A TAP ON THE SHOULDER

When Hope Pays a Visit, Rich Paschall

Bill woke with the Florida sun proclaiming the new day, as he did on most days. He did not set an alarm clock, it was against his retirement protocol. Instead, he waited for the room to brighten with the energy of a new morning.

A new morning

A new morning

As he wandered through his house, getting ready to meet the world, Bill thought of what he would do that Friday. It seems he had been on a futile mission all week. Nevertheless, he would try again, and give it just one more chance. It felt like the least he could do for his friend.

Bill’s morning routine could not exactly be described as a routine.  Rather it was haphazard at best. He went to the washroom. He went to the closet. He went to the kitchen to start coffee. He went back to the washroom to shave. He looked again in the closet for what to wear and he went back to the kitchen for a cup of coffee. It took him over an hour to get ready to start the day, but that was Bill’s retirement plan. In other words, there was no plan.

His neighbor Harold, on the other hand, always had a plan. His time seemed to be allocated to the minute. While Bill liked Harold, he was not fond of the rigid lifestyle. That was no way to retire, Bill thought. Of course, it all did not matter now.

At the beginning of the week, Harold was found lying on his screened in patio and carted off to the local hospital, just a short distance away. It was not unusual for the Emergency Medical Technicians to pick up old timers in this part of Sarasota County, but it was still a shock to the few who knew Harold. Bill was one of those few.

Although a daily purpose was never part of Bill’s retirement goals, he nonetheless scheduled himself into a visit to the county hospital every day in a vain attempt to learn something, anything, about Harold’s condition. He was not immediate family and he was not named on any medical documents, since Harold, Planner Supreme, had no plan for this life-altering event. So Bill had learned nothing all week-long. Still, he could not settle his mind over the thought of Harold just falling over on his patio. So he kept trying to get a medical update.

When coffee was gone and toast was eaten, Bill was ready to make the trip to the county hospital. He stepped out into the Florida sun to find the day was already hot and humid.  Neighbor Mabel Crockett, would tell anyone who would listen that “the air was so think you could cut it with a knife.”  And so it was exactly that.

Bill hopped into his car in the driveway of his townhouse and hoped that the air conditioner would be at work right away. He was a bit disappointed at that, but he did not have far to go.

He arrived at the parking lot that was just two dollars for patients and visitors for four hours. “Don’t forget to have your ticket validated,” the guard warned Bill. If he forgot, the charge was double. Bill did not seem to care too much about that.

He entered by the Emergency Room and walked past the Trauma Triage and down the hall to the main lobby area. There he walked right up to the same receptionist who greeted him every day that week.

“Yes?” the elderly receptionist said with a sigh. She recalled Bill immediately and was prepared to go through the routine again.

“I am here to see my friend Harold. He came in through Emergency on Monday.”

“I know,” she said with a tired sound. It is the same sound that came with all of the disappointing statements she must give to visitors. “I’m sorry,” she continued. “Your friend is in intensive care. I can not give out information to anyone but immediate family.”

Bill started with his usual response, “But I might be…”

“I know, sir, and I am very sorry. It is the regulation and there is nothing else I can say,” the grey haired woman proclaimed with a heavy dose of sadness.

They stared at each other for a moment when Bill finally conceded. “I understand,” he said with a bit of a choked up sound. He could understand the rule, just not the dogmatic enforcement in this circumstance.

Bill started back down the hall toward the exit by the Emergency room. He passed pictures of important donors, including the Ringling Family of Circus fame. There were also paintings of peaceful ocean scenes that would seem to go with the best rooms at a Holiday Inn. Bill noticed none of it all week-long.  He just knew how long the walk would take to the exit.

As he got half way down the hall, Bill felt a tap on his shoulder.  “Excuse me,” a voice announced. “Excuse me, sir.”

Bill turned around to find the elderly receptionist right behind him.  She seemed a bit out of breath, probably from her pursuit of Bill.

