Traveling Without Siri

I hadn’t walked very far this morning when a swoosh of movement caught my eye; that amber flash was a mama and baby deer, scooting up a neighbor’s driveway. The drive is bordered by a hedge, and, as I started down the hill toward it, the baby poked its head up over the bushes to watch me. It was all liquid dark eyes and twitchy black velvet nose and huge, pointy-oval, radar ears.

I cocked my head one way and it cocked its head the other, and we stopped and eyed each other like that for a moment. And then the mama keck-ed, deep in her throat, and the baby deer sprang away. The two of them were grazing side by side in the neighbor’s backyard when I walked by. They raised their heads to look backwards at me, and I waved.

Around the corner, ungainly bumblebees were busy at the wonderful shrubs that border a lush lawn. I call them doll-skirt bushes; the huge blossoms start out tightly fisted and deeply pink, and as they unfurl, their color gets lighter and the petals swirl out like the kind of outrageous pleated outfits trim dancers kicked around in, in 1940’s musicals.  The flowers turn a creamy white. By nightfall, they’ve curled into tubes and fallen off—limp and dirty cigars laying sadly on the gravelly shoulder. Derelicts, fallen to the curb after a splendid day’s showing…

The bees sent one of their comrades my way on reconnaissance. The fat thing burbled menacingly around and around my head; I had to stop and turn slowly along with it until it got bored and went back to nectarizing.

I pushed on to Dresden Road and headed north. I stopped again at the big white house, which has gone from neglected to sparkling. It’s huge–during the long interval it was on sale, I think we read in the listing that it has six bedrooms. It has a newly painted in-the-city farm barn, appropriately bright barn red, and all the accoutrements–the wicker furniture on the sprawling porch, plant stands, outside wall art–pop in that same deep color.

In the front yard, there’s a real, old-fashioned wooden sledge, the kind horses might have drawn in the northern backwoods in 1880. Some days, it’s being pulled by pink flamingos.  Some days, the flamingos are sitting on the wicker on the porch. Today, the flamingos shared the driver’s seat, and one had the reins on its beak.

Satisfied that I knew where the flamingos were, I pressed on until I’d walked about three-fourths of a mile, and then I turned to head back. I like to walk on Friday mornings, just a little bit of a stretch to start the weekend. The weekend, I thought, and felt the heady absence of work in the three days ahead.

And then I had one of those moments. It was just like when I’m using Siri for directions, and I willfully make a wrong turn.  There’s a pause–I always think she’s biting her electronic tongue to keep from barking obscenities at me–and then she snaps, Make a U-turn! Make a U-turn! And then, when I don’t, I imagine Siri’s digitized sigh, and the whole picture shifts, swings around, encapsulates a brand new vista. I was heading back down Dresden, and my horizon just completely morphed. It was almost physical, like picking up my foot and expecting it to touch the ground as usual, and finding it hits the ground someplace else entirely.

Because,–although the weekend is still two days, of course,–I DON’T have to go back to work on Monday. I’m taking Monday off, and then, on Tuesday, I am officially retired.

So, although I will not ever be a lady of leisure–neither by inclination nor by financial reality–it could be true that I never actually ‘go to work’ again.


Whoa. The hard cement wall called Work-On-Monday just burst, and time went flooding over it.


My father retired in his mid-50’s on disability, and he was lost without the schedule and the sense of being needed work gave him. For the first months, he drove my mother crazy. He followed her around, helped her make the beds. Asked what was next. Then he hit his stride and started doing woodworking and refinishing furniture. But it was a tough transition.

I have other role models, though, who make me think this change won’t be so hard. Take my friend Teri, who wasn’t even 18 when, a skilled high school graduate, she slid into a civil service job. Teri retired at 50 and never looked back. Now she works when she wants to and does amazing things at home. She mothers her still-at-home teen-aged daughter. She travels.  In the last years, she’s become a grandma with all the joy and busyness that entails.  She savors the pension she paid into from the time she was a young girl, and she embraces the after-working life.


I was picking up some signed certificates in the president’s office this week and talking to my colleagues Brenda and Kathy. Kathy will also officially retire on Tuesday, and Brenda asked the two of us, “What are you going to do with all that time?”

I looked at Kathy and she looked back, and we shared a charged understanding.

“I’m going,” Kathy said to Brenda, “to do all the things I’ve been putting off until this day arrived.”

Amen, Sister! I thought, and I slid my certificates into their manila envelope, waved them merrily, and went off about my way.


I went walking later than usual this morning because James and I made an early trip to the library. It occurred to me I could stop making excuses and plan a weekday trip to the Clark Gable birthplace museum in Cadiz, Ohio, about an hour and a half from here. So, while Jim was browsing the DVD’s, I found a Gable biography and began reading about his early years in Ohio. I grabbed a copy of the Mutiny on the Bounty DVD too: there’s time now, to do a little research.

Later, I checked the weather on my phone and was pleased to see happy little sunshines–and reasonable temperatures–next to the next five days. This weekend, I’ll finish painting the car port–where the ceiling fan looks so festive and moves, still, so glacially.

I can clear out the weedy old flower beds and put in last minute annuals, schedule the planting of bulbs and seeds and pretty hydrangea bushes.

