Here's the latest Next Chapter newspaper column.
I don’t know about you, but for me, 2020-21 merges into a single chunk of time. And here we are in 2022 as COVID remains the lead story most days, regardless the media outlet we choose.
Recently I celebrated something peculiar: “That’s great,” I told Brian. “A viral throat infection!”
Only in the COVID era (yes, I think we're officially in an era) could anyone applaud a throat infection. Yet I did because it meant that it wasn’t COVID nor that other C word. He had been to the doctor, tested negative for the dreaded coronavirus and strep throat. No scripts were prescribed; just ibuprofen, rest, and fluids. We could do that.
As the illness lingered, and Brian worried about getting his voice back, I assured him that he would.
"But if you don’t,” I added, “in a show of solidarity, I will never speak again.”
Hmm, wondered how that would work out.
I told him that he needed to avoid talking for a while though, to heal. I encouraged him to communicate through other creative means such as sign language, pantomime, interpretive dance, or a voiceless skit. I’m still waiting to see that interpretive dance.
I’m now one week into my second year of retirement; no longer able to use the term, “new retiree.” Maybe I’m at the age where I’m not new at much of anything.
Still. I celebrate much about 2021. On that day Dec. 30, 2020 day when I walked out the back door for the last time at 201 S. 14th St., New Castle, my immediate goal consisted of making it to the car without tears. I cleared that objective, a reminder that when life is hard, we need to simply just get through the next thing; and the one after that.
When last January arrived, my time, emotions, and prayers went into seeing Brian through his health issues. There were dark days, and difficult moments; there were tears, and even sobs. There were weeks when I wondered what awaited us, and how or if he would get better.
But thank You God! He got better, and by the time we put up the 2021 Christmas tree, Brian asked, “What do you think about rearranging the living room and putting the tree up somewhere new?”
I looked at him as though he were an alien from not just Mars, but from another galaxy. Who was this man? And where did he get the kind of energy to ask me that question? I didn’t have it regarding a room redo—but it was almost worth it for no other reason than he apparently did.
The shero (that’s the female version of the word hero; you’re welcome) of the year came in the form of a nurse friend who provided one small tip that became an immediate game changer for Brian’s medical situation. An angel among us.
By late summer, Brian’s first post-surgical cat scan returned clean, and it felt as though we had won the lottery! Not just the lottery, and a ticket around the world, and a lake house, and whatever else you think might make your heart sing. But I can tell you that a singing heart isn’t about material things. It’s about good health. Suddenly, we could laugh, joke, and make plans again.
What’s amazing are the other blessings that piled high in 2021. I not only finished writing the book I spent the year working on, but am able to connect with some kindred spirit writers who formed a small monthly group. When we meet for four hours, it feels like four minutes.
One tip I got from one of the writers moved my book project forward in ways I couldn’t have imagined—through the suggestion of a book designer. I’m not just talking cover typography, but an interior designer. Yes, every book has a specific interior look, much as does a home.
There were other joys: the support in prayers and deeds of people who care about us; the gathering of Brian’s aunts and cousins in October; watching our gutted and rebuilt bathroom emerge from a five-month wait after ordering materials.
There’s the service group I joined at church; the projects our life group has worked on this year; the delight of meals shared with friends, and the feeling three times a week of water in a pool at my exercise location.
This newspaper, along with those in New Castle and Shelbyville, allowed me to reimagine a column similar to the one that I wrote in Henry County for three decades—only through this lens of being a little older. Well, a lot older. I started it at age 30 and here I am, somehow 63. (I can't even describe myself as in my early sixties now, can I?)
While I have no idea where the years went, I also affirm that there is life after one’s main career. Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise, I’ll have more to say this year. Thank you for reading. These days, my writing is done from a comfy recliner with a Boston terrier nestled beside me. Those too, are blessings.
Whatever unfolds for you in 2022, know that even in the hardest of times, blessings will show up.
Just ask the Good Lord to help you see them.
For many years at the newspaper, if I found myself in a computer pinch of any kind, I called for Dale.
From somewhere inside the building, it wasn’t long before he showed up at my desk. It was wonderful.
Dale never got rattled, and if he felt angry, I never saw it. Among his many other duties, he was That Guy who helped us all with whatever technical difficulty we had going.
Generally, it was something simple, resolved by the pressing of a computer key or two in combination with holding one’s facial expression precisely right.
Other times, it was more complex. If so, I’d offer Dale my chair and flee the scene while he performed his special kind of magic.
