I jotted notes about my Mum’s major life transition shortly after Dad died just two years ago, but never got around to finishing my story. After my phone call with her on September 10th, however, I knew it was time to brush off and finish what I started.
I don’t believe Mum ever made the transition into retirement when Dad hit the magic number most men in his generation aimed for and stopped working. Theirs was a different generation, one in which women were transitioning into the workplace more frequently, though they were never treated as equals with their male peers. I don’t think it’s particularly funny that we’re still debating the merits of equal pay for equal work in 2015, but I’m certain it was never an issue Mum complained about.
She worked as a Main Office secretary at my high school, and from what I can gather, she was the best. She could type 120 accurate words per minute on a clickity-clackity typewriter and didn’t need to be told how to punctuate. She was home by 4 p.m. and never failed to put a scrumptious dinner on the table for her five daughters.
Dad worked for AT&T and was home by 5:30 p.m., ready for his scotch and newspaper.
He and Mum would sit in the living room together, Mum with her glass of Sherry, Dad with his Dewars, and they would catch up, I suppose, on their day’s events. I say “I suppose” because we kids either knew enough to respect their time together, or we were likely more interested in ourselves. In any case, it was their routine.
After 40 years of working both in the corporate world and in the Army Reserves—retiring as a full Colonel—Dad officially retired, a word that doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did then. And Mum finally retired from her still-full bottle of Wite-Out. But while Dad transitioned into a life of leisure, spending more time watching news and completing crossword puzzles, Mum transitioned from taking care of the school’s principal to taking care of Dad.
Mum is a nurturer and thrives on being needed. Dad had no reason to complain about his status as numero uno in the household once they married off daughter #5, so a new routine was established quickly.
From my perspective, Dad got the better end of the deal, he being the one who would be cared for and pampered—willing and lovingly by Mum—until his last day, over 20 years after his retirement from the workplace. When Dad died, Mum was faced with reevaluating her decades-long routine.
Watching her as she has transitioned over the past two years as a widow has taught me much about this woman, 30 years my elder, who is as much a part of me as my own sagging skin.
I will share more observations, and the phone call, in my next post.