James and I will sketch out a plan for his bedroom, move him into temporary quarters, and repaint–the ceiling blue, like a limitless sky, the walls a fresh cream.

I will uncover my neglected sewing machine, and it and I will become, again, partners in creative projects.

And in the quiet of the morning, I will write.

Those are the top bullets on a long, long list of things that have been waiting, sighing and patient, for the time to come when there’s time to act.

I’ll start, I keep telling my family, as I mean to go on: with a schedule and a plan.

And then I’ll walk forward into loosely woven days–the only deadlines or restrictions ones I’ve chosen to embrace.


It’s going to be different, retirement. It’s the first time I’ve left a job without another to step into, and I feel daringly untethered, a little bit anxious, a whole lot excited. Time now, to step into the next phase, and to determine the shape of things to come.


23 thoughts on “Traveling Without Siri

    1. Darlene, the weaving analogy kept running through my mind…we are on the same wavelength! A student from my first higher ed job contacted me the night before my last day of work; I hadn’t heard from her in twenty years. I thought about recurring motifs, and how there can be a lot of fabric in between…and then, of course, bring a good child of the ’70’s, I thought of Carole King’s tapestry…Thanks for your good wishes!

  1. Pam,
    First, congratulations on the new chapter, and best of luck with all the great projects you’ll be digging into.

    Second, reading your essay brought to mind two of my favorite essayists, E. B. White, especially his pieces about life on his salt water farm in Maine, and Sam Pickering, who I had as a grad school professor at UConn in the ’90s. He was the inspiration for the teacher in the movie “Dead Poets Society” and writes wonderful essays, many of them starting with him leaving his house for a walk.

    Of all the projects you’ve got planned, I’m happiest, naturally, about your commitment to more writing. This alone is making the world a better place. Excelsior!!


    1. Those are heady comparisons, Tom; thank you from the depths! I am going to be looking up Sam Pickering to read his work. It is a pleasure to hear from you…is the Grape Belt your blog? I will be checking it out shortly.

  2. What a surprising turn this essay took! From a lovely picturesque description of your morning walk to–*boom*!–you’ll be retiring next week. Congratulations, Pam. People all around me are retiring, or planning their retirement, or thinking about retiring–every stage of the process possible. A few have it planned out to the moment; one or two have no idea what they’re going to do. I myself am in the planning stage, with four or five years to go. Like you, I shan’t truly “retire” in the sense of lying on the couch all day. (That time may come, but it is not now) I will write (profitably, I think) and keep expanding my nest egg. This much I know: as long as *you* can put pen to paper or sit at a keyboard, you’ll always have something worthwhile to say. And if you have books in you, be they fiction or non-fiction–I’ll buy ’em.

    1. Thank you, John! I am angling for the discipline to show up at the page and write each morning; it will be good to grow into that routine. It does feel like — boom!–retirement is here. It’s hard, I think, to fully anticipate such a major life change. Working is such a huge part of the way we identify ourselves!

  3. Kimberly Allen

    I enjoyed your article. I recently very unexpectedly became as close to retirement as I have ever been, when in a sense, my job as I knew it to be disappeared underneath me, and I made the decision that I didn’t want to start over in a new place. I have trouble with the word retirement though, and often when asked, say that I am not yet familiar with that word. I need a new one. I miss some of the ways I could use my skills in my job, but am grateful to be free of those things one would like to free of. I love the mornings… knowing I don’t have to bound into an early schedule unless I want to. I decided early on that I didn’t have to plan the rest of my life, just think about the current day. Already it has been nearly 4 months. It has gone by fast. I am interested in reading your thoughts as you continue your transition. Interested in the process of it all.

    1. I like your thoughts about a different word, Kim, because I certainly don’t feel like I am ‘retiring’ from anything. Like you, I plan to use my skills, only in different ways. Let’s think about a more appropriate term, and I would love to keep tabs as we both transition.

      I understand about the job change, too, having experienced something similar in the last two years. To say that’s unsettling is an understatement!

      1. Kimberly Allen

        It certainly can be unsettling. I have thought that a year ago I would not at all anticipated this change. A teacher I had, Jean Houston talked about having a mythic life., the bigger picture of the purpose of your like. As things changed for me over the last year, slowly my job as I know it changed so that it was in a sense gone. It was as if something in the flow of life was making it easier to
        leave because I was leaving less and less of what I knew my job to be behind, , a startling realization. It was as if life had given me a way to leave what I couldn’t on my own, putting me back on my path of purpose. A nice way to reframe bad stuff. As to. a new word a friend reframed his retirement into a renewal and had a party in that name. That’s a good word but I am looking for a word that describes this experience of being able to discover, be and express in an extended and intentional way the ritualsand activities and new beginnings that make up a life thatused to be quickly accomplished around a work schedule. I just say for now that I am no longer working. People want to frame it some way and ask if I am retired. I just say I am not yet familiar with that word. I am onto something I can’t name yet. I feel the newness that a child feels venturing out into their back yard to play each day. What shall I do today.! And I am enjoying that unfolding and as you wonderfully put in the shape of things to come. I look forward to reading more of your pondering. I have always wanted to do some writing, and you have inspired me to do that. Thank you. I am glad your brother shared your column on Facebook and to be able to meet you on paper!

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