“I am not supposed to say anything,” she said softly, as if she was telling a big secret, “but what are they going to do?  Fire me?  I am a volunteer.” At that, Bill saw her first smile of the week.

“Your friend is doing better,” she stated, “And they should move him out of Intensive Care soon, maybe tomorrow.”

Bill grabbed the old woman and gave her a big hug. Tears formed in his eyes as he told the receptionist, “Thank you so much!”  This was followed by another big hug.

So Bill thanked some woman he didn’t know for some news about a neighbor he hardly knew. The news itself really wasn’t anything at all, but it made Bill’s day complete.

WAITING FOR THE STORY TO CONTINUE

When Words Lost Meaning, Rich Paschall

If there was anything Harry did not need, it was more disappointment.  He’d had a lifetime of disappointments, but it seemed he was in for more.  Mistreated and mislabeled, he was now also abandoned.  Unintentionally abandoned, but for Harry, alone was alone.

Harry came into the world with great hope.  His mother picked out the name of the most famous boy in the world for her new-born.  She named him after the famous boy wizard, Harry Potter.  She thought he looked a bit like the drawings of Harry on the book covers.

As he grew, little Harry had trouble learning.  He never developed good reading skills.  He baffled his mother, telling her the letters moved, and words did not make sense when put together.  Eventually, his mother told him he was stupid, accused him of not trying.  Just to confuse the issue, she followed that by telling him he was bright (which was true) and could read if he wanted to. Which was not true. The further behind he fell in school, the more labels he acquired. But no one gave him the right label: “Dyslexic.”

The lad withdrew. He began hiding in the last place anyone would look for him. The library.

Thus a boy who could not read, looked at books in the library and waited. Maybe someone would come and read to him. Someone who would explain the stories.  It was awfully hard to find anybody to do this. Until he spotted Harold looking at the Harry Potter books.  Little Harry decided right then and there that Harold was his friend.

Library Road

Harold had been going to the library every Tuesday and Thursday to read books on engineering and machinery.  One day, Harold wandered over to look at the books about which he’d heard so much. The Harry Potter series.

When Harry, the boy with the reading problem spied Harold, in the “fantasy aisle,” he instantly knew he’d found someone to read to him. Harry had withdrawn in recent months, so he began the relationship by staring at Harold.

The librarian’s assistant misinterpreted Harold’s attempts to send little Harry away. She thought Harry and Harold were together. So she opened the usually shuttered reading room, making it possible for Harold to read aloud to the boy.

Harold read to the boy that day and it turned into a regular Tuesday and Thursday affair.

Harry knew old Harold was not a great storyteller.  He was obviously uncomfortable reading out loud.  Nonetheless, little Harry kind of liked big Harold’s awkward attempts at narration. And Harry was learning.

Sometimes the boy would be emboldened to ask questions.  Even though the boy with the little wizard face was not yet learning to read, he was building his vocabulary.

When Tuesday arrived and no Harold appeared at the library, Harry waited. His new friend never showed up. The boy roamed the lobby, then just stood there. It was a sad sight. Thursday brought the same scenario. When the little boy looked as if he was going to cry, the Librarian stepped in.

“What seems to be the problem, young man?” she asked Harry.

“He’s not here,” Harry said and tears rolled down his face.

“Shh.  This is a library.  Now, explain to me. Who is missing?”

Harry tried to explain, but was so upset had couldn’t.  The librarian’s assistant rushed over to help.  She finished telling Harry’s story for him. Harry remained disconsolate.

At last, the assistant suggested, “Maybe your friend is ill and can’t come. I’m sure he’d be here if he could be.” Of course, she had no idea how accurate she was.

“But he’s supposed to read to me,” Harry whimpered.

“I know,” the assistant said, “but he can’t come if he’s sick.  You know how your mother makes you stay home if you’re not feeling well, right?”

