Tracey Barnes Priestley in the Second Half.+Add.Feed Info1000FOLLOWERS
Tracey Barnes Priestley enjoys a career as both a writer and life coach. Tracey is launching The Boomer Troupe, an ensemble of writers and performers, all over fifty, who will perform variety shows in small theaters, schools, and senior facilities.
And … we’re off! The cross-country road trip we have been planning for the last six months has officially begun.
The last time we did this we were in our late twenties. My husband built a simple camper shell for our little Datsun truck, we threw in our very basic camping gear and headed for the Florida Keys. It was a wonderful opportunity to explore this fascinating country of ours.
That trip never lost its charm. In fact, it was such a memorable experience that some 38 years later, we decided to embark on a similar adventure, this time heading north, passing through parts of Canada and finally ending up in Prince Edward Island.
But a few things are different some 38 years later. (Aging does that, doesn’t it?) This time around we’ve changed more than the route for our road ramblings.
For starters, our accommodations are far more comfortable than that tiny Datsun. At first we considered buying a teardrop trailer. But after looking at one inside and out, we realized that the likelihood of two people, both six feet tall, being even remotely comfortable in a space that small was zero to none.
Instead, my husband, master builder/wood worker that he is, crafted a delightful little travel trailer for us. While we won’t rival any RV on the road, the “Prairie Schooner,” as we call her, as everything we need. The entire space, all 9’x5’x5’ of it, actually reminds me of our boat’s pilot house. Sporting mahogany double doors on the back, the interior is finished off with beautiful wood. Every inch of space is utilized. It even has room for two essentials — and the dog and a port potty. My husband also built a useful storage box for the truck which provides secure space for a few more crucial items.
I know this kind of trip doesn’t appeal to everyone. (I told one woman we’d be camping for the next six weeks and she looked at me as though we’d lost our minds!) But after a decade of boating, paring down to the basics is something we discovered we enjoy. Simplicity truly has its merits. It is a nice way to regroup, to think about possessions and how they may or may not be adding to our happiness.
Another major difference from our first cross country road trip is our budget. Where we pull in for the night probably won’t be determined by the fee. We can also easily snag a motel during bad weather … or a burning desire for a king size bed! Meals in restaurants won’t be the exception either.
Best of all? We now have our lifetime National Parks Golden Access Pass Senior Pass. The benefits of this little card are amazing. It offers us free access to any of the National Parks and other federally managed recreation areas that have entrance fees. We’ll also get 50 percent off the regular price at federal government-operated campgrounds. (If we were traveling with others in our vehicle, they would also receive free entrance to the parks.)
We’ve found this pass to be worth its weight in gold. Regretfully, the price was recently raised to $80 but if you can afford it, it will save you money in the long run. Go to www.store.usgs.gov for more information.
The last difference between these two road trips? This time around, we have a larger house, a cat, and a garden that all need tending. Fortunately, that problem was solved when a dear friend was interested in house-sitting for us. With that arrangement finalized, we were good to go.
You may or may not hear much from me over the next six weeks. There’s a part of me that thinks camping, hiking, exploring, reading, painting, and needle work might be all my brain wants to do. (Oh, I am enjoying this whole semi-retirement phase!) Then again, I think about the places we’ll see and the people we’ll meet and I just may be inspired!
Finally? If you see a dark gray Chevy truck, carrying two happy geezers and a Golden Doodle, pulling a teal blue ‘tiny house’ trailer, please honk. It’s always a pleasure to have positive connections with people, wherever we might be!
A few years ago, a friend told me about a family gathering she had attended where three generations had the best time together. She said there was endless laughter and good cheer throughout the entire group.
But one little constellation of humanity really grabbed her attention. Four cousins, between the ages of twelve and fourteen, sat at the feet of one of the grandfathers. Spellbound by his story, she said they were “hanging on to his every word.”
I was fascinated. What in the world was he talking about? (Really now, how often do adolescents put down their smart phones and offer up their undivided attention to old (!) people?)
Apparently, my friend had the same question and admitted she had moved closer to eavesdrop. Grandpa’s topic? He was simply telling them about what high school had been like back in the early 1950s. But as my friend listened, she realized that the way he was presenting his experience was the key to capturing his young audience’s rapt attention.
