I am befuddled about this whole idea of R-E-T-I-R-E-M-E-N-T. What does that even mean these days? A woman in the locker room said she started her retirement when she got sacked from her job of 13 years. That’s a pretty brutal way of telling you to rethink your future. It reminded me of when my dad was retiring from The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company where he had worked for almost 50 years. As he approached that magic age of 65, the company, as the story was told to me, did everything they could to force him out before his retirement age, i.e., pay him his pension. They didn’t know my father’s determination and just plain German stubbornness. The locker room lady seemed to have the same spunk, “I’m fighting it,” she said, “I’m superior to anyone else they could get. I know they’re sacking me because of my Age!” I questioned the “superior” part but didn’t say anything. Instead, I fell into my Job Coach mode, and agreed that ageism, racism, sexism and all the other “isms” are alive and well in Oh Canada. Then I asked her how old she was — 78! Seventy-Eight! That means she was 65 when she was hired for that job. Would that compromise her argument on ageism? I don’t know.
But maybe the gym lady, like myself and Mexican-Hilda and most of the other people I know, just plain needs the extra money to survive. The little bit I make from my potpourri of an-hour-here-an-hour-there work, helps pay my rent and feed those always-hungry-never-working cats of mine. (Who I know, even though I’m not home, are stretched out like bookends on either end of the couch waiting until 5 p.m. when I and more food will appear. They don’t even miss that I’m gone.) There’s a lot of us seniors out there who need the bucks. Just yesterday, Sophia, one of my Tik Talk Cafe friends, who is sometimes employed by one of the local community colleges, plopped down in a chair next to me and said, “Ann, what am I going to do if I don’t have any work at all? How will I survive?” She didn’t seem in the mood to hear my All Shall Be Well mantra (which even I sometimes doubt). Instead, I suggested that she stop taking taxis, cut her eating-out budget and apply to get her Old Age Benefits and Canada Pension. My Capricorn practicality comes in handy sometimes.
We are in a group that definitely is not feature article material for that awful Zoomer magazine. Zoomer seems to be concerned only with folks who have fat bank accounts, pensions out the kazoo and house equity to boot. They’re out there for sure. I even overheard four of them talking at the McMichael Gallery over the weekend: “Oh, but you absolutely must spend another month in New Zealand. It’s fabulous!” Zoomers! I thought about writing an article about all the rest of us “zoomers” and sending it to the magazine — enlighten them on some of our issues. I don’t think they’d be interested and anyway I heard they don’t pay even if they accept it.
But, for me, and I suspect for Sophia, Hilda and the gym lady, working past the age of 65 is about a whole lot more than just the money. I want to stay connected to the outside world (whatever that is). (Sometimes, I take myself downtown at lunch time just to hang out with the folks hurrying about.) I want to continue to use my head and what talents I have to hopefully make someone else’s life maybe just a wee bit better. And, maybe most of all, I want to be able to hear other people’s stories so I can keep mine alive.
But yesterday, when I heard the CBC announcer say something about needing a “generational change” in the workforce, I felt just a tad guilty that I’m still working. Should we seniors be relinquishing our places in the workplace so that all those unemployed 18-30 year olds can have our jobs? I seriously doubt that any of them would be really interested in my precarious-very-underemployed-sometime-work. I love it, but would they? And anyway — would they be ready? Maybe the government in its wisdom, could offer us seniors the option, along with our old age pension, of a stipend if we were willing to share our knowledge and experience. We could become mentors to the young people as they transition into our jobs. Just think, the gym lady could be passing on her “superior” knowledge to dozens of young people. Sweet. What a way to spend retirement, eh?