Even if things were complicated, it wouldn’t be long before my fingers were back on home row, the keys flying double-time toward deadline.
With Dale retired for several years now, the resident computer guru is Travis, who is also the managing editor. Like Dale, Travis doesn’t get uptight or mad when there’s a computer problem. He knows what to do.
How these people know what to do is beyond me. I just know how to write, and you may question that.
Through my decades in the news business, and probably those same decades in whatever business you are or were in, we experience periods of huge technology transitions.
In the 1990s, we got a new system company wide. Many of us were concerned, wondering if the new machines would be difficult to operate, and weren’t things going well the way they were? We were getting papers out on time, right? Why did things have to change?
Aw, yes, the universal question: Why do things have to change?
How often in life do we ask that about so much? Yet we know, down deep, that it’s how life works on most levels. And once we adjust to the new system, we’ll wonder how we got by with those older stone tablets… er, computers.
Word came during that particular upgrade that an employee at another paper had felt such anxiety about the transition to the new system, the person sought prayer at church. I don’t have a problem with seeking divine intervention for computer issues—in fact, I’m all for it—but mention it only because I feel that worker’s angst.
A couple of us voiced concern that we would have to spend part of Christmas day in the office that year, ushering in the new system. We were concerned the computers would cause us to miss family celebrations. For the record, the new computers did not ruin our holidays nor our lives.
I can’t count the number of computers or related programs we dealt with through my years on newspaper staffs. We made it through those sometimes-rocky periods, and we always, somehow, got the paper out on time.
While I worked as editor of a small paper in west-central Indiana before my New Castle years, one winter’s day, the staff traveled to a newspaper office in Illinois for training about a new computer system we were all getting. It was so confusing that I knew I’d never get the hang of it. The lesson notes I took amounted to gibberish. I felt doomed.
By the time I got home that night, I had chills, aches, and felt horrible. It wasn’t the computer training that brought me down that day. It was the flu! I wasn’t doomed after all regarding the training, and even managed to learn the new system once I recovered.
This week I’ve been thinking about those days, and about the helpful coworkers who were always able to figure out our computer issues and upgrades.
One downside of retirement is that it will be harder to keep up with changes in technology. I got a little taste of that this week when the only tech person to call was me and I was already there.
My website provider emailed that an automatic credit card payment for my monthly fee was rejected and if I didn’t get it resolved, it would be curtains. OK, they didn’t say curtains, but that was certainly my interpretation.
I imagined the problem was due to a hacked credit card that had to be voided and replaced earlier this year. I thought that had been straightened out. I went down that rabbit hole for a couple hours, talking to the credit card company and reading through too much information on my website host’s admin portal. Nope, it wasn’t the credit card. Nope, it wasn’t helpful to read the portal’s information.
After some significant fretting, worrying that my website and email were in danger, and moments which may or may not have included tears, there were a couple more hours of gloom.
After more dead ends and an inability to speak to a living person in tech world, I stumbled upon the problem. It had to do with a fundamental change in the host site’s operations. I can’t quite put into words how I found the problem and corrected it but at some point – even without Dale, Travis, or a trainer in Illinois – I got a message that my payment had been accepted.
Apparently I solved the computer problem. Record the date for the history books.
It may be too soon to celebrate, but the answer is, when these things happen in retirement, we have to hunker down and work the problem.
If I had to give you (and myself) advice about dealing with our personal computer issues, I would tell us to keep a notebook with all our current passcodes and log-in information, billing details, amounts due and when each month, and other pertinent facts relating to our computers and their specific programs.
Also, know where your owners’ manuals are kept and how to get to them quickly (OK smarty pants, know how to get to the online owners’ manuals). Get recommendations on a reputable tech-repair outlet or people who can become your very own version of Dale or Travis. Look for the helpers, I believe Mr. Rogers once said.
Above all else, locate your own kids or preschool grandchildren who might give you a hand. Add a cute dog if you wish. He may not be good with computers but he might lower your blood pressure as you work the problem.
The above Next Chapter column by Donna Cronk recently appeared in the New Castle, Shelbyville, and Connersville newspapers where Cronk pens twice-monthly columns with her thoughts on life as a retiree.
For the last two decades we kept two inexpensive, plastic Adirondack-styled chairs on our front porch, centered under the picture window. The chairs are the color of our house trim and garage doors, which is good, but their seats are too low for old knees, making them more for show than for sitting.
In the winter, the wind blows them around the porch or they tumble into the landscaping. Short on garage space, I tend to stack them unattractively in a porch corner to weight them down until the spring winds subside and they resume their warmer-weather placement.
