with family in decades and access to great medical care when my daughter had emergency surgery in December. I had spent months avoiding people and hospitals, now I had to be there for my daughter. I focused my thoughts on her to avoid disaster-sizing the what ifs. My temperature was checked when I arrived at the hospital, they only let one visitor in at a time, everyone was masked, and they moved around like normal people in the land of the living. It was the beginning of starting to feel comfortable again out in the world, yet staying masked and protecting myself.
I was so glad to put 2020 behind me, hoping that with retirement on the horizon 2021 would be a better year. After the national chaos that was January, February loomed large on the horizon with memories of Portland, the last trip I’d taken before the pandemic. I needed to step outside my comfort zone again.
I’d seen reports of people flying and I had an airline credit with Delta, which was still committed to social distancing. I booked a flight to Tucson, a place I visited in the past, had family and friends who wintered there, and thought it might be right for me in retirement. At least it would be an opportunity to enjoy a long weekend in the warmth of the Arizona sun.
Tucson was everything I remembered and more. With a higher elevation, hiking and bike trails surrounded by mountains, the RV resort with their tennis and pickleball courts, and activities of every kind got me hooked. In my short long weekend trip, I made plans to winter there myself.
Returning home, I set my sights on planning the rest of my retirement dream. I ordered a 16′ Scamp to be delivered in August 2022, then found a 1973 13′ Boler as an interim solution until my Scamp is ready. She’s one of 10K ultralight fiberglass campers that were manufactured in Canada between 1968 and 1988. I won’t have time to do extensive renovations before I hit the road, but the original upholstery is really quite groovy. And she’s light enough to tow with my Outback.
I filed my retirement paperwork and with plans in place, it was just a matter of tying up loose ends…but the nagging shoulder pain I’d been nursing since the move last Summer had other plans. After an MRI revealed tears in the right rotator cuff, an orthopedic surgeon gave me the option of surgery or taking a wait and see approach. I’ve got places to go, things to see, and I want to lead an active retirement with biking, pickleball, and camper hauling, so surgery is scheduled for Tuesday, March 30th.
Life without the use of my dominant arm isn’t the way I imagined the last few months of my working life, but better I get it taken care of so I can enjoy life on the road. I keep reminding myself it’s just another speed bump and growth opportunity. I’ve come through worse so I’m keeping my eye on the prize…an active retirement and a new goal. #ambidextrous