With some stage experience under her belt, she recognized that both the content of his story and his delivery was flat out entertaining. The plot moved right along at a pleasant clip. His description was lively. He utilized short, well crafted sentences, unlike, as my friend noted, “Some geezers I know, who meander all over the planet and back again before ever reaching their point.”
She also noticed he used his body to tell the story. His gestures and facial expressions were animated, while his voice brought color into his story to build tension or add surprise.
This man knew how to tell a story! Those young girls learned a little history that day but more importantly, through his storytelling, they experienced and appreciated this grandfather’s life experience. What a wonderful experience for all four of them!
Storytelling has been around since the beginning of time. It has its place in every culture in the world. We humans connect, learn, and entertain through our stories. Yet many people feel they don’t have what it takes to be a good storyteller. With respect in my heart, I say that’s a bunch of hooey!
Your memories, and the stories you tell about them, can light up a child’s life, create positive connections with family and friends, be a bright spot at social gatherings, or even … entertain our community. (More on that in a minute.)
Vivid memories can be crafted into valuable life stories by simply learning some basic writing and delivery skills. Curious about how to polish your own stories? Please join me for my next OLLI class, Music … and the Stories of Our Lives. (It will run for three sessions, beginning October 26.)
We’ll use music and writing prompts to explore why certain memories make the best stories to share. Why music? Because melodies often lock experiences into our brains, weaving memories into a tapestry of people, places, things, and emotions. (To inspire ideas for your stories, writing prompts will be emailed to students a few weeks prior to the class.) We’ll also cover other elements of storytelling, including characters, setting, plot, pace, and voice.
Now, about sharing your stories with the community … that’s where Humboldt Light Opera Company’s Boomer + Troupe comes in! Co-founded by Carol Ryder (Artistic Director of HLOC) and I, the Troupe is a group of fun loving community members, each with varying degrees of performance experience. We range in age from 54 to 79! Partnering with OLLI, for two years running, our original productions about the Fifties and the Sixties have been enthusiastically received by sold out audiences.
And now, drum roll … it gives me great pleasure to announce that the Boomer+ Troupe’s next production (February 2018.) is already in its beginning phases.
This time we’re shifting course to explore the powerful part music plays in our lives and memories. The show promises to be an another lively, thoughtful, memory making production that resonates with both audience and cast members alike. (Please note that attending my OLLI class, Music … and the Stories of our Lives, is strongly recommended, though not required, for those interested in auditioning for The Music of Our Lives, November 11. Information on auditions will follow at a later date.)
So, whether you simply want to polish your writing skills, liven up your stories for your family’s next reunion, dazzle your grandkids, or find a community forum for your stories (hint, hint) join me for Music … and the Stories of Our Lives. You’ll learn the writing basics, meet some new people, and have some fun!
I love my children but they’re driving me nuts. I finally moved to be closer to them, which meant giving up my life that I had been happily crafting for the last fifty years. It seemed easier for them if I lived closer.
I’m 79, single, and a retired librarian. I’m healthy, have my own apartment, passed my driver’s test again, and don’t require any outside help. My main focus now is building community, which isn’t very easy at my age.
But my kids are constantly dropping by. They say it’s to visit. It feels like they’re always looking around, checking up on me. Phone calls feel like I’m being evaluated. They over-react to simply mistake I may make. I end up feeling criticized and then I just clam up.
Everything I read is about how difficult it is on children when they caretake their elderly parents. Why doesn’t anyone ever thing about the challenges elderly parents have with their well meaning, but controlling offspring?
I’m not a cranky old lady, truly. I have the best children and I do appreciate their concern. I just wish they would treat me like the adult I am.
On my own
You raise an excellent point. I don’t think your perspective is addressed often enough.
Like you, countless parents find themselves in this difficult situation. They want their children’s concern but they don’t want to be controlled. Longing for connection, they demand autonomy. Most are fiercely independent but hope their children will come through if they need help. It’s little wonder these can be challenging years.
I’m hopeful you can smooth out your relationship by doing a few things.
First of all, take some time to identify how you may be playing into this discord. (Every relationship is a two-way street.) For this to work, you need to be brutally honest with yourself!
