Thursday, February 17, 2011

Don't Forget to Look Back

Last night, sated by a prime rib dinner at Talking Rock Club, Ron looked around our home and said, “I never could have guessed we would be here”. He was recalling the years of hard work and good fortune that allowed us to retire early. That led us both to think further back…

Ron’s paternal grandfather worked as a carpenter for a coal mine in southern Illinois. Later, health issues forced a job change. He became a janitor for the local school system. Ron’s father, Jim, left at 17 to join the Navy, get an education, and make a better life for himself. After the Navy, with the help of the GI Bill, Jim earned an engineering degree from the University of Illinois and became an electrical engineer. He married Barbara, a true farmer’s daughter, college graduate, and teacher. They raised 5 children. When the family would go to see Jim’s parents, they visited a home that was little more than a shack, with no indoor bathroom. But Ron and all of his siblings went to college. It’s humbling to remember that there is just one generation between us and an outhouse, or a hard life of farming that included walking the beans and slopping the hogs.

My own paternal grandfather emigrated from Greece. My papou (grandfather in Greek) was a furrier – a good living that allowed him to send John, his son/my father to Northwestern University to earn a degree in electrical engineering. Mom and Dad raised 4 kids, and sent us all to college. Early on, we lived in modest homes and pinched pennies. Vacations were taken once a year, via a packed station wagon, to visit family in New Hampshire. My idea of comfort food was derived from dishes like Creamed Tuna on Toast, which stretched a can of tuna fish to feed a family of 6, served with a salad. The occasional dinner out as a family was burgers and milkshakes at the Ho-Jo’s drive-in.

Ron and I both made the most of good public education and, later, advanced schooling paid for by our parents. Neither Ron nor I were provided with a car when we turned 16. We both worked real jobs for pocket money and our own savings, from our mid-teens on. When we graduated college, we moved out of our parents homes and started our own independent lives and careers. As a young couple, I remember visiting friends who had just moved into a lovely $100K home in Plano, TX and thinking, “We’ll never be able to afford a house like this.”

Fast forward to 2011. Retired now, we (temporarily) own two nice homes – a condo in the city and a ranch cottage on a golf course with mountain views. We eat out several times a week. Our next vehicle will be an electric golf cart. Good friends and family enrich our lives, which couldn’t be better. In April, we will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary, and once again we will count our blessings and say,

“We never could have guessed we would be here.”

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