My Grandfather retired in 1958. For most of his career, he worked for the Atlantic Richfield Company, now known as ARCO. When he retired, he was the superintendent for the largest producing oil region for ARCO, the Southern San Joaquin Valley.
Hundreds of employees reported to “Dave.” I don’t know how many, but ARCO threw a retirement pick-nick for him with more people than I had ever seen in one place! I was ten years old and found the crowd exhilarating and a little overwhelming.
Grandpa had reached the magic age of 65, and back then, it was no questions asked. Retirement was mandatory. ARCO gave him an engraved gold watch and a departing cash bonus, and Grandpa was out of work for the first time in his adult life.
He was none too happy about this eventuality. He was more than willing to continue working. And as he always said, “I have many more good years left.” As it turned out, that was thankfully very true. Grandpa would live for 21 more years and be a blessing to his family and all who knew him.
My Grandfather had such a long life, and most of it in excellent health, because of his attitude toward retirement and working after age 65. You see, Grandpa had been planning retirement for a long time. In the years leading up to retirement, Grandpa and Grandma put away cash in a literal cookie jar, then later in the bank. Money that they would use to live on after retirement.
They built a small house in Santa Barbara, California, and grew an incredible vegetable garden. A staunch believer in organic vegetables, long before many knew just what that meant. He began with a Victory Garden in World War II and continued gardening for the rest of his life. He knew that to live the retirement that he and Grandma wanted; they would need to be frugal, something that came naturally to an old Scotsman.
During all of my High School Years and through College, I would work on Grandpa’s small farm, roto-tilling, weeding, and chopping wood. Generally, any chores that needed to be done. It was the perfect job while going to school. It gave me a little money, always a wonderful home-cooked lunch from Grandma, and an opportunity to talk to my Grandfather. We discussed nearly anything you could imagine, from the war in Viet Nam to the latest political candidate, to world events, and the economy. Our discussions were always the real highlight of the day.
These were heart-to-heart conversations between two members of a family of shared values, even if different ages. I look back now and realize how lucky I was to share this kind of perspective from someone of my Grandfather’s age in an entirely convivial atmosphere.
During our conversations, Grandpa would bring up one of his favorite topics, retirement and whether you should work after you retire. Grandpa was adamant on this one item: everyone needs to work for as long as possible. For Grandpa, it was a literal question of life or death — no ifs, ands, or buts.
He would then regale me with the stories of men he had worked with, who went home after retiring, sat down in their favorite easy chair, and died. Stop working, Grandpa would say, and that will happen to us all.
I was also the family chauffeur back then, and I often drove Grandpa to the funerals of his old friends from work. Inevitably, on the drive back, he would say that man died too young. He should have stayed active, and he should have worked more.
Today, the word “work” has taken on a different meaning than it had for Grandpa. Today work is associated almost exclusively with wages. So work today often means the way to make money. And that was part of what Grandpa was talking about, but only part.
When Grandpa worked on the family farm in the early 20th century, there were no paychecks or money. The family was paid when the crops were taken to market, and then they shared what little cash there was. And that was always Grandpa’s perspective on work.
Work is an activity that provides purpose and meaning to our lives. The reward is in our doing, not in our paycheck. In retirement, Grandpa “worked” at many things. He worked in the garden and was a published poet. Grandpa “worked” at his writing, both in creating poetry and writing for our Church and other publications. He also lectured occasionally and spoke at his little lay Church.
Each day, Grandpa and Grandma rose early, had breakfast, and Grandpa went off to his work. At the same time, Grandma kept the house cooked and clean. Both were working each day of their lives.
It was the best advice I ever received: no matter how old you are: keep working. It is advice that I’ve lived by for many years and why I write this column.
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