The boy didn’t know. He mother ignored him when he was sick, figuring it was a ploy to stay home from school.  The boy looked at the Librarian and her assistant, his face full of sadness and mistrust.

“I’m sure your friend will be back to read with you very soon.” She had no way of knowing when, or if, Harold would be back, but maybe little Harry would find her words soothing.

At this same moment,  a doctor stood at the foot Harold’s bed in the hospital’s Intensive Care unit reading his chart.  This Thursday, Harold could not read, talk, or explain anything to anyone.

Note: The next “Harold story” appears in 3 weeks.

WEDNESDAY WONDERING

When A Regular Guy Goes Missing, by Rich Paschall

It was just about time for Tiffany’s favorite customer to arrive, so she took a spot at the server’s station. That was located at the end of a long bar.  There, between the bar and the back wall, was an area for water, extra glasses and silverware.  Neatly tucked into an alcove was a computer with a touch screen.  On the modern device, the waitresses could place their orders which would go back to the kitchen or alert the bar tender of something to prepare. They also had a spot to bring dirty dishes for handsome young Hispanic bus boys to take to the back kitchen.  It was not unusual for a waitress to be there, but Tiffany was there for a particular reason.

From the end of the bar, at the server’s station, one could look down the length of the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar and see the front door. When Tiffany’s favorite customer arrived promptly at 1 pm, Tiffany planned to direct him to a table that was in her serving area.  If he sat outside that area, she would have to let one of the others wait on Harold. She just did not like that idea.

Tiffany had started working at the restaurant and bar three years earlier.  She was in her earlier 30’s then and had a friendly and energetic way that got her hired by the hard-working managers.  After a while, she became a favorite waitress for many of the regular patrons.  She usually worked through the lunch hour and into the early evening. Sometimes she covered on a later shift where drunken patrons tipped her well.  Despite that, she still preferred the afternoons.

After she was well established at the restaurant, a retired gentlemen from the Midwest became a regular Wednesday and Saturday afternoon customer.  He was very punctual, arriving right at 1 pm each time.  Tiffany knew his order and he was easy to serve.  When Tiffany had left for a few months to try a new, and allegedly exciting place, she found she missed the atmosphere and the friends at the Wild West.  She did not realize how much like family they were until she went away.  The customers were nice, the managers were fair and friendly and the other waitresses were like sisters.  When she got the opportunity, she returned.

Gulf Coast

Harold started coming to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports bar shortly after he had left the cold Midwest climate for sunny retirement on the Gulf Coast of Florida.  He liked the Soup and Sandwich special each Wednesday and Saturday so he quickly made that part of his schedule.  You see, Harold was very well-organized and when he put something on his schedule, you could depend that he would follow through on it. That’s why all of the employees knew Harold was about to walk in the door.

Tiffany had a sweet spot for Harold, as the saying goes.  Even though he did not say a lot, she found him rather endearing.  She looked forward to his dependability as well as his smile.  It just sort of indicated that there was some order in the world.  Despite the lack of conversation, she knew he appreciated these twice weekly visits

When the front door opened at 1 pm, Tiffany was ready with a smile, but the patron was not Harold.  Nevertheless, she politely smiled as a young man took a seat where Tiffany had planned to place Harold.  It was OK, there were other places for Harold that he would like.  A few empty tables had a good view of one of the televisions.  So, she brought the young man water and a menu and returned to the server’s station.  She tried to watch the door diligently, but the lunch crowd kept taking her away from her post.

At 13:30 it was apparent something was wrong.  Time had gone by quickly before Tiffany realized Harold was late. He always came through the door at the exact minute.  Some days she was convinced he waited around outside for a few minutes so he could be precisely on time at 1 pm. This particular Wednesday he was not there at 1, 1:30 or at 2.  Harold did not arrive for lunch.

