Brian and I were married in 1978, then started housekeeping in a furnished mobile home. Once my husband earned his school-administration credential, then landed his first related position, we moved to a new community and rented a farmhouse.
There, we gathered all the free furnishings we could: a well-used sofa from his folks; a table and chairs from his brother; my childhood four-poster bed sporting Grandma’s much-used mattress (the most comfortable one I ever slept on; wish we still had it) and a small, antique rocking chair from Mom. We didn’t have a lot but we had everything we needed. We were happy as ducks on a country pond.
The move meant I could commute to college full time. We paid cash tuition, leaving us with no college debt, but also with no funds for new furniture nor for much else besides food, rent, and utility bills. We didn’t mind one bit. We had a keen sense of building our future.
Once I finished college, we started feathering our nest with our own choices over what others handed down: a new sofa and matching chair; a new bedroom set the year after that; then in 1985, a new dining room table with two leaves and six chairs. It was pricey and in style.
Never mind that we had no dining room. I barely noticed nor cared about that minor detail. We had space in our rented farmhouse’s family room with its paneled walls and red-brick fireplace. Country-decorating magazines called these spaces “gathering rooms.” At least that’s what I called ours whenever I remembered the term.
When I looked at that dining room set, I saw the rest of our lives spread before us. As we sat down to the table when company came, I imagined all the meals and people who would gather there in the decades ahead. We sat there with baby Sam on his first birthday with his cake and Brian’s parents seated around the table.
Fast forward to that same table holding his high school graduation refreshments, and later, assembling there for holiday dinners and more birthdays with our now-adult sons. Last month, my church life group sat around two-leaves’ worth of table. Three days later, four writers spread out their paperwork and chatted there with one leaf in place.
The other day I thought about how our dining room table is dated now, not a style you see in furniture stores. It wouldn’t bring much at a garage sale. But it holds our history, and still serves us well.
Another realization occurred: that table played a large role in directing where we would live, what school our boys would attend, the friends and babysitter we would know. How is that even possible?
When we moved to this area of the state for Brian’s job, we looked at houses. We rejected the one we liked best for a single reason: no place to put our dining room table. Had we moved there, our sons would have gone to a different elementary school than they did, played with kids in another neighborhood, and been influenced by a different roster of people in classrooms and in community roles; all due, when you think about it, to a dining room table.
The table is a reminder that throughout life, we never know what ordinary, even trivial decisions we make, people we meet, or places we go, that change our lives in ways we can’t foresee or imagine. Several seemingly random circumstances resulted in me interviewing at The Courier-Times nearly 32 years ago to the day. I feel it was meant to be.
I think there’s a tendency to think that by the time we’ve reached the workaday finish line at retirement, our lives are set in stone. I found that concept a challenge to overcome as I approached retirement. I vowed, however, that no matter what happened, I would find new material, new experiences, and new purpose in these years.
My retirement began in a peculiar way: caring for an ill husband. No matter how badly he felt last winter, he insisted that I find ways to be around people, and enjoy life beyond our circumstances—even if it meant a trip no farther than to our study for a Zoom session or to lunch dates with friends at Café Royal.
Now, more than eight months into this new era, I’m finding that life is not set in stone! It continues to evolve. New things are happening; new goals emerging. This year alone I co-founded a small writers’ support group called Writer Chicks; became a new member of a church service group; joined a gym, and am working on a big project you’ll hear more about later.
No matter our age or situation in life, we need new connections, new material. No telling where the decisions we make now can lead into the future as we continue to explore this uncharted path called our lives – our next chapters.
On my agenda today? Picking up some flowers at roadside farm stand with an honor box. I’ll put the flowers in a Ball jar at the center of that aging dining room table. They’ll look great there, at least to my eyes.
Some things are worth keeping. Others are worth changing or starting or joining. God gave us such freedom to make interesting decisions throughout life.
This Next Chapter column recently appeared in the New Castle Courier-Times, Shelbyville News and Connersville News-Examiner. Continue the conversation via email at email@example.com.
Lawns, we’ve had a few.
As a kid growing up in the country, it was my paid job to mow the lawn. True, that pay amounted to a buck a week, and even that was seasonal, but hey, a dollar went further back then, right? And the lawn looked pretty afterward as I gulped a big glass of Lipton Instant Iced Tea, admiring my handiwork.
