Masks, Ghosts, and Spooky Things About Retirement

Feeling like a ghost of your former self, facing truly spooky choices in the shadow of mortality.

Halloween maskIs this a Halloween mask? An outer space creature? A new Sesame Street character?

Trick and treat.  It’s the bark on a section of a felled log where I rested during a recent hike.

Isn’t it beautiful? Looking at it reminded me of my own wrinkles (how much time I have spent pondering them!) and about the wonderfully wrinkled other faces I see on the aged ranchers in Dubois. Those wrinkles have great stories to tell!

The young, hip gentry back in that now-trendy city neighborhood in Brooklyn that I must visit now and again refer to Baby Boomer homeowners like us, who haven’t yet sold and moved out, as the “leftovers.” These new neighbors walk right past me on those familiar streets, as if we were both wearing masks. It makes me feel more like a ghost than a leftover, but perhaps appropriately so. The house I used to occupy began to feel haunted, by the high, noisy voices of our children who grew up there.

thicket Then I retired, intentionally making a ghost of my former self. I embarked on a journey into a spooky thicket that is treacherous and tangled, with truly endless commitments to adult children, sad and scary duties to aging parents, unforeseeable hazards and murky decisions.

One of them may be the choice of where to live out those perilous years in the shadow of your own mortality. That decision can be scary. It was for us.

A brief road trip to the Southwest has brought to mind some of the options we did not choose. For instance:

failed retirement villageThe planned retirement village, offering a quiet life in the exclusive company of other people with similar interests and lifestyles.

If you want, of course, you can guarantee that exclusion with gates and guards.

A friend at my mother’s retirement village — one of the oldest and best in the country, a nonprofit — calls it a “ghetto.” A very pleasant ghetto indeed, she says, but a self-imposed prison nonetheless.

We do have the feeling that by removing all challenges and inconveniences, this option has a way of hastening your trip into passivity.

Of course, as the sad picture above demonstrates, these communities may fail to evolve as planned.

RVParkThe opposite end of the spectrum, the RV nomad lifestyle, beckons with the pleasant thought of following the best weather everywhere and seeing new places at every turn.

We see these nomads passing through Dubois all the time, and sometimes host them at our local RV parks. Temporary communities do seem to form among the mobile homers who settle in the same seasonal location year after year, but this gypsy lifestyle would only suit me for a few weeks at a time.

We have neighbors who lived only in their large RV for nearly a decade. They finally sold it and settled in Dubois.

Nobody planned Dubois. It is what social planners have called a naturally organizing retirement community,” where people of our age group gravitate and build the resources they need for themselves.

Dubois WYWe are indeed a community of like-minded people, but just about the only opinion that we feel the need to share is the value of the community itself. At home in Dubois, I’ve found, people don’t really care where you came from or what you used to do. (In fact, a newly published oral history of the town says that a century ago it was considered rude to ask.)

What matters is who you are now and what you contribute to the village.

Which is what it really is: a village, with children and noisy, irreverent teenagers, and young adults who may make bad choices, as well as many who grew old here and others who came here to grow old.

That’s enlivening, and hopeful, and not a bit scary.

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© Lois Wingerson 2015

Author: LivingDubois

I am a retired science journalist, devoted to enjoying and recording the many pleasures of life in the Wyoming's Upper Wind River Valley.

4 thoughts on “Masks, Ghosts, and Spooky Things About Retirement”

  1. Our “ghetto” is on the north end of the town of Titusville, Fl., part of the hub surrounding the Kennedy Space Center….more or less the center of the space industry. We have a lovely home, pool, raise our own rocks, and barely know neighbors more than two houses away in any direction. The previous owners of this house believed in either cementing things over or bringing in rocks, bricks or cement blocks to fill in spaces here and there. I have learned that it is easier to have flower gardens, or anything else that requires soil, in (BIG) pots than it is to figure out what to do with enough rocks to keep a small Egyptian happy until such time as he is big enough to move boulders. I have thought more than once that Dubois, Wyoming would be a good place to live in as much as I still have family there, don’t (and haven’t ) carouse around much and my various and sundry needs can be met in a community probably better than a big city. I have thought at times that if one decides to be a recluse, a lot of space isn’t needed……but then there is always the internet (and Facebook) to stay connected with those I care about. And messages from Dubois are frosting on the cake, so to speak from someone who could do without real frosting as it were.

    1. Thanks so much for your reflections, Betty. I do wonder why you say “if one decides to be a recluse.” Dubois is a perfectly good place to be a recluse in, of course, but I love it for its community.

      I’ve been looking into resources for retirees in this town, and I ran across a puzzling and sort of amusing story a few months ago. Under a Federal grant, someone with a county agency tried to set up a service here where volunteers would take time to help older residents with daily needs such as shopping, visiting, and so on. The effort failed miserably, because although an eager volunteer materialized, nobody came forward to request the services.

      Clearly the county representative was troubled and baffled about the Dubois experience. I asked a few people here what they thought might be the explanation. The answer was unanimous: People in this town already step forward when someone needs help. Maybe we don’t need an organized volunteer program.

      As to moving boulders, my brothers-in-law from Ohio were visiting a few years ago in March when I decided to inaugurate the new firepit I had laboriously set up downhill and out of the wind. “Where did you get all the boulders?” Rob asked, and the rest of us laughed. The next morning at breakfast, he asked again: “I was serious. Where did you get all those boulders?”

      Enjoy your autumn. It’s flurrying sideways here today, and the midday temperature never got above freezing. As to frosting on the cake, that’s what the Ramshorn looks like right now.

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