Retirement is for old people, and yet here I am | #retirement | #elderly | #seniors
To sit, as I do right now, and allow the rattling about between my ears of stories, reflections, questions and phrases to control the tap-tap-tapping of my fingertips on a keyboard isn’t much like real work — say, buffalo milking, or teaching a classroom or successive classrooms full of kids, harvesting grapes or doing all that nurses do.
But writing some of these columns is tougher than others.
This one has me a bit emotional. It’s about getting set to retire, something I’ve never done before, and that I’m wrapping my grayed head around.
It’s been the better part of a lifetime since I began what I regarded, and still do, as my dream line of work in a dream place. Serendipity led to me writing my first entirely forgettable article for The Press Democrat just about 43½ years ago.
Let me check that math. April of 2021 minus September of 1977, when a bit more than a year out of college I became a PD news correspondent on the Mendocino Coast, equals … 43½ years is close enough.
At 23, I stepped into the newsroom on the second floor at 427 Mendocino Ave. and one-by-one met the likes of Art Volkerts, Gaye LeBaron, Bob Fink, Pete Golis, Carolyn Lund, Bob Wells, Susan Swartz, Bob Klose, Bony Saludes, Celia Talbot, Tim Baker, Paul Ingalls, Jim Reid, John Adams, Jeff Lee and Joe Price.
I was the kid of the newsroom. Today, glory be, I’m the longest tenured old guy.
Early in May, if all goes well, I’ll turn 67. That sounds and feels like a pretty good age for stepping aside and making room for someone younger.
I HOPE IT’S OBVIOUS how much I love writing stories about this place and the people who call it home. I do believe we can be bonded more tightly as a community by stories like the one elsewhere in this paper on the history lovers eager to discover all they can about the people buried at the Santa Rosa Rural Cemetery.
If you ever shared a story with me, thank you. If you tried to share a story but I failed to run with it or somehow messed it up, I’m sorry. As I prepare to step down as the news-side columnist at the end of this week, I’m filled to brimming with gratitude for the stories I was told and I shared, and I grimace at least internally at the thought of all those I missed or I wrote about but missed the mark.
IT WAS A TEACHER who led me here.
I was an eighth grader at Chemawa Junior High in Riverside when a young, compact fireball from Texas named Jeano Lotz started there as an English teacher.
At some point my friend Dennis Workman told me Miss Lotz was beginning a journalism class. I asked him, what is journalism?
Dennis and I took in a big way to the school paper advised by Miss Lotz. I found I liked experiencing something and then trying to convey it accurately and perhaps even interestingly in written words.
As I was leaving junior high, Miss Lotz took me aside and urged that I consider journalism as a career. As much as I liked that type of writing, I hadn’t considered that I might do it professionally.
In that instant, I had a career goal.
Jeano is still in Riverside, retired, and she and I still are friends. To her and all like her, I say: Blessed are the teachers.
JUST AS I succeeded Gaye, someone will take up from me as the PD’s full-time news columnist. I hope you’ll embrace that person and reach out with your stories, ideas and questions. Writing a column like this takes a village.
Though my last day as a PD employee is Friday, I do expect to continue writing for the paper in some capacity. We’ll figure out soon what that might look like.
You are reading this, so you don’t need a Sunday morning sermon about the crucial importance of sustaining one’s community newspaper. Amen.
People about to retire get asked what they’re going to do once they’re off the clock. I’m open to surprises as I plan some travel, get more serious about neglected home projects, ponder volunteer opportunities, make sure I know how to secure the new bike to the car rack and contemplate additional parts of Sonoma County to explore with the dog.
Thank you. What a story this has been.
You can reach Staff Writer Chris Smith at 707-521-5211 and firstname.lastname@example.org.