When Brian and I tied the knot, he became our primary lawn crew. I didn’t mind, and didn’t even need to pay him a dollar. That continued at the houses we rented, but once we bought our home, we shared mowing duties.
After our second son arrived, I worked part time, and Brian’s career typically required 60-hour weeks. A Friday “day off” might mean I would mow, clean house, make a grocery run, and prepare supper before before heading to someone’s Little League game. Full day but no big deal. Life.
I would have been in my 30s and 40s then. It feels so long ago when I think of it in lawn years and energy levels.
Before he retired, Brian assumed all the mowing-and-trimming work. It became a point of pride for him not to need a rider to get the job done. He didn’t even use a self-propelled model. In his 50s and through his middle 60s, Brian considered it exercise.
Before I ever gave spring grass cutting a thought during Brian’s chemo winter, the topic had appeared on his radar. He knew his energy level wouldn’t allow push mowing this summer.
We discussed hiring it done—words my fella finds more difficult to swallow than I do.
“They’d probably charge 50 bucks a week,” I said. “At that cost, we could have a chunk of a rider paid for in one season.”
In March, the John Deere rolled off the delivery truck. Son Ben was there for the occasion as the three of us gathered in the garage, all smiles, watching the green machine ride down the lift and roll into our lives.
Soon, when the grass did what grass does, Ben showed up again to launch mowing season. Brian and I sat on lawn chairs on the back porch, clad in winter attire, watching Ben lap the lawn and cheer him on each round, as though he were a rookie in the Indy 500.
I figured one or the other son would appear weekly and get the job done. But before that could happen, one day I looked up and what do you know? There was Brian, buzzing around the lawn on the new ride! He hadn’t nearly regained his strength, but there he sat, riding tall in the yellow saddle. I posted the special moment as my Facebook profile photo. A glimpse of normal felt amazing.
I kept telling Brian that he should teach me how to use the rider, and explain the meaning of each knob and pedal. Being the fully capable woman that I am, I would take over the task—that was my pitch, anyway. Besides, I knew I’d enjoy it.
For years I’ve heard friend Sandy Moore speak of how some of her best thinking, planning, and praying are done while lapping her large, farm lawn on the mower.
The good thing about being married almost 43 years is that Brian and I have lived a lot of life together. We know each other’s stories. But knowing each other’s stories has a down side.
I knew why my husband was hesitant to turn me loose with a riding lawn machine. He was fine with me driving a load of baseball kids to Arkansas, Michigan, or Ohio for tournaments back in the day, but mowing our lawn was a different animal.
He couldn’t quit thinking about an incident of 40 years ago.
I almost put my dad’s new three-wheeler into the farm pond. With me on it. And I mean, it was close.
Dad hadn’t given me enough instruction before letting me take his new toy for a spin. That, or I got foot-tied when I went roaring confidently through the barn lot, and forgot how to stop.
A mere few feet away from pulling an Eva Kineviel and taking it airborne before splashing down, I found the brake.
Guess you can’t unsee something like that.
One day Brian mowed in the backyard while I worked on the porch, minding my own business. He motioned me over.
“Wanna mowing lesson?” he asked.
“Are you serious?”
It was the senior version of, “Hey, baby, goin' my way?”
He walked me through it, even though I mentioned that there is a pond on the other side of our back fence. Just a moment of full disclosure.
Guess he figured it would take a lot of horsepower combined with very little horse sense for me to crash through the fence to get there.
Pleased that I didn’t destroy any property or christen the mower that first slow-motion outing, Brian believed I was ready for prime time. He had a plan.
“With you on the rider and me trimming, we can knock that yard out in 20 minutes,” he said, fairly beaming.
He’s said it more than once, as though we’re on a stopwatch, and that some kind of productivity boss is standing by with a clipboard and hardhat. I didn’t ask the question on my mind: Why does it matter how long it takes? We’re retired!
Sometimes it’s best not to say a word, other than to offer support.
“Yeah, I bet we can!” I responded.
The truth is, I think we make a pretty good team.
Donna Cronk’s Next Chapter column appears in the New Castle Courier-Times and Shelbyville News the second and fourth Saturdays each month. It runs in the Connersville News-Examiner the first and third Tuesdays of the month. Connect with her to continue the conversation via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.