Getting out of town was the transition I needed into retirement, again. I’d been out for five years, accepted a job again for almost two – and now I’m “really” retiring, at least from earning a living. There are many things I want to devote time to. But it’s always been hard for me to separate from my last job because of the effort I devote to it. It’s always consumed me, occupying most of my thoughts and energy. I’ve never been one who could do a 9-6 and consider work finished; it’s always come home with me. Leaving the area was the physical and emotional separation I knew had to be done.
So we dug our motor home out of hibernation, Mr. Bus “he’s” called, and got him ready for a relatively short jaunt to Tybee Island, off the coast of Savannah, the charming historic southern town about 7-1/2 hours from home.
Tybee has the wildness I love – vegetation is rampant and most of the island is uninhabited by people, but lush with marshland and meandering rivers throughout. And, of course, the Atlantic Ocean kisses the shores. Here zoning prohibits high-rise anything – hotels, apartment buildings, condo developments, retail establishments. Three stories high are all that’s allowed and it’s that low-density commercialism that makes the island so attractive. Homes are eclectic ranging from small ramshackle dwellings to modern and expensive abodes overlooking the ocean or the marshes and lived in by residents of equal diversity.
On morning walks with my vivacious Bella dog we discover secret “private” gardens that we explore (sshhh) and meet colorful people who live in happy, bright houses eager to swap backgrounds. As one older hippy tells me, many Tybee residents are retired professors and artists – or as he puts it
“misfits who move to the island of misfits.” My kind of place!
We wander past Nancy’s house, a modest cottage in need of some TLC with impressive gardens. Tall plants of every kind populate containers peppered throughout her side yard of maybe half an acre. In the back are two greenhouses where she’s busy potting new plants. She’s been working on her yard for years, she tells me, as she names each plant she points out. Some are dripping with flowers while others tower overhead with large leaves – all plants shaded by enormous live oaks throughout. As we tour the garden she apologizes for sweating, explaining that her “prissy” sister-in-law would be mortified by the way she looks. She loves kissing Bella and announces that her 19-year-old cat had just died, and, though the island is crawling with cats, she went to the shelter to find a new one to adopt. She invites us back later for an iced tea.
Later, we wave to an older woman sitting in her moo moo sipping a beverage on the front porch of her charming purple house perched in the middle of an island of grass separating two roads. I explain to her that her house is our landmark for getting on the correct path to the campground. She’s used to that since many people driving by know her, evidently, well known home.
It is on our regular jaunt on a path through the park where we meet Jim, a man of 86 who lives in the nursing home around the corner. He was tooling through the park on his motorized scooter as he does everyday. One leg is amputated at the knee, the other leg is swollen and bruised, a byproduct of circulation problems he tells me. The twinkle in his eye tells of his joy for living – even in a nursing home. I’m curious about that life. I tell him that my father also lives in a nursing home – a beautiful, well appointed one that he hates. He says that enjoying life was a conscious decision he made a few years ago after caring for his infirmed wife for a long time. When she died and his health declined he knew he needed to move somewhere that could take care of him. So he chose this facility on Tybee which is not as nice as my father’s yet he says it’s fine.
He moved in “with a chip on his northern shoulder” until he had an epiphany lying in bed one morning. He decided he didn’t want to be angry anymore, dissatisfied anymore, instead he wanted to enjoy the rest of his life.
So he decided to. And that’s when his life changed. He’s the president of his “block” and on the residents’ advocacy committee and friendly with his aides and nurses. He loves them and they love him. He talks to other disgruntled residents about how easy it is to change one’s attitude and then life can become joyful again. It requires accepting this stage of life and choosing to make the most of it. And voila, life changes. He says many residents ignore him. I wish Jim could talk to my father; maybe my father would ignore him too. I guess sometimes people don’t know how to change their attitudes.
Tomorrow morning we head for home after a week here on Tybee. We’ve looked at houses here, for fun, to see if there’s something we would fall in love with. I have. So far, my husband hasn’t. He tells me it’s just a fantasy for me, that I’d be bored here after a while. Maybe he’s right. Maybe he’s not. I know I’d love to be friends with the eclectic people I’ve met.
On to more retirement living ….