Monday, September 30, 2013

Burk's Story: My Father-in-Law Blogs About Retirement

My father-in-law, Burk Ketcham, has responded to my blog in an e-mail that he's given me permission to post here. So enjoy.  As I did in Meg Anderson's case, I'm italicizing his post so you know it's from a contributor other than myself. Thanks, Burk!
On the 31st [of August] I had some free time (bags packed) before going to the airport and read your latest blog. I started a response to your question but somehow it was erased.  So here I am flying to JFK on Sept. 1st writing in the white spaces of The New York Times Magazine.  Hopefully, I will be able to transcribe it when I get to a computer.

I have had a couple of transitions since 1989. The first was Helen's death in 1989 when I was no longer a husband, just a widower.  I am not going to write about that as I don't think it relates to your situation.  The second transition started in 1996, the year I first met you after an Oriana [Consort] concert in Cambridge. As opposed to 1989, this transition was of my own doing.

I was fortunate in having a profession as a town and city planning consultant that was challenging, interesting and directed at making our communities better places to live, work, study, play and worship.  The hours were long and there were countless meetings with various town and city boards, agencies and authorities and citizens groups.  The communities were very diverse ranging from East St. Louis, IL where 95 percent of the population was black and most were on welfare to Marion, MA where 99 percent of the residents where white and quite affluent. During the last years of my career I had my own firm and in 1996 at the age of 71 it was becoming obvious that my age was a factor in my not being selected for consulting assignments.  So I decided to call it quits.

Early in 1996 I had taken four months off for a solo auto trip across the the US to the Pacific and back through Canada using my tent and sometimes my car for sleeping.  On the way home in British Columbia I met Peggy O' Connor, a divorced woman and former Assistant Superintendent of Schools, whose year round home was near Seattle.  One thing led to another and at her suggestion -- "Why don't you move out with kindred spirits who enjoy the outdoor life?"-- I sold the house in Cohasset and moved west in January 1997.  Seattle was a city I had spent some time in during my days in the US Navy.  After college I had considered moving there from New Jersey but then I met Helen and the rest is history. I have often wondered if I would have made such a move had Peggy lived in St. Louis. Suffice it to say that it did not work out as I had hoped with Peggy, but I have never regretted the move.

When I settled down in Tacoma Peggy was the only person I knew. But now sixteen years later most of my friends are from this area. Upon my arrival I wanted an involvement in something that would take advantage of the skills developed during my working life and my years as a husband and father. One day before the move when Peggy had come back to visit me in Cohasset she suggested that I might be of the right temperament to pursue the chaplain training program (CPE) she had finished following her retirement from the school job. She did this knowing that I had had no religious affiliation for over 40 years.  But prior serious discussions about spiritual matters with Peggy at her tiny cabin in New Denver, British Columbia led to my having a spiritual awakening of sorts.  So when I arrived in Tacoma I applied for the CPE training program at the Franciscan's St. Joseph Hospital.  To my great surprise I was accepted into the program.  There followed a year-long training involving 20 hours a week in classroom and seminar training and 20 hours a week of meeting with patients. My classmates included, inter alia, a Chinese/Jamaican Catholic priest, a defrocked female Lutheran minister, a woman who had failed in an effort to become a Catholic nun, a Black Methodist minister from a country in East Africa, an Orthodox Russian priest, and a fundamental Christian minister.  Not my usual traveling companions!

After completing the CPE training I met with one of the vice presidents of St. Joe's who was in charge of community outreach to promote public health in the Tacoma region.  I think she was more impressed with my community planning career than my recent chaplain training.  So I was offered a position as a Healthier Communities Planner.  At first I was to be paid but that never materialized so I ended up working two days a week as a volunteer.  This proved to be interesting work leading to my organizing the Pierce County Physical Activity Coalition, becoming the chairperson of the Healthy Start Committee for the nearby 100,000 population City of Lakewood and a member of the board of the Washington Coalition for the Promotion of Physical Activity.  Concurrently, I was one of the founders of United for Peace in Pierce County and participated in vigils opposing the Iraq war. I also was active in Howard Dean's campaign to become a candidate for President.  All of these activities were challenging and served a public need. They gave me a feeling of accomplishment.  These and other pursuits such as taking some art courses for the first time led to a wide circle of friends.

I do not want to beat this to death other than to say that I followed my bliss and that has led to a fulfilling time in retirement.  I also had the good fortune to know a neighbor in Cohasset who taught me to row.  I continued that when I moved west.  Being part of the Green Lake Crew in Seattle led to additional friendships and sharing a sport that was good for my mental and physical health. In  a few hours when we get to JFK I will transfer to plane to Milan, Italy .  Later this week I will compete in five races in Varese, Italy at the world's masters rowing races.  At 88 I expect to be the second oldest of about 5,000 female and male rowers from around the world. ( I was.)

I may be coming to the end of my rowing days but that should release some energy for developing my skills as an artist. Last year I sent 170 individually painted seasonal greeting cards to friends and relatives around the world.

I think I have gone on long enough to suggest that the last transition has been a success in my eyes.  I am satisfied that I have not let too much grass grow under my feet, have served humanity and had a good time in the process.  What I would caution is not to intellectualize the transition too much.  You are a doer with many friends and a supportive husband.  My transition was not planned and I was willing to take risks such as a major move at age 72. It could have been a failure but it was worth the risk.

I am not sure if any of the above is helpful but stories often get the idea across better than theory.  One final thought.  I sense that you like to write and you certainly write well.  Ever tried fiction?  Give it a try.

1 comment:

  1. See, Joan, Burk agrees with me! Never look back, something may be gaining on you.

    Except, you know, that whole rowing thing -- aren't they ALWAYS looking back?

    So Burk may be slipping in a few mixed messages. Keep an eye on him.

    Plus, it is not clear that he has read Howard's End. If he ever gets a spare minute, he might give that a try.