Begin by identifying your own emotional, mental, and physical limitations. I’m sure you know what they are. When do you actually need help from your children? Get clear on these issues so you can help your children have a better understanding of how they can best support you.
Next, recognize what your particular ‘buttons’ are while owning up to the fact that you have some natural sensitivities around aging. (Who doesn’t?)
Consider how you react to their suggestions or their looks. (You don’t really know what they are thinking or feeling from a look. People are often surprised when they ask what is behind a facial expression.) Recognize that by getting defensive and shutting down, you deny yourself and your children an honest and respectful relationship.
For example, I’ve had frustrated parents tell me that they have resisted their children’s very logical and caring suggestions for no other reason than they were fed up with being told what . When does choosing to be stubborn rather than practical do anyone any good?
Finally, clamming up is no way to cope. Your children can’t begin to know what your’e feeling if you don’t tell them. Remaining silent will only make the situation worse.
Once you have completed this review of your accountability, formulate a plan that reflects what you want and need. (Make sure you address your need for healthy boundaries.) Then call a family meeting. Sit those kids down and have a respectful and honest conversation. Be forthright and accountable and ask them to do the same.
When everyone has said his/her piece, thank them for their love and concern, then ask if all of you can develop a plan about this next chapter in your lives.
It won’t be an easy conversation, nor will it be the last one you ever have on this topic. Parents and children will always have differences. It comes with the territory. But by introducing this type of communication into your relationships, you’ll all have a much better chance of avoiding some of the landmines you have described.
Hopefully, all of this will free you up to create a more satisfying life. I couldn’t agree with you more. It’s rough to start over after fifty years of living in one location.
I’ve been a widow for four years. Last year, I went to my 50th high school reunion. I couldn’t believe it but my old boyfriend was there and we had the best time. (He’s been divorced for ages.) It was as if no time had passed. We had such fun. It was so easy.
We kept in touch all year. He wanted to visit but I was nervous and said no until this summer. I finally invited him to spend a couple of weeks with me. He’s never been here before so I thought all of the sightseeing and day trips would be a good way to see if we really are well suited for one another after all these years.
After our two weeks together, it was obvious we want to pursue something serious.
But everything went wrong at the end. Before work my daughter came over and like all of my kids do, just walked in. She found us in the kitchen, still in our robes, having coffee. He turned three shades of red, me too. She blurted out “I’m glad I don’t have any of your grandchildren with me” and bolted for the door.
It’s all my fault, I know. I hadn’t told her he was visiting. I didn’t want to upset her. (She was very close to her father and still misses him terribly.)
How do I explain everything to her? I want her to be happy for me, not mad and disappointed in me.
Better the Second Time Around
I know you are feeling terrible right now so I don’t want to begin my response by being insensitive. But I have to say I am very happy for you. I think it’s absolutely wonderful the two of you to have reconnected after all of these many years. Your future must be feeling brighter than it has these last four years.
Regarding your daughter, I agree with you. It probably was a mistake to not keep her in the loop. (Isn’t it sad, and frustrating, when our good intentions fall s short?) I understand you were trying to protect her feelings. She still misses her father. Naturally, any thought that you were moving on without him would be difficult for her.
Difficult, perhaps, but not impossible. While it was unfortunate for her to burst in on your morning, she is an adult. I sincerely hope that she has not held on to some misguided belief that your life would be forever suspended because your husband died?
Call your daughter and ask her when you two can talk this over. (Please don’t try this difficult conversation on the phone!) When you meet, apologize for not including her in this personal, yet private part of your life. Let her know you did it out of feelings for her and that, in hind site, you were wrong. Acknowledge how difficult it has been for your entire family to lose their beloved patriarch. Tell her you respect her feelings and never meant to hurt her.
Next, explain the obvious to her. This man makes you feel wonderful. You are slowly and carefully exploring all possibilities with him. Remind her that you are still an active woman who is interested in being involved the world and that this may include a relationship wth someone other than her father. Finally, clarify that while you regret the shock she experienced that fateful morning, trying to make you feel guilty won’t work. Remember, by pursuing a relationship you aren’t doing anything wrong.
It’s your daughter’s job to come to terms with the reality that you are more than her mother and her children’s grandmother. This may be a struggle for her, especially since she is still missing her father so much. Give her plenty of time to work through her feelings. From here on out, keep her apprised of your relationship, to whatever degree she wants.
