Lunch, dinner, and the morning Diet Coke

A new retiree and his wife may most often be found enjoying those things on their back porch

By George Valadie

Hey, what’s retirement like?” It’s a question we’ve been asked quite a bit since we started this new phase of our lives a little over a month ago.

To be honest, “It’s kinda weird,” is the answer that seems to pop out most frequently. Mostly because it’s been, well . . . kinda weird.

The 200 square feet of our dressed-up back porch has become our new spot. It’s actually been here since we moved in eight years ago, but adding two new rocking chairs and discovering the pleasure of a fan-powered summer breeze has created the setting where we’re most often found.

We read there, we scream at the Braves there, and we stare way too long at our phones. Which it turns out you can do when you have way more time on your hands.

Lunch, dinner, and our morning Diet Coke have all moved out there as well. And then amid the peace of it all, we periodically find ourselves looking up at one another just to laugh.

Nancy says she keeps expecting mail letting us know this has been nothing more than a cruel joke. Sure, fun for a bit, but what makes you think you can keep living without working? Get up, find a job, the party’s over!

Then when we remember such a notice has yet to arrive, we grin some more. And have another Diet Coke.

But—coming from somewhere unknown and unexpected—there’s also a piece of me that has begun this journey feeling nothing but guilt.

And I never saw that coming.

Turns out when your mom worked until she was 80, stepping away at 67 feels early and odd. If not altogether lazy. Not to mention the millions of laborers out there who will never get the chance. Ever.

Just doesn’t seem right that I have the privilege of walking away from the day-to-day.

I surely can’t be the first to feel this way so I’m guessing—hoping is the better word—hoping this reticence will go away. I imagine retirement will be a lot more fun if it does.

Guilty conscience aside though, I’ve not questioned my decision, not been tempted to go back, not even once.

A friend told me about an acquaintance who had retired and moved to the coast. Walked on the beach for two days then told his wife, “I gotta get a job.”

I can see that happening to me; but it hasn’t happened yet.

No alarm clock.

No teachers to hire.

No calendar to schedule.

And not a single e-mail to answer about masks, vaccines, the changing dress code, or the revised bell schedule.

We already miss the people, hoping to visit now and again but as for the rest . . . well, like I said, not tempted, not once.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have nothing to do; it’s just that it’s nothing that matters.

I signed up to get my first library card since I turned 12. Turns out they didn’t keep my records.

I’ve resumed exercising at the Y thanks to now qualifying for the old-folks rate they kindly offer to old folks.

Gipper and I have walked more than even he wants to. And he’s a dog.

I tell people I’m riding my bike more. Which is technically true since this recent ‘once’ is more than the ‘never’ I had tallied up until then.

I even enjoy running errands. Been to the grocery store, the bank, the post office. And it turns out when you get your hair cut at 10 a.m., there’s not a soul in the place but you.

My brain’s been learning some new math. No waiting plus no alarm clock equals: this whole thing is off to a pretty good start.

Well, except there is this one thing.

Before heading off to a recent social gathering, I walked out of the bedroom with sport coat in hand, and she said, “You’re not planning to wear that, are you?”

The next day while we were picking up my new suit she asked, “What kind of tie do you want to get that looks exactly like this?”

And my all-time favorite: “Where do you want to go for dinner that I like?”

Through the years, people have commented on more than one occasion, “I don’t see how you and Nancy have worked together for 20 years. My spouse and I would have killed each other.”

My reply was always serious and the same, “She’s darn good at what she does.” Then I’d jest, “The only issue is me having to work FOR her 24/7.”

Apparently, in retirement, I jest no more.

Not to be outdone, our girls recently told me the sorts of tennis shoes I could have for my birthday.

Sarah’s upcoming wedding was a topic of conversation as well. “Do y’all like Dress A or B for the flower girls?” An iPad with photos was passed around the room, and like an Oklahoma tornado on the loose, it bounced in and out of every lap—but mine.

I was a Catholic school principal for 31 years. Early on I decided my door would be open. If I was in there, you were welcome in there, too.

And come in there they did. “What do you think about this? How do you want to handle that? What should we do about this? Why aren’t we doing that?

“Mr. Valadie, what do you want?”

What’s retirement like? While Nancy and I love and laugh and hang out on the porch, our eldest daughter pointed out the biggest challenge to which I will likely have to adjust:

People used to care what I think.

Dear God—We’ve come to realize that it’s the workers—not the technology—that make things go best. Please help them toil safely, be paid fairly, and be appreciated for the difference they make in our lives. Amen.


George Valadie resides in Chattanooga and is a parishioner at St. Stephen Church.


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