Tiffany’s disappointment was noticeable to her coworkers.  She liked how nicely Harold fit into the routine, and now he was missing.  Could he have gone to another restaurant?  Could he have scheduled some place new?  Could she have lost her favorite customer?  Questions swirled through her head. What could possibly be the answer? Perhaps he was sick.  Perhaps he had an accident.  Perhaps he was stuck at home and had to make his own lunch.  Whatever was the issue, she hoped Harold was doing well and had good food.

At that very hour Harold was indeed having lunch.  A middle-aged nurse, who looked like she had not slept for a day or two, was hanging a fresh bag to feed Harold intravenously directly with the stomach tube. It was not the sort of meal he was used to on a Wednesday afternoon, but it seems he was in no position to object as the stroke had left him rather speechless.  Today’s meal definitely was not on his schedule.

Note: The next Harold story appears in two weeks.

SUNSHINE, SPRING TRAINING AND SURVIVAL

The missing Harold mystery, Rich Paschall

George and his ever talkative wife Martha had just about enough of the Midwest winter. They were tired of snow,  tired of cold. At close-to-retirement age, they were just plain tired. When another cold night forced them to stay at home rather than visit a favorite neighborhood stop, they realized there was only one thing which could pull them through to warmer weather. Baseball! Right then and there, they began to talk about a trip to sunny Florida for a round of spring training games.

A year before, they had traveled to Florida on a rare road trip to see the Chicago Cubs play. The Cubs lost, of course, but they deemed the trip a success. They had visited a ball park other than Wrigley Field, spent a day at the beach, and wandered through town to do some typical tourist shopping. They had some very hot days, but did not suffer the kind of stifling humidity Lake Michigan can serve up in July. Now, in March, they were ready to go south again.

Always sunny Florida?

Always sunny Florida?

George sat down with spring schedules to see what teams would be playing, so that he could  find the best matches for the days they could go to Florida. Martha researched the ball parks themselves and the surrounding night spots on the internet. When they had chosen a few games they might like to see, they looked at hotels, air fares and rental cars. After a full night of debate and delay, they made their choices.

They would return to the familiar spots of St. Petersburg. From there they could go to Tampa to see the Yankees, then down to Bradenton to catch the Pirates and from there to Sarasota to see the Orioles.

Unlike the famous George and Martha of Broadway play and movie fame, this couple rarely had arguments. In fact, they were in agreement on just about anything that meant parties and good times. When almost all of their arrangements were in place, and they were congratulating themselves on another “road trip extraordinaire”, Martha had one more good idea. Of course, the good idea may have been fueled by the German beer she had been drinking all night, but it was an interesting idea, nonetheless.

“Why don’t we call old Harold for the game in Bradenton or Sarasota?” Martha blurted out as if her head had been hit by a rock and she was stunned silly.

“Harold!” George shouted with glee. “That’s a wonderful idea. The old boy probably needs a road trip anyway. Let’s give lucky old Harold a call.”

While Martha dutifully looked for Harold’s phone number, George wondered why the little tapper of Dortmunder beer had run dry. “I am headed to the basement, ” George called out. “I have to find another one of these big cans of beer. You killed the last one.”

“I did no such thing, George,” Martha lied.

When the twosome finally met back at the kitchen table, each was carrying the object of their search. “Well dial the phone and hand it over, old woman,” George said with a laugh.

“I am not as old as you, wise guy,” Martha said as she handed over the phone. Both began to giggle and laugh like school kids up to no good. The phone rang away as the couple talked on until George finally realized there must have been at least 20 rings. He hung up.

“I can not imagine that Harold is not home at this hour. He was never out late.” It was true, of course. In all his life Harold was rarely out at night, and since he retired and moved to Florida, he was always home by dark.

“He’s probably sleeping, you nit wit,” Martha declared. “Let’s give him another try tomorrow.” And so they did. In fact, they called for several days in a row and at different times of day, but Harold never answered. When the day of the trip arrived, Harold was not part of the plan.