Finally, by all means, tell your other children what is going on in your life. Second-hand information from their hurt sister won’t do any of you any good.
My friend and I are having a cordial little disagreement and maybe you can help us sort it out.
We always hear about the importance of “exercising” our brains. (We are 75 and 76 years old.) She’s enrolled in a foreign language class, saying that’s the best kind of brain exercise and that my crossword puzzles won’t do the trick. She tells me I need to be learning something far more difficult.
Well, if I do need to be doing something more taxing, I guess I’ll take the risk. I’m too old to make my brain work that hard.
I’ve been doing my crosswords for years. I enjoy them and I absolutely believe they make my brain work. What do you say? Are my crossword puzzles enough to keep my brain fit? — Signed, Baffled
I believe both of you are correct. Crossword puzzles and learning a foreign language are challenging activities that will stimulate your brains.
By how much, however, is a different question. Honestly, perhaps two good friends don’t need to be concerned about the part of your question but, since you asked …
Numerous research studies have established that a brain healthy lifestyle definitely contributes to an improved quality of life. There is some research that also suggests learning something new and complex, over a long period of time is quite beneficial for our aging brains. I have to admit that your friend’s foreign language studies fits this requirement perfectly.
However, there are so many other ways to stimulate our neurological activity, including crossword puzzles, that I believe a mixture of challenging and fun activities all make positive contributions to our brain health.
Here are activities that will kelp keep your brain healthy:
• Do math in your head, without benefit of paper and pencil.
• Test your recall. Make a list of items, memorize it and in an hour, see how many you recall.
• Draw a map from memory.
• Take any class you might enjoy. Let’s say cooking appeals to you. In that setting, all of your senses will be engaged, you’ll be challenged to learn new things and remember many aspects of any given recipe.
• Games of most any kind, including some video games, spark our neuropathways.
• Create word pictures in your head. Think of a word, then, using the beginning and ending letters of that word, see how many other words you can list.
• Learn a new small motor activity, like knitting, painting or drawing.
• Put music into your life — join a choir or learn an instrument.
In other words, your brain will benefit by simply engaging in new and different activities. The point is to explore things that appeal to your particular interests.
In high school my brother had a basketball coach who insisted that success was all about ‘attitude.’ But behind that poor man’s back, we teenagers mocked him, believing he was full of hooey. Oh, we thought we were so smart.
But in hindsight, that man was ahead of his time. I’ve come to believe that a positive attitude can really be a great source of strength, comfort and, yes, success. I also believe it can help with our physical and mental health and simply make living day in, day out, much more satisfying. (The neuroscience research being done on the differences between positive and negative attitudes is downright fascinating.)
With this in mind, I had to share with you a letter I received from a woman I find inspirational … not to mention wonderfully funny:
Dear Mrs. Priestley,
I just want to tell you how much I enjoy “The Second Half.” I especially liked your article about being told what to do, wear, think or believe.
I hate it when I get told that I can’t do anything — and all of the rest of the can’ts. So I do what I darned well please, say what I please, wear my choice — T-shirts, jeans, gaudy socks and any place my feet will take me. DMV took my license 10 years ago.
I’ve had a lot of practice. I am 93 years young. I exercise every morning, before my cup of tea. I do 80 counter push-ups, feet 43 inches back, 80 toe-heel touches, 20 side kicks, each side, three times and five, one minute planks.
Now tell me what I can or cannot do!
I make sock monkey dolls for my hobby.
When someone says I can’t do something — I just laugh!
I so want to be this way when I am 93. What an accomplishment. Thank you, dear reader, for sharing your thoughts with all of us. Keep up the good work and that incredibly positive attitude. It seems to be working for you!
By golly, I believe I’ve it the wall! Quite simply, I am tired of our culture trying to tell those of us in the second half what we should or should not be doing, wearing, thinking, and believing.
My apologies, I know I’ve complained about this before. I won’t hold it against you if you opt out of this week’s column. But this morning I reached my tipping point. It was that one final, headline that put me over the edge: “Eleven Things You Should Never Do After 50.”
