Items on ‘retiree to- do list’ gradually getting checked off


Old habits die hard, stanza one:

It was early afternoon one Sunday and the thought came to me that I really should go to the school to get my work done.

My cogitating was arrested when I suddenly realized that my usual Sunday tasks of completing preparations for the school week were no longer something I needed to do.

I mentioned this incident to my wife and she said it will probably take a year for me to get out of the habitual routines that I did on Sundays for nearly 50 years.

One of the items on my retiree to-do list — whenever I get around to them — was painting one of the bedrooms. My wife and I began this time-consuming process by trekking to the carpet store, where we admired a textured blue carpet sample that had some bone-hued highlights. Then off to Home Depot, where we looked at paint chips in the tan and ecru shades.

Later we went to Portland to help care for our granddaughter while her baby sister had surgery. Staying in a hotel the night before the surgery, we walked through the hotel lobby where I noticed this warm pea-soup-green color on the walls. The lobby reflected a comforting, pleasant and peaceful atmosphere — good, I thought, for a bedroom. So my plans for the room décor changed. The room is completed now and the results are quite satisfying.

Ah. My first big retiree project out of the way! Maybe I’ll look at the next item on the list.

But then again, maybe not. We’ll see.

When we went to eat at Stone Soup Cafe with our also-newly retired teacher friends on the first day of school, we were seated outdoors at a table under an umbrella as we dined. Three groups of people who know all of us came by at different times, stopped, and reacted similarly: “So THIS is what retirees do on the first day of school!”

We experienced déjà vu the next day at Maple Counter Cafe when we were spotted by other friends who teasingly commented on us being there at a time when we used to be in our classrooms.

As I was doing some volunteering at the school, one of my former colleagues saw me and said, “I am so envious!” And a couple others said, tongue-in-cheek, “You look entirely too happy!”

I must admit, it is rather different to be at the school and not have the responsibilities that go along with the oh-so-demanding day-to-day job of a full-time teacher. However, it didn’t take me long to get over the strangeness of coming in as a volunteer for a short while a couple times a week.

Old habits die hard, stanza two:

I was driving to an appointment, apparently without being conscious of where I was headed. I suddenly found myself starting to drive past my intended destination, instead continuing toward the elementary school where I used to teach. It is good no one was behind me, because once I came to my senses I made a rather sharp fast turn to get myself reoriented to the desired location.

Many of my retired acquaintances have told me they don’t know where the hours go in each day. They say they are just as busy as they were when they were employed. So. I ponder, how is that different from my life pre-retirement? My friends say the difference is that they can now do what they want when they wish to. And further, if they don’t feel inclined to do something, they won’t. Having been in the habit of saying “yes” over the years to invitations for involvement in one activity or another, I am just beginning to learn how to choose what I do or do not want to participate in.

One day recently, I had a list of 16 tasks to accomplish and got only nine of them done. At first I felt like it was a wasted day until I realized that there will probably be another day on the horizon. And anyway, it wasn’t urgently essential to complete most of the tasks immediately, although the lovely woman with whom I share my life might feel differently about my hypothesis.

I know it doesn’t seem so extraordinary, but I was feeling a sense of great achievement as I did something which I have wanted to do for an exceedingly long time, even before retirement. That was to edge the lawn along the driveway. While I was assiduously involved in that project, a senior citizen came riding by on his adult tricycle and stopped to chat. Although his acquaintance was unknown to me, apparently he knew me because he began talking with me about teaching music.

I was inspired by the rest of his conversation. Now a retiree, he originally came from Mexico 48 years ago and could not speak English. His son and daughter went to college here. They both went on to earn graduate degrees. His son has a doctorate and lives in New York City. His daughter lives in France.

This gentleman exercises daily by biking and walking the track at WWU for 8 miles. As I listened it became evident that he has a strong spiritual faith. I think in that faith he has found the secret to a fulfilling life, and in addition is surely an example of the “American Dream” come to fruition.

Faith, energy, vibrancy, and verve! Now those are wonderful life goals for me as a retiree.

I hope I’m up to the task.

Stay tuned.

Terry Koch is stepping into the life of a retiree after 46 years of teaching music at the grade school, high school and college levels. He can be reached at 529-6101 or


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