Undeterred by their lack of success at lining up Harold for a game, they resolved to try him again once they landed at the Florida airport. They departed from Chicago’s Midway airport. Unbelievably, it was once the busiest airport in the country, but that was before the jet age. Now the crowded airport just seemed like the busiest airport. St. Petersburg airport, on the other hand, was in stark contrast, even for spring training. The crowd was small and the rental car line was short. The couple got their car, got to their hotel, and got on the phone. Still, there was no Harold.

“I hope the old guy is OK,” Martha said, finally voicing more than a bit of concern.

“Sure, Harold is just fine,” George insisted. “He is probably at some nice restaurant right now being fussed over by some cute waitresses. Don’t worry.”

At that very moment Harold was being fussed over by some weary nurses at the Intensive Care Unit of the county hospital. This trip, the retired planner from the Midwest was going to miss the endlessly talkative George and Martha.

Note:  The next Harold story appears in 3 short weeks.

MISSING MONDAY – RICH PASCHALL

In Need of a Plan, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Bill rolled over to take a look at the alarm clock. It was almost 8:30 so he decided to spring into action. He never set the alarm clock. He saw no need. He was retired and had always longed for the time when the alarm clock was not to be used to alarm him out of his sleep. Some days he got up by 7:30 am, other days it was 10. It depended largely on how late he stayed up reading or watching television.

Since he needed to make a call at 9 am, the affable retiree rushed about the house in a rather disorderly fashion, leaving a bit of a mess in his wake. That did not bother him as there would be plenty of time later to clean up the place. Now he was making coffee and giving just the slightest thought as to what he would buy today at the supermarket.

The only thing Bill tried to be punctual at all week was the Monday call to his neighbor, Harold, who lived just a few doors down. The way Bill saw it, old Harold probably relied on the weekly call.

The Midwest planner from down the block seemed to know no one and had little contact with the world. Bill was convinced he was doing Harold a big favor. He did not know exactly how Harold felt about the weekly sojourn to the giant Publix supermarket, however. It must have been a Monday highlight for the newly retired neighbor and new friend.

A very quiet neighborhood

The quiet neighborhood

A quick glance out the window revealed a perfect Florida morning. Bill loved this area of Florida. In honesty, he settled there because the property values were quite depressed in Sarasota County after the big recession, and he got a good deal in a good neighborhood of old timers, like himself.

Now it was time to help out an old guy who needed a friend, so he called Harold on his AARP phone and waited for his tentative voice to respond. Bill was quite amused as he thought of the same surprised tone Harold had each Monday morning when he answered the phone.

Much to the amazement of Bill, there was no response. He let the phone ring a long time before giving up. “I wonder what the old guy is up to this morning,” Bill thought. So he decided to wander down the street and ring Harold’s doorbell.

As he went up the steps to the front door, a voice called out. “You ain’t gonna find no body at home, young man,” Harold’s next door neighbor called out as Bill chuckled to himself. Not too many people referred to him as “young man.” In fact, no one did. He turned around and walked in the direction of a woman who did seem to be a lot older than Bill or Harold.

Mabel Crockett was well into her eighties but still rather spry. She kept up on the neighbors by frequently finding an excuse to do things around the outside of the house. It was unnecessary as there was an Association to deal with maintenance and yard work, but she liked checking up on things.

“So where is old Harold this morning?” Bill asked in a cheery tone.

“They carted him off pretty early, I reckon,” Mabel said in a deep southern drawl.

“What?” an astounded Bill exclaimed.
“Well I ain’t one to meddle in other folks’ affairs,” she lied, “but I seen that Sunday paper still settin’ there on that landing he calls a porch, so I just took a walk over there. In the back I could see he was, uh, just layin’ there on the ground in that screened in patio. So I went on home, dialed 911, and it’s a good thing.”

“Good thing?” Bill questioned.

“Why, he was still breathin’ when they loaded him into that big ol’ ambulance. Leastwise, I think he was still breathing. The young feller drivin’ that big vehicle said he still seemed kinda fresh.”