Maybe I was just be overly sensitive? So, in my never ending attempt to be rational and thoughtful, I surfed the net to see if the hair standing up on the back of my neck was justified. It was. Take a gander at a sampling:
Things Not to do, Under Any Circumstances after 50
What Women Should Wear in Their Sixties
Seven Exercises to Never Do After 50
Ten Things a Man Over 50 Should Never Do
How to Dress Your Age
What Not to Wear After a Certain Age
Hairstyles That Will Take Ten Years Off of Your Age
Ten Things Everyone Should do Before Turning Sixty
Make no mistake. I fully understand why this is a hot button issue for me. I’ve balked at being told what from a tender age. (My mother tells a hysterical story about me refusing to eat liver and onions when I was two. My father was determined I’d eat that disgusting food, that I would bow down to his will. Instead, I sat in my highchair happily singing songs long after everyone had left the table.Did I learn my lesson? Not the one he intended. No, my takeaway seems to have been that patience and singing are a winning combination. Eventually my mother intervened. She says it broke her heart to send me to bed without dinner though I don’t seem to have been scarred by the incident.)
The highchair story is a perfect example of how kids begin to assert themselves. Though still babies in many ways, toddlers discover the glory of walking, talking, and decision making. Since humans are hardwired to seek autonomy, toddlers naturally push back against practically any, and all, interference.
As children continue to develop and their brains mature, they want to become more and more independent. By adolescence, they are usually in full tilt mode towards all things independent. They begin to actively rebel at being told what to do or not do. Whether it’s a well practiced eye roll or flat out, self-destructive defiance, teens are driven by the belief that they alone know what is best for themselves, not to mention the rest of the world.
We adults know it takes years to fully mature. But eventually, most people slide into adulthood and amass a ton of life lessons throughout their years.
I re-considered my reaction to the headlines, reflecting on the fact that I’ve been making pretty decent decisions since I was about 23, give or take. That means I have 42 years of life experience under my belt. I’ve certainly made the wrong decisions along the way but they were mine to make. At 65, I don’t need/want anyone telling me what I should or should not be doing. It feels demeaning, condescending, patronizing.
This approach pushes my buttons for another reason. We live in an ultra opinionated society. (Don’t get me started on that topic!) Contrary to popular practice, I don’t believe it’s my responsibility to cram my opinions down everyone else’s throats.
It all comes down to my belief that those of us with so many years of life experiences under our belts are entitled to greater respect. Of course, I don’t want to look foolish by wearing an outfit suited for a 16 year old but please, trust that I have enough good sense to simply look around and decide that for myself.
Thanks for listening. Now it’s time to step down off my high horse!
Since last week’s election, my column’s mailbox has been flooded with reader’s reactions. Many are devastated, “How can this have happened in America?” Others are elated, “Finally, it’s our turn. We didn’t take to the streets after we lost. People need to get over it and move on.”
But how do we move forward? Perhaps my personal situation might help you understand what others are feeling. This feels very risky but for the sake of the people I love and my country, I feel it is worth it.
Consider the constellation of the family my husband and I have, three kids, all married. Four of these remarkable, generous, compassionate, hard working, tax paying young adults are gay. One son-in-law is Mexican American, the other is a Mexican citizen and lives here with permanent residency status. My innocent six-year-old granddaughter is black. We proudly call three amazing young women our own. We could have our own sitcom, right?
But here’s the devastating part … each and every one of these dear souls has been impacted by racism, homophobia, and misogyny.
My son and his husband were spit on one night walking home from a club.
My Mexican American son-in-law started an after hours business cleaning a school. (Yep, he’d work full-time all week in a white collar job and then go to work at night, saving to buy a house.) One night, a white teacher came into the classroom he was cleaning and told him, unbeknownst to her a USC graduate, “you really should aim higher.” Sure her heart was in the right place but sadly, this is racism. She saw his skin color and made assumptions.
He has also been stopped by police for no apparent reason. Yes, he was always sent on his way because he had broken no laws, but there is a subtle pattern there that cannot be denied. (For the record, my younger brother is a cop. I have total respect for responsible law enforcement.)
My daughter and her wife can’t walk down the street with my precious granddaughter without receiving prolonged and sometimes, unfriendly stares.
