JIM THELMAN: Jubilación — Maybe We Should Embrace It

The Spanish word for retirement is “jubilación.” I learned Spanish when I rode with Juárez.

Benito — we were on a first-name basis — never retired. He died at his desk reading a newspaper, by one account. So I will be avoiding desks and periodicals from here on.

In the past year of reading about the challenging responsibility of retirement, evidence has mounted that baby boomers view it as an ordeal, not a jubilation. We are overrun with hand-wringing, navel-gazing and paternal articles about retirement. It’s a “next act,” and there’s a lot of advice as to what we’re supposed to do with this time.

I told people I was returning to medical school. About 80 percent believed me. No one bought the Juárez bit.

There are community education classes on how to make the complicated transition into retirement. One session produced the story about a woman sitting in her robe at the kitchen table drinking coffee as her husband was immersed in his assorted Monday morning bathroom perversions.

After he emerged from “the zone” of flossing, he noticed his wife was not getting ready for work, like Mary Richards. Nor was she feather-dusting the buffet, like June Cleaver.

“Aren’t you going to work today?” he asked.

“I retired,” she said.

HR knew — and there are a lot of HR machinations in which to engage before retiring — but he did not.

Other than that moderately amusing story, the one gem learned from researching retirement is if you think you can afford it, do it.

You can always go back to work six months or a year later if you miss being copied on emails that didn’t apply to you or long for the days of Googling “Benito Juarez” while awaiting the hierarchy to overthink a small project that Timmy the Squirrel would have approved between nibbles on a walnut.

But if you delay retirement and discover, “I should have done this earlier,” you can’t. Those years? Poof.

When I was a kid, Grandpa George lived with us during his retirement. He had worked in a railway roundhouse. Even through the Great Depression, he was always employed. Mom recalled that during her childhood, George would take a two-block detour after work in the summer, stop at his relatives and get a pail of milk from a cow on the way home.

Seems like the slow, small-town life between the Depression and World War II was meant for the segue into the retired grandpa I knew. Pretty sure no one ever asked him, “What are you going to do now?”

He took walks, brought home good stuff from the local bakery, watched a little TV and napped.

After a summer evening meal, the sun would throw the limbs of the backyard crabapple tree into a shadowy web over his bedroom window. He’d take a lawn chair and move it to the middle of the backyard grass.

The screen door would slam as I went out to throw a ball against the garage. To pay passage, I’d toss him a couple. Then he’d crank his arm in circles to suggest he’d thrown enough, but he knew I wanted to get to that garage.

Eventually he’d be on the neighbor’s steps, where the treads were painted green and the risers white. He’d listen to the Minnesota Twins on a transistor radio and visit with Bob, another retired railroad guy. A retired railroad guy who had the time to be artistic when he painted his steps.

At Grandpa’s funeral, the father of a classmate told me how George was a little different from many railroad guys. He was always scrubbed, and he never swore.

I should have said, “How the hell do you know that?” But I just waited for him to continue the story.

The man volunteered that as a kid, his early morning job was to knock on the doors of railway workers to deliver communications or wake-up calls. Or something. I forgot the particulars. But that’s how he got to know these railroad guys.

The storyteller was the last generation of American grade schoolers who were paid pennies to do some miserable chore for corporate America.

Unlike that guy, from The Greatest Generation, I didn’t have a job until I was in my teens.

That meant it was just a couple of retired guys when Grandpa and I were in the backyard during those summer evenings. Two slices of bread around a work sandwich. I was on one side of 40 years’ of work, and he was on the other.

It’s a little odd that baby boomers need classes and articles to tell them how to adjust to retirement. It’s like being a kid.

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