“Fresh?  That seems a strange way to put it,” Bill said with a rather incredulous tone.

“Well, I guess it was because he couldn’t a been layin’ there too long. Anyways, they said they was taking him over to the general hospital. Right over here a piece,” she said pointing to the south.

“Oh my,” Bill responded with a great deal of concern. He said good-bye to the old woman and rushed to his car.

72-StPete-Pelican_2When he arrived at the general hospital, he went right to the emergency room and inquired about Harold. His questions only got questions in return. “What time did he arrive? What was the problem? Did he come by ambulance or did someone bring him?” Finally, the lady without the answers invited him to take a seat and someone would come out shortly. By “shortly” she must have meant an hour.

After the long wait, a nurse with a clipboard in hand appeared. “Are you here about the elderly gentlemen who had a stroke?”

“Stroke!” Bill exclaimed as he got all choked up about someone he barely knew.

“Yes,” she said calmly. “Are you the next of kin?”

“No.”

“A relative perhaps?”

“No.”

“Do you know who is next of kin or related somehow?”

“No.”

“Do you know who his doctor is?”

The series of questions went on until Bill finally explained that he was just a neighbor. In fact, Bill did not even know Harold’s last name.  The nurse looked disappointed but thanked Bill anyway and went back to her station. Bill followed.

“Excuse me, nurse, will I be able to see him?” Bill inquired.

“No, only immediate family,” she explained.

“But we don’t know if he has immediate family,” Bill said with a sense of urgency.

“I’m sorry,” she said as if she has had to say that a thousand times before.

As he left the hospital Bill realized that the master planner from the Midwest had no plan for this. Although Bill rarely planned anything, he decided he better go home and make one.

Note:  The next “Harold story” appears in two weeks.

RETIREMENT IS SERIOUS BUSINESS

I stopped working more than five years ago. I was too sick to keep going and I was old enough so the market for my services was drying up.

I started getting disability almost 2 years after I was physically unable to work. It turned out my monthly disability check was less than a week’s pay as a working person. I tried intermittently for several years to find part-time work that might bring in a bit of money. So life wouldn’t be so difficult.

Nothing lasted long. More to the point, I didn’t last long. I hurt. I was exhausted. I worked more slowly than I did in the past. Finally, I gave up. I was 61.

96-Rockers-NK

Garry had stopped working too. There were a lots of adjustments to make. On the psychological side, we had to learn to be retired. The world is different when you don’t have a job to define your weeks and days. I had worked at home a lot over the years, so it was not as abrupt a shift for me as it was for Garry. Eventually we slipped comfortably into not-working.

The financial part was — continues to be — challenging. The mortgage had to be lowered or we’d lose the house. Somehow, we got it done. Both of us had no health insurance for more than a year. Me for more than two, during which interval, I nearly died. Because no one would repair me without insurance. Eventually, I lucked into a doctor and a hospital who cared more for my life than my lack of insurance. I’m alive to write this only because of them.

We kept cutting back and cutting back. Last spring, our outgo and income became equal. Exactly. Assuming nothing outside programmed expenses ever occurs, we have the same amount of money as month. Which is absurd. Life is full of expensive surprises. Cars break. Pipes leak. Wells go dry. Appliances wear out. Dogs get sick. Meanwhile, fixed incomes have less and less buying power as inflation eats away at them.

I got sick. A lot. Big time. One nearly dying event was apparently not enough for me. I had to repeat it a couple more times, to make sure I got it right. Then there was breast cancer. Two cancers, one for each breast. I thought, having got through that, I’d earned a reprieve. Sadly, life doesn’t work that way. Life doesn’t let you “pay it forward.”

This year, it was my heart. Five surgeries later, I’m back. Blogging my remodeled, rebuilt heart out.

The other day, I received an invitation from a well-known, quite prestigious website to become a contributing editor. This would require I write two posts a month, minimum. Really, they’d like at least one a week or more.