Last spring I decided this is ridiculous! We are in our sixties! If we’re not worthy of proper porch furnishings now, then when? What we need, I decreed, is a pair of functional chairs. Black ones, to match our outdoor sconces. Sturdy ones, that we can leave out come hail or high water. Rocking ones, that will remain in an upright stance.
I had my eye on just the pair, but first needed to run it by the house appropriations committee. The committee co-chair said get them. No quiz, no commentary, no asking the price even. My kind of yes.
Upon close inspection, the chairs are even better than I had imagined. They are made here in Indiana of a composite all-weather material, and they each come with a 20-year guarantee.
“They’ll last longer than I will,” Brian deadpanned, noting that he would be all of 87 when the warranty expires. I save that warranty in its own folder alongside other important papers in their respective files.
How surprised the store clerk will be if a chair breaks at age 19 and I show up for a refund. I can’t say they were inexpensive, but for once, that wasn’t the priority.
Once they were lifted off son Sam’s truck and onto the porch, they looked as perfect as I had anticipated. I dreamt of the years ahead, sitting in one of the chairs with Brian in the other as we rocked and watched the neighbors and their dogs stroll up and down our street against a backdrop of colorful sunsets.
I’ve always loved a good rocking chair, and these seats fit my backside with space to spare. The armrests are likewise substantial, able to balance a glass of iced tea with ease as I rock. And our knees have no issues.
Brian was in no hurry to try out the chairs, but I kept prodding him until he joined me for a trial rock. I awaited his compliments regarding my shopping skills. He didn’t offer those, nor any comment right away. Later he told me that they didn’t fit him all that well. I felt disappointed.
As spring gave way to summer, I rocked out on the porch every time I got the chance.
Meanwhile, I added cushions to soften the seats. A friend from Fairmount emailed, “I’d like to come sit on your porch and rock a while.”
I loved that comment. I would drive a distance to rock and talk, myself; especially now that I'm retired. There’s no question about that, but to know that someone else would do the same delighted me.
As the summer continued, Brian began to get his strength back from his winter ordeal, and I felt delighted when he felt able to walk first a half mile, then longer around our neighborhood in the cool of a summer’s eve at the start of golden dusk.
Then, it happened. One day I sat on the porch rocking while Brian walked. When he finished, he sat down in the chair beside me and we talked for a while. Then it happened again. And again.
Before long, as July gave way to August, he would say, “I’m going to go walk.” It seemed my cue to turn off the TV or close the computer and go sit on the porch, warming up my rocker, enjoying the peace of that time a day, anticipating his return.
I might even sweep the porch or water my plants, pull a weed or two, grateful beyond measure to watch for his familiar outline a way down the street, before I assumed my rocking spot on the porch. Night after summer’s night, he sat down in the companion chair.
For about 15 minutes, Brian and I chat about plans, news of the day, the kids, whatever we had to say in the moment. It has been my favorite time of day in recent months.
One evening Brian walked and I didn’t make it out to the porch. When he returned to the house he said, “You didn’t come out and wait for me.”
Touched that he apparently likes these appointments too, I’ve been sure to keep them ever since.
I came to notice that like clockwork, moments before dark, a gaggle of geese from a nearby pond takes flight in perfect formation over our house, heading west. I would love to know where they go, and if this is their bedtime ritual. Maybe they were wondering why we sit on the porch, a formation of two humans never leaving the ground.
When you endure a loved one's illness, you treasure simple moments in a whole new way. I’m grateful for daily life to the point where each and every day feels like a gift to unwrap. I can’t possibly get everything in that I would like to pack into a given 24 hours. So much remains to be done in this life! How is it that time seems to race?
Brian hasn’t mentioned again the chairs being uncomfortable. Maybe it’s the cushions. I like to think it's the company.
Now that it’s fall, the evenings grow increasingly cool and crisp. Comfortable rocking sessions on the porch at dusk will become fewer as this month progresses, and let's face it, pretty much disappear with November frosts. Soon I’ll remove the cushions and the rocking chairs will be more decoration than function for a few months. It will be time to come off my rocker until those warm days return.
But first, I’ll throw on a sweatshirt and wait for Brian’s return from his walk, counting my blessings.
Donna Cronk is the retired New Castle Courier-Times Neighbors Editor. Her columns appear the first and third Tuesdays each month in the Connersville News-Examiner and on the second and third Saturdays in The New Castle and Shelbyville papers. Connect with her via email at email@example.com.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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: email@example.com.