The Last Days

Retirement.. a stage of life that, not so long ago, seemed a thing of my far distant future is now something to contend with. I made my “retirement list.” I completed my online application for social security, spoke with our financial adviser, and made the necessary arrangements for my American Airlines and my McClatchy pension plans. I had trouble getting my head around the fact that I would receive money every month without the requirement of going to work every day. I sent an email to the Human Resources Department announcing my intent to retire: “This is my official notice of intent to retire. It has been my pleasure to be a part of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram family. I love Fort Worth history and consider it a privilege to have been part of Amon Carter Sr’s dream and to have contributed to something big. My last day of work will be Friday, June 9, 2017.” Our land line rang nonstop with calls from “retirement specialists” and our mailbox was stuffed with special retirement advice offers. One day, amid all the envelopes emblazoned with pictures of old people and promises to make me rich, I found an official envelope from Social Security. Inside that envelope I found a familiar looking card of plain heavy paper, not laminated, with a blue and red stripe at the top. It looked exactly like a card I remembered seeing in my grandmother’s wallet but there, in a stern, no-nonsense font, was MY name. It was my Medicare card. Really? It started to feel real.

The “plenty of time” I had to set things in order dwindled quickly. Each morning drive into the parking garage carried a sense of finality. As I worked each day, the office sounds around me were suddenly sharper. I heard the young women across the way talking about hair styles and weekend plans and wondered if they had any idea how soon they would be the “older lady” who is about to retire. I listened just behind me to Christine talking about her beautiful little boys and to Nancy talking about the latest funny grandchild antic, realizing that, soon, I would not hear the daily report. I talked with Sheri, my coworker and helper, about how things would be handled once I was gone and felt how much I would miss her stories about her family and her kind and helpful spirit. I thought constantly about all of the jobs, the friends for a day, the lasting relationships, all of the twists and turns that brought me to retirement. It was strange to think of myself as absent from the work day. When I typed “May 9, 2017,” for a billing report, I realized that I had just one more month. I decided to make a daily Facebook post documenting my career from my very first work day to my last. I thought my children might be something nice for my children to have.

Every day during the drive in, I announced to Cathy how many months, then weeks, and then how many days. Finally, there was one more day. On Thursday, June 8, I pulled out of parking spot number 444 for the last time. Jon would bring me to work the next day for my last duties, my retirement party… and my exit interview.

I was thrilled to learn that my retirement party would take place on the executive floor in the Amon Carter Conference Room. I had been in that room only one time before and loved the leather chairs and the walls adorned with historical Star-Telegram front pages and with pictures of old Fort Worth. Debi was there and my entire family was there including the twins who were the life of the party. The lunch, served to my family, my department, and good old Richard, was delicious Mexican food catered from Los Vaqueros in The Stockyards. Afterwards, cake and punch was served to everyone who came to wish me farewell. I took mental snapshots of things trying to burn into memory those last moments with those wonderful people. Carla Crow presented me with a framed Fort Worth Star-Telegram “front page” with the headline “Highly Classified” and featuring me AND a story from my Facebook posts! It was quite emotional. I was on the verge of tears when my friend Leslie said “How about one last yodel.” From time to time at big gatherings someone will say “Carla can yodel – yodel for us Carla.” I don’t like to say no, but at the same time I feel like the prize hog at the county fair standing there yodeling with no accompaniment or yodel song planned. However, I had anticipated this request and I was prepared. I had a short little song to go with my yodel:

When I wake up Monday morning
and remember I’m retired
I will sing with a Yodel-a-he-tee
I seldom got to work on time
But now I can’t get fired
Yay-a-Yay-a-Yay-a Yay for me
(Big loud yodel sequence, then)
Remember me for I’ll remember Yooooooo-hooooooo

The party was perfect and I am eternally grateful to my coworkers for putting it all together. There were many hugs, well wishes, and promises to keep in touch. Everyone signed my “front page.” One by one people drifted back to work and finally, it was just my family and my coworkers in the room. It was time to go downstairs and sign out.

The Human Resources department still held the furnishings from the old building. I sat down in front of a desk that looked exactly like Hazel Bowen’s desk that I sat in front of in 1973. It may have been Hazel’s desk but now, it belonged to Suzette who collected my ID and my parking card and had me sign all of the necessary papers regarding insurance, last earnings, etc. She finished quickly, gave me a hug and asked if it felt weird. I said that it did. I walked out of Human Resources and stopped to look at the framed portraits of each Fort Worth Star-Telegram publisher. Since 1905, there have been only eight. I had worked under most of them. I turned and walked down the hall.

As walked toward the door, the hall filled with memories. I saw myself walking in the Dairy Queen for the very first time, then running joyfully down 7th Street looking for my car after getting hired at the Star-Telegram. I remembered coffee breaks with Debi and Carla. I recalled business trips, meeting Jon, rushing to pick up the kids on time, praying as a single mom that I would not get laid off, rejoicing when I got a promotion. A thousand images and faces were with me in the hall. The door pushed heavy into the street, heavy with all of the years and all of the memories. I hesitated, reluctant to let go and leave it all behind. But Jon was waiting there in the car along with the pictures and possessions we had packed from my last desk. I stepped onto the sidewalk and, as the door shut behind me, realized that I could not leave it all behind. The people and choices of my journey to retirement, just as those of my personal life, are always with me. These things of life make us who we are. Every encounter, every word, every precious moment is part of today. Jon hugged me and opened the door to the car. I got in, looking forward to what I would do with the time ahead. As the car pulled away from the curb, I looked back at the building and said to myself, “It’s all good.”

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