My other daughter has seen less experienced men promoted at work and has been in meetings where the men control the discussion through interruption or try to take a women’s accomplishment and call it their own.
I am the first to admit that, at times it is difficult for me to recognize the subtleties of the minority experience. After all, I have grown up white and, at least for my adult life, economically secure. Sure, I’ve encountered endless misogynistic moments – what woman hasn’t? But it’s the subtleties of another’s experience that we all may have difficulty understanding.
As an example, consider the backlash to the “Black Lives Matter” movement. Of course all lives matter … but since the beginning of time, blacks have had less freedoms, less opportunity, less appreciation, less value. The statistics on how often blacks are detained, questioned, arrested, jailed, and shot compared to whites are shameful.
But as a white woman, this can be difficult to fully comprehend – it is not my experience. To try and understand, I look to my black friends, who have pounded into their sons about how to behave when stopped by police. Did I ever have to do this my son, beyond the normal “be polite”? Nope. Not once.
Racism, homophobia, misogyny can be glaringly obvious … or dangerously subtle.
Unlike policy based elections, this one was deeply personal. My children are actually frightened about their futures. So am I. Based on this election cycle, we have plenty of reasons to believe our fears are legitimate. Will marriage equality be repealed? Can my son-in-law can be sent back to Mexico, even though he has permanent residency status? Will my daughters ever be paid the same amount as men? Will their healthcare be gutted? These are all real possibilities under the new administration.
This is my family’s experience. Millions of families across the nation feel the same devastation. This is why so many of us are finding it nearly impossible to “get over it and move on.”
I know it isn’t always easy to grasp the impact of another’s experience. Perhaps if we all try a little harder to open up to what is different, to own our imperfections, to tone down the volume, the rhetoric, and truly hear each other, we can recognize that we are all Americans and that we can be better.
While some physical issues could be easier for her, she is mentally quite sharp. She pays close attention to the current political circus, loves to stay up to date on world events, and has maintained a wonderful sense of humor. She is beloved by friends and family and holds a very special place in my children’s hearts.
What a life she’s had. In 1927, her hard working mother and “crazy” father drove a Model A all the way from West Virginia to to San Diego. From the way my Granny always told the story, they slept wherever they could, ate rattlesnakes my grandfather shot, and generally had a truly awful time. Granny would say, “it’s good your mother was a baby. It was a miserable trip.”
Apparently, my grandfather was a sketchy character and in nothing flat, my Granny was raising my mother single-handedly. A grocery checker at the local Piggly Wiggly, she was good natured, though single-minded and tough, never one to shy away from life just because her ‘no good husband skedaddled,” as she liked to say.
My mother was a real beauty. (She still is.) Exceptionally tall, she had perfect posture, a fresh, beautiful face, and lush, glossy, shoulder-length curls. As a kid, I once saw a glam photo of Rita Hayworth. I swear, my mother could have been her sister!
A championship tennis player, she quietly and humbly won numerous tournaments all over San Diego. One of my most favorite photos of her is a group shot with other young tennis players. Decked out in her tennis togs, she is tan, strong, fit, and has a radiant smile. I always appreciated that she’d had a brief but successful time on the tennis courts. There was something about that piece of her history that intrigued me. I used to imagine her strength, how she’d throw herself into every match, mapping out her game strategy for the win. I think this may be how I managed to develop my own problem solving abilities and I am grateful these traits somehow rubbed off on me.
Another memorable story from her youth was when she was Homecoming Queen. My grandmother certainly didn’t have the money to buy her a formal gown but, creative thinker that my mother was, she borrowed a dress from her best friend. The only problem? My mother was about ten inches taller than her dear friend. Her solution? When riding on the float in the Homecoming parade she never stood up!
Soon after graduating, the Homecoming Queen would meet and marry her rival high school’s star basketball player. They met at a beach party and my father, a dynamic and charming young man with a full head of red hair, swept her off her feet. The only problem was that the poor guy was simply never cutout for marriage.
Eventually they would divorce and she would do exactly what her mother had done, raise two kids on a shoestring budget. But thanks to her grit and good humor, she carried all of us through.