Serendipity is a personal blog. I write about my life, memories, experiences, thoughts. Occasionally, I put up an issue-oriented piece. The other site is more about issues and news. More impersonal, less anecdotal. A lot of politics. Government. Current events.

The point — for me — of taking on this other writing role would be to have a forum where I could post about different stuff, the stuff I avoid on Serendipity. The thing is, I’m not sure I want another forum. Or need one. Even though I’m flattered. It’s so hard to say “no” when the compliments are flying thick and fast.

Nonetheless, I take retirement seriously. I don’t work, don’t search for work. If I get a nibble (because my résumé is out there and headhunters find it), I have (finally) learned to say “no thank you.” My survival is predicated on not working. Not having deadlines. Keeping my anxiety level low. If I take it easy — low-key, low stress — I can have a pretty pleasant life. No money to spend, but otherwise nice enough. Do I want more responsibility? Can I handle it? I thought I had decided “yes,” but I find myself wavering.

These days, I take retirement seriously. As seriously as I ever took any job at which I worked for pay. It takes dedication to do retirement properly.

ALL GROWN UP? A FIXED INCOME AND WHITE HAIR OFFERS A CLUE

I knew I wasn’t a kid anymore when my hair turned white. I am officially as grown up as grown up can be. When you are getting pensions and social security checks and living on them, that’s probably a pretty sure sign maturity has arrived. You think, probie?

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Marilyn and Garry by Bette Stevens

Personal mistakes, unfortunate turns in the road, bumps that are painful, even frightening? Normal stuff. Regrettable, but since no one can go back and fix what already happened, let it be. It is what it is, was, and will be.

Planning is a fool’s game. We planned to be young and healthy forever. Look how well that worked out. Well, maybe it did work out … finally. Not the way we planned it, but not so terrible, either.

Now we are in our retirement years and there are rewards. Freedom is the big one. No one can order you around. No one holds you to a deadline. You go to bed and get up on your own schedule. You do everything on your own schedule. If you don’t have a job, one day is like another. Weekends take me by surprise.

If you are in a good marriage, you finally have time to enjoy each other. You get to know your grandchildren. You read, watch movies, pursue hobbies, pet your dogs.

We worked hard, played hard, so our memories are a treasure trove. We did just about everything we seriously wanted to do. Hopefully, we have a few surprises yet to come. Good surprises, please.

I wish we’d been smarter about money. We thought we were being smart. We did what we thought we were supposed to do. It just didn’t work out as planned. What made perfect sense 20 years ago doesn’t make sense today. We didn’t fully grasp that pension amounts stay the same, though the cost of living continues to rise. The meaning of “fixed income” hadn’t really grabbed hold. It surely has now.

Looking backward … we had a great deal of fun. Individually and together. We still have fun. We just need to fit the fun into a tight budget, taking into account arthritic bodies and limited energy.

Few regrets and great memories. We didn’t do everything, but we did a lot. More than most. We made our share of unfortunate — even stupid — choices, but we didn’t chicken out. If life were a movie, we would be on schedule for a previously unknown but fabulously rich relative to pass away leaving us gazillions of dollars and a mansion on a cliff in Ireland. Pity a Hollywood scriptwriter isn’t writing our lives. A Hollywood ending would be a nice touch.

So, about that growing up thing? We grew up. And survived the experience.

In the deathless words and music of Edith Piaf, I would like to say this about that: Non, je ne regrette rien ... or at least, not much.

DAILY PROMPT: ALL GROWN UP

HARK! THE HAROLD CHRISTMAS RINGS

A SUNNY FLORIDA HOLIDAY, By RICH PASCHALL

It was the Sunday before Christmas and all through the house the only creature that was stirring was Harold, the well-organized man from the Midwest. Harold had retired and moved to the beautiful and somewhat peaceful community on the gulf coast side of Florida. There he carried out his days according to the perfect retirement schedule. Everyday had a purpose, and Harold executed the day as if he was the sole architect of the universe. Sometimes the universe cooperated.

