If I close my eyes, I can see the hectic days: the corner drifts of unbegun projects, the laundry mound, the on-the-fly meals. Twenty-five years ago, Bob and I were enmeshed in traditional 40-hour work weeks onto which we piled childrearing and animal husbandry. Life was an upward slog toward financial solvency and retirement. We buoyed ourselves with images of life on the other side of the rainbow.
I’d had my eye on Easy Street from the moment I joined the workforce in 1972. Pulling beer for lunchtime linemen in a basement pub on Denver’s Larimer Square, I dreamed of freedom from the wage game. I was 18-years-old, and like most other ’70’s teens, I knew that humans were designed to feed off nature’s bounty. Working for money seemed wrong. We felt it in our bones, yet few of us were lucky (or well-adjusted) enough to live off the land in a cooperative communal environment.
I don’t believe I was good community-building material back then, and the opportunity to test myself never occurred. Suffering from residual teenage angst, beholden to no one, I saw myself as a rugged individualist. So, instead of joining a commune, I plunged into the deep waters of the country’s labor pool. Wanderlust, Canadian Club, and hard-earned cash became my boon companions.
Years of 9-to-5 slavery changed my dream from cooperative homesteading to a life of opulent nothingness. I nurtured images of splendidly idle days, picturing myself snuggled into the curve of a bay-windowed nook reading a gothic novel. I envisioned languid shadows unfurling across butter pecan sand followed by the last peachy rays of the day. My vision of Easy Street morphed into the complete release from responsibility.
Bob took me on my first-ever real vacation when we honeymooned on Cozumel. Here was the white-sand beach; the effortless swoosh of sea on shore. We reclined on lounge chairs, traded cash for Pina Coladas, and listened to time evaporate. Towards the end of the week, we were mesmerized by an old man with a wheelbarrow. He stopped at each seedling in a line of sprouting coconut palms and watered it from a bucket. We realized that we were jealous of this old man. He had something to nurture while we sat on the sidelines, posing as pampered voyeurs. He had a purpose.
I got my Medicare card in the mail yesterday, and our Credit Union stands by in open-mouthed anticipation of my first Social Security payment. I have reached the other side of the rainbow, a bittersweet milestone with Bob still slogging away from his home office desk. The funny thing is, my new life doesn’t feel so much different than the old one. My transition has been so benign, so negligible that I feel a little cheated.
Retirement: those splendidly idle days yawning off into forever, are not so idle after all. Although I now have ample time for day-reading, I spend much of my day devoted to physical labor. I drag my tool bucket around the yard pulling weeds. I sweep and shovel. I chop vegetables and roll out pie dough. I buy groceries and wash the cars. I dutifully read the news and peck out essays. I do my yoga, call family, get up with friends, and go for walks. But, in all of this, I never have to hurry, and there is no activity so urgent that I can’t put it off until tomorrow.
As it turns out Easy Street is a blend of both dreams: a pleasant mix of homesteading and freedom from responsibility. These days, you’re as likely to find me swinging in the hammock as between the wooden shafts of our wheelbarrow.