I’ve been thinking about retirement lately. Not that I’m ready to turn in my resignation, sit in a conference room handing out cake, or activate my 403(b) just yet. It’s just that some of my older friends are making noises about calling it quits, and I know one should plan ahead. “Be Prepared” isn’t a motto just for Girl Scouts.
In fact, when my soon-to-be husband and I were shopping around for a house some ten years ago, I remember suggesting (helpfully, I thought) that we ought to maybe look for a ranch – something with all the important rooms on the main floor. When he realized what I was getting at, he flinched, even though he’s four years older than me. Or maybe because he’s four years older than me, I don’t know. It’s not like I was talking about assisted living, after all.
And what did we end up with? A sweet 1920s bungalow with two bathrooms, neither of them on the main floor. When guests come over, we have to tell them to go upstairs or downstairs, and turn right. (If they go upstairs, we also have to explain that the door won’t stay shut unless they turn this quaint little lever to the right while holding the door tightly shut, which may sound like too much information, unless you’re the one wanting some bathroom privacy. I’m thinking maybe I should post instructions on the door.)
This is a fine pre-retirement home. It provides hours of exercise for the absent-minded, which would be me, as I find myself constantly running back upstairs for the book I left in my study, or back down to the basement for the needle and thread I need to fix the button on my navy pants, which, come to think of it, I left upstairs. I must have thighs of steel by now, and I didn’t even have to buy the video.
Should one of us break a leg, it’s going to be a different story. We’ll have to choose either the upstairs, with its master bedroom and bath, or the finished basement, with its futon and shower. And hope some kind soul will deliver meals from the kitchen, which is on the main floor, which has a sink, true, but no commode.
So ranch houses are beginning to have a renewed appeal. Since I grew up in one, I have a soft spot in my heart for them. While it’s true I longed for a big house with a grand staircase much of the time I was living in that ranch house on Davenport’s Cedar Street, years of stair climbing in both of my Dubuque houses have cured me of that romance. Now I find myself leafing through issues of Atomic Ranch, a magazine devoted to the ranch houses of yesteryear, namely the 50s and 60s. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one pining away for a replica of that ultra-modern abode.
My husband thinks my interest – okay, obsession – in midcentury homes is peculiar. He cringed when I told him, should I ever win the lottery, I would take the blueprints to my parents’ house (which, conveniently, I have) and ask a contractor to replicate it somewhere in Dubuque. Lyle Lovett did it; why can’t I? (Actually, Lovett bought his grandparents’ home back from the developers who bought it when they died, and moved it onto his parents’ land nearby, making sure the kitchen window had the same view as before. No wonder Julia Roberts went nuts living with him.)
So anyway. A ranch house makes sense for two people of a certain age, just in case something happens (and it will), and one or both of us has trouble negotiating steps. We’ve already reached the point where we can’t have my sister, who is both mentally and physically handicapped, visit us at home, because staircases of any kind are impossible for her.
I see ads in magazines – mainly the New Yorker – trying to sell me on some charming retirement village in Virginia or North Carolina. The ads always picture cows, black cows with bands of white around their bellies. I’m sure it would be bucolic to look out the window of my retirement ranch house and see contented, Dutch Banded cows moseying about. But I’m not so sure about moving to an entirely different part of the country, no matter how idyllic, where I would have to make friends with new people, no matter how friendly. They would probably invite us to play card games and drink sherry, which we would have to politely decline, since we don’t play cards or drink sherry here in Dubuque. We are not recluses; we just have other interests.
What DO I want to do when I retire? I want to write. I want to read. These are, I’ll admit, solitary pursuits, so I’d also like to go out once or twice a week with our friends, retired or not, to eat or see a good movie. Or I’ll cook something I don’t have time for now, and have them over to be absolutely floored with what a great cook I can be when I put my mind to it.
When asked about her marriage to Lyle Lovett, Julia Roberts allegedly said, “It was like eating a dirt sandwich,” which sounds both awful and mean to me. I love his music, and when we saw him perform, I laughed so hard at the stories he told, I cried. Still, it’s a striking simile. I want retirement to be like eating an exquisite meal. And I know just the kind of house I want to eat it in.