The concept of retirement was introduced to me when I first played Milton Bradley’s The Game of Life. I spun the wheel hoping for low numbers so I could enjoy a meandering, scenic drive. I stacked my plastic car with plastic pink and blue pegs. I made choices when faced with forks in the road, never quite making it to the plastic white mansion at the end of it. I was always too busy looking for the off-ramp, “the road not taken,” and the Collect Inheritance card. Speaking recently with newly retired RLRS middle school science teacher, Lucy Simonds, it was humbling to hear such gratitude in her voice. After 24 years of teaching in Rangeley, she was prepared and ready to exit this stage of her life and enter the next. However, it seems I wasn’t prepared to see her go.

We spoke in her classroom, her Magic Schoolbus, after her final dismissal of students. I wanted to know her thoughts. She was gracious as always, serene and contemplative. She has raised two children of her own, is a newly minted grandma, and has been a teacher to hundreds. High school students have a tendency to speak about their middle school teachers, and whenever it came to Mrs. Simonds there hung a sylvan, magical thread connecting them. She sparked students’ imaginations. She offered them a universe waiting to be contributed to rather than be a victim of, and Mrs. Simonds gave them literal and figurative telescopes and microscopes  to see where they fit in the overall scheme of things. She made sure the validity of unanswered questions could be solved with enough evidence and discipline to research. And, now, here she was, retiring at the peak of her game with her sanity intact and her joie de vivre as exultant as ever.

Many paths can be taken, inexorably wending their ways, to reach retirement. Some people actually plan for it, creating separate bank accounts where they sock away nickels and dimes in anticipation of one day leaving the workforce permanently. These same people grocery shop once a week and plan their meals in advance. How is this possible? I shop daily dictated by cravings and whims. My 401k is a large, green jug I plop coins into at the end of each day, and Coinstar is my accountant.

Some folks love their work and are genuinely sad to leave it. Some are persuaded with a golden parachute, sent gliding out to pasture, while others endure their jobs for decades until clocking out one last time, cartwheeling through the door with nary a backward glance. They no longer have to navigate the toxicity of office politics. They are free from “struggling for the legal tender.” They are ripe and ready to try and recapture the salad days of their youth. And then the roof of their mortgaged home begins to leak, the car’s engine seizes up, a lump appears on the MRI. In other words, life continues to happen, and, most likely, making plans couldn’t hurt. Just ask Noah about saving for a rainy day.

Rangeley’s population has a median age of 50.4, according to the 2010 census. A good number of retirees split their time between Rangeley and the warmer climes of the South. It seems it is possible for even the most diehard Mainer to become tired of the cold and snowy winters. We are lucky to have such a surfeit of elders available for dispensing their hardscrabble wisdom. They have lived history. They respect tradition and know that family is more important than what you deposit into the bank. In Rangeley, retirees work more than they did when employed, and the tangible and intangible wealth they bestow is incalculable.

It’s apropos that “tired” is part of retired. I suppose this means children are pre-tired. Society orients each of us into accepting our fated futures. Once out of the womb, we are programmed to accept our inherited lot in life: We are born, we work, we pay taxes (unless your wealth exceeds the GDP of Burundi), and then we die. Sounds bleak, maybe, but this is the foundation upon which lives are built and families grow. Quoting BTO, “we’re taking care of business.” We clock in at the start of our shift and clock out when we’re done. We’re paid hourly wages, earn tips, have salaries, receive bonuses, and we’re given holidays and weekends off as enticements to ensure we return to work again on Monday, ready to replace the money we blew over the weekend. And we scrimp and save making ends meet dreaming of one day retiring.

Which returns us to Mrs. Simonds who cherished her chosen profession. The din of the final student day had subsided to a few lingerers and Lucy was heading unnoticed out a side door. She was wearing her mini-backpack ready to walk downtown where she regularly parked her car. I said, “Dorothy,” her foot hovered over the threshold. She looked at me. “Walk out that door and your black-and-white world turns to color.” She laughed her Lucy laugh and leapt as though out an airplane’s door wearing a golden parachute woven from the fabric of a career’s worth of integrity and love. I watched her descend the path until her bobbing head disappeared, striding in the direction of her white mansion.

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