My husband Art retired last May. He had worked for the electric company for over 40 years and his last job was line crew foreman - a thinking and supervising position, but also a lot of active physical labor. Art was accustomed to working hard. He had a couple of rotator cuff surgeries and then, last January, a surgery to remove the painful arthritic joint in his left thumb and replace it with a tendon from his forearm. He had no more pain, but his grip strength was diminished - so even if he hadn't retired, he wouldn't have been able to do his job any more. At present he collects long term disability (for another 15 months) as well as a pension.
Since retiring, Art has worked a Sudoku and the crossword puzzle every morning. He's worked in the yard in good weather. He's read. He's been on ten trips with me. But except for one day last month when he climbed a tree to saw off some dead branches, Art's level of physical activity has been pretty low. It just hasn't come up in his life. And since his appetite has always been excellent, he's put on some weight, which isn't real great for arthritis in other joints.
When I suggested we do a Habitat build in Louisiana, he was amenable. "It's on your bucket list after all," he said. He packed his work boots and his work jeans and his oldest t-shirts. And in Louisiana, he worked hard physical labor for four days. He was on the roof, sawing and hammering. He was lifting sheets of plywood and anchoring them. The construction foreman would say to him, "Do you know how to do this?" Sometimes Art would say no and the foreman would show him how and he would do it. He learned a lot up there on the roof, and apparently he did his usual hard work, because more than one person told me, "He's an animal up there." Here are a couple of pictures of Art I posted previously from last week.
On the plane coming home, I asked Art if he'd be interested in working for Habitat at a local affiliate in our area (Seattle). He said yes. So yesterday I went online and learned the East King County affiliate is working on a group of houses in two locations. They have full volunteer crews on Saturdays, but they need people on Wednesdays and Thursdays. Since we're not working, we can do that together. We'll be signing up to work once a week when we're in town. Our first day is Thursday, April 7.
Today is Art's 68th birthday. We went to exercise class this morning. He wore a t-shirt that says "How the hell did I get this old?" Everyone wished him a happy birthday. I suspect one of the great gifts, though, is his knowledge that he can still build, still be useful, and that there are projects out there that need him. He may be retired from paid work, but not from the opportunity to work more and be of service.
What's also cool is that yesterday we got a letter from Elderhostel telling us that our entire trip expenses are tax deductible - half of the fee is a donation to Elderhostel for administration and the other half is unreimbursed expenses for a volunteer activity. Even our airfare and car rental can be deducted. I had no idea. Guess it will make future out-of-town builds more feasible!