Retirement anxiety in the prime of life

Posted: Sunday, October 08, 2000

As many of our contemporaries are doing, my husband Jerry and I are preparing for retirement. Just saying this is still hard for me. I never thought I would be in a position to retire. I always assumed I would work until I dropped dead. Or until someone dragged me from the workplace and put me in a home where I would share cat food with strangers. Jerry has confided that he never thought he would live this long. The real surprise is that we have a retirement to plan for. Who would have thought that we would ever accrue enough credit in anything to draw from it. We keep waiting to wake up and see that it was all a joke. While we wait, statements keep coming in from our retirement system that assure us we will retire. It would seem prudent to make some plans.

We have run quite a course of speculation on just what we should do in our golden years. Jerry has suggested we join the Peace Corps. That was his one humanitarian offer. Mostly he wants a piece of Caribbean beach with a hammock and some facility for cold drinks. And a boat. And some kind of a business. Remember the tavern in Donovan's Reef? That would cover the setting, the business, ready cold drinks and, if you see it that way, humanitarian service. Do I share that vision? One way to look at it is that if I don't, I can be replaced with someone who does, so the question is moot.

My dream has always been a cabin in the woods in Alaska. Somewhere drier than Juneau, warmer than Fairbanks and less crowed than any organized community. The dream part is not having to work so that we can actually live there. And leaving for the three darkest months, going some place warm and sunny. Jerry says I dream that way because I am stuck in a homesteader mentality. He has taken me to some exotic places for vacations, but that was vacation. What if we lived there? Anyone can enjoy lying around for awhile, reading, sunning, swimming and studying the local beverages, but then what? After three weeks of vacationing anywhere, I start puttering around the bungalow, cleaning, fixing and doing, wishing I could cook and work at something.

Jerry says lying around being idle will not be a problem, but I know him better than that. He is one to make friends in the out-of-the-way places, so I imagine him revamping what passes for the local fire department, organizing public works improvements and spending quality time with the local vagabond children. Perhaps that would work for me. I would need a library. And the Internet. Possibly drug therapy.

I may as well admit here that I am real uncomfortable about bugs and diseases. I have been so insulated from crawly, sneaky bad things that I have a pretty large fear of the unknown. In places where it never freezes, thousands of generations of incredibly creepy insects have run rampant. There are probably tropical slime molds and bacterial who-knows-what that have developed written language. I don't know that I am willing to learn to live with that.

What are all our contemporaries planning for their retirements? We all saw the same movies and read the same books, so perhaps we all have the same dreams. We can't all have a Starbucks franchise in Kiribati (sure, it's uninhabited NOW). Maybe we need a registry so we can line up and be organized about planning our retirement dreams. Maybe someone like me should start that right now.

Nita Nettleton was born in Anchorage a teensy bit prior to statehood and has lived in Denali Park, Talkeetna, Big Lake, Chugiak and Skagway. She moved to Juneau in 1993 and got a job slinging hash at the Channel Bowl Cafe. She works for the U.S. Forest Service.

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