Just imagine what it took for her to pack up two young children and a few belongings into a 1951 Ford, drive 800 miles away, to work 16 hours a day at a ski lodge in the Sierra Nevada mountains. We lived in a two room cabin, had a wood burning stove, bathed in the big laundry sink in the lodge’s basement, and ate with all of the employees in the staff dining room. My brother and I were in heaven, free to roam wherever we wanted, while my poor mother worked her fingers to the bone managing the desk, cleaning rooms and cabins, and handling the books. Talk about grit!
Fortunately, things would eventually get a little easier for her. We returned to San Diego and my mother became surely the most well liked checker at a large grocery store. (Her line was always the longest because yes, she was just that friendly!) A relentlessly hard worker, she helped both of her children get their college educations. Always an exceptional grandmother, in her sixties she re-married and for many years traveled the globe with her husband.
Life isn’t particularly easy at 90 for anyone. But I have to say that my mother’s grace, tenacity, and kind heart continue to help her through the journey. We are all so grateful for who she is and what she has given us.
Guess what I found in my mailbox today? A letter from the Social Security Administration that began with these words: “You are entitled to monthly retirement and Medicare benefits beginning October 2016.” Wow.
Filled with a sense of disbelief, my mind flashed back to when, as a 16-year-old working the pony rides during the San Diego County Fair, I was first introduced to the concept of Social Security contributions. Having just finished mucking out the stalls at the Del Mar racetrack, my boss arrived and handed me an envelope. He may have even joked, “don’t spend it all in one place.” A couple of the jockeys, kind men who had taken a shine to my lanky, inexperienced self, laughed knowingly.
I eagerly opened up the envelope … only to discover the deductions across the top of my very first paycheck.
I was stunned to realize that some of my hard earned money was going to be withheld by the Social Security Administration. And then my nice boss, who looked to me to be older than dirt, though he was probably no more than fifty, explained that this would happen with each and every paycheck I ever received, throughout my entire working lifetime. He said that every employer would match the contribution. Seeing my disappointment, he stressed that it was a really good thing, that one day when I turned 65, I’d appreciate having retirement benefits.
What? He had to be kidding! This was a good thing? No way. Day after hot day, I’d been mentally counting on every single penny for an entire week. (Trust me, there’s more to pony rides than cajoling a bored pony to walk around a small, circular corral while trying to comfort a terrified, screaming toddler so her Mom could take a picture on tiny Brownie camera!) Besides, it was incredible to imagine people actually lived long enough to collect their benefits. Not even my dear Granny was that old!
My adolescent brain couldn’t comprehend any of it. As my face dropped even closer to the soiled hay, those dear little jockeys fell silent. One of them tried to lighten the moment, offering something like, “welcome to the real world, kid.”
Fast forward and there I was today, standing at my mailbox, holding the letter that represented my required retirement savings plan based on 49 years as a worker bee. (Is it safe to now admit that my pony ride tenure had been preceded by four years of babysitting and ironing, all paid under the table? Thank goodness none of those mothers deducted anything from that $.50 an hour job.)
Yep, the arrival of this letter was a moment to remember, as well as a moment to savor. I’m thrilled to be receiving those benefits!
But I also want to reassure any of you who are poised to apply for your Social Security benefits that the process is really quite manageable. I offer this opinion even after a small problem had to be cleared up.
Imagining a horror story at our local Social Security office, I arrived just as the office opened, mid-week and mid-month. (I had been told Mondays and Fridays at the beginning of the month tend to be the busiest times.) Two friendly security guards met me and within five minutes I was sitting across from a very pleasant, knowledgeable woman who was nothing but smiles and solutions.
Though everyone has the option to apply for benefits in the office, I opted for the online application, discovering that this agency really knows what it’s doing. The process was clear and easily understood. The first thing you’ll find is a list of all of the documents required for your application. What a time-saving approach! Once these were gathered, I sat down to start the application and was finished in about 30 minutes.
A short time later I received a letter confirming my application and instructing me to call within a certain number of days to verify some information. But the Social Security office beat me to the punch by actually calling me a couple of days later. The man I spoke with was professional and extremely friendly. It was a quick and thoroughly painless call.
Now, here I am, just weeks from the beginning of the application process. Everything for both my Social Security and Medicare benefits is confirmed and ready to begin in October.
What fun it’s going to be to open my mailbox and find a check in there every month!
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