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Couples in Retirement: Start Somewhere, Anywhere

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

In just an hour, Elbert Hubbard penned an inspirational story to fill the space in the 1899 edition of The Philistine. By some estimates, 40 million copies of this amazing story were in circulation by 1913.

What was all the fuss about? Hubbard told the account of a Captain Rowan’s trek that earned him a Congressional Service Cross for his execution of orders given by President McKinley:

Rowan took the letter, sealed it up in an oilskin pouch, strapped it over his heart, in four days landed by night off the coast of Cuba from an open boat, disappeared into the jungle, and in three weeks came out on the other side of the island, having traversed a hostile country on foot, and delivered his letter… [Rowan] is a man…[who was] loyal to a trust,… [acted] promptly, concentrated [his] energies: [to] do the thing.

Rowan was, if not immortalized, then certainly famous for his ability to get the job done. Then as now, that illusive quality distinguishes a valuable employee from the average or less than ideal one. Rowan had that “can do” attitude, the “take charge” character, and the ability to succeed that so many employers seek when hiring.

Since this blog is about retiring and aging, you may be wondering why I call this story to your attention.

I find it helpful because the characteristics recalled in Rowan’s story are those required of a retiree as well, at least one who is successful at retirement. For retirees, I not only want to call attention to some things that don’t work, but also to look at some things that will.

(In advance I offer apology to the male readers. The stories here are not about women. Partly, that’s one of those “If the shoe fits, wear it” kind of thing. To be fair, I’d love some stories about women if you’ll share them.)

The Hoverer

Some retiree’s wives complain that retirement means “twice as much husband and half as much money.” These husbands find what their wives are doing interesting. Again. And again. If the spouse has been a stay-at-home partner, this attention could be simple curiosity: What really goes on around here when I’m not here?

Some years ago now a precocious three year-old child from next door popped up onto the porch swing with my wife one morning. After a few minutes of silence, she turned curious eyes to my wife and asked, “So, what do you do when Ed and Ellen are gone all day?”

Yep, a little bit of curiosity. Sure. That’s what’s happening. The newly retired spouse is curious, if not precocious. He shows that by hanging about. Constantly.

NOT! Or, at least, I bet not. What is more likely the case is that the husband is at loose ends and doesn’t know what to do. He is taking advantage of an already planned day and hoping to fit in.

Cowboy up, guy! Get your “I can do this” Rowan-thing going. A little understanding can’t hurt, either. And, a little less dependence would really be great.

The Helpful Hardware Man

Another retired fellow somewhat bored with his lot in life decided he could help his wife in the kitchen. So, while she was gone, he rearranged all the boxes and bottles in alphabetical order. I understand that the next day, while he was gone, she helped her husband by rearranging all the tools in the garage by size.

Neither project was voted a success. Or helpful.

Maybe you need to look around and see if you can find some orders from President McKinley lying about, so to speak. A little planning could really help. I suggest you investigate these:

The Honey-Do List

(I know it is a cliché. But it is an important one.)