72-St Pete_4

On this beautiful Sunday morning the Oracle of Organization marched to the front door to collect his newspaper as always. As he stepped out onto the small cement landing he called a porch, Harold discovered that the weather was already warm and delightful. The 7 am temperature already hit the mid 70s. Harold just knew the day would be everything he planned when he reached retirement and moved from a snowbound city to a place where he would never shovel snow again.

He took in the pleasant atmosphere for a moment before seeking the paper. “He missed the porch again,” Harold said to himself referring to the “paper boy,” who was actually a hard-working college student. He then went to the walkway to retrieve the local news and sports.  He did not mind this time as the weather was better than can be expected in late December, even for Florida.

When Harold finished his breakfast, his coffee and his local news, he was preparing himself for a thorough cleaning of the apartment that was already cleaner than anything you have ever seen. It was the Sultan of Sanitation’s normal Sunday routine and even a sunny day with a deep blue sky would not deter Harold from his appointed rounds about the apartment.

As he gathered up his cleaning supplies and retrieved the vacuum from it storage room, the phone began to ring. Harold was quite surprised as few people had his phone number and the device rarely rang. He could not imagine that marketers would disrupt a Sunday with their meaningless calls. “Perhaps it is Bill,” he thought. Bill only called on Mondays to make a joint venture to the supermarket, so the ringing was totally out of character for a Sunday. Reluctantly, Harold went to the phone.

“Hello?” Harold said as if asking a question.

“Hello, Harold, it’s George.”

“George?” Harold said, unsure of the voice at the other end.

“Yes, George. You know, your former colleague.”

With that clarification Harold could place the voice. When he was the chief mechanical engineer at a Midwest manufacturing plant, Harold worked with George. He had even run into him in St. Petersburg when he went to a baseball game. He could not imagine ever hearing from George again.

“Well, George, what can I do for you?” Harold replied in a rather business like way.

“Do for me?  Why, nothing Harold. Martha and I just thought we should call and wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Really?” Harold said rather incredulously.

“Of course,” George said with a laugh. “We just wanted you to know we were thinking about you and want to wish you a Merry Christmas.”

“Well, uh, that’s so nice, George. Merry Christmas to you too.”

“Perhaps we will run into you again on our next trip to Florida. Take care, you lucky retired guy.”

“Thanks, I will” and at that George hung up. There had been no phone calls on Harold’s Sunday itinerary but he was glad for this one.

As the week wore on, Harold wished a very Merry Christmas to the few people he encountered. On Monday, he wished his neighbor, Bill, and all the folks working at the supermarket a Merry Christmas.  The same happened Tuesday when he went into town.

On Wednesday, it was Christmas Eve. Harold saw no reason to vary his schedule and at the appointed hour, he headed out to the Wild West Restaurant and Sports Bar. He greeted everyone with a “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays.” As usual, the crowd shouted out to Harold, but they were surprised when the normally reserved retiree from the North answered with robust greetings.

To add to the Christmas joy, Harold’s favorite waitress, Tiffany, was on hand to serve up the soup and sandwich special. “Harold, you are in a festive mood,” she told him when she came to take his order. Harold beamed as he had never done before.

When Harold was ready to leave, Tiffany rushed over and gave Harold a big hug. “Merry Christmas, Harold, it is so good to see you in such a joyous spirit.”

Harold did not know how to respond. He was unaccustomed to such a show of affection. He stood there with a rather embarrassed look as he tried to collect himself.

“Thanks,” Harold said sheepishly. “I am glad to be here on Christmas Eve.” At that he waved to the staff and they all shouted holiday greetings in return. Harold marched out of the restaurant and into the warm Christmas Eve afternoon with the biggest smile Harold had in many years.

For Harold, a short phone call from a former colleague just days before Christmas brightened his mood for the entire week and was the best gift he had received in many years.