Age has its preoccupations. Some of them are physical. A number of them are financial.
Several Washington area retirees talked to The Washington Post about their sources of income, their concerns about inflation and other aspects of how they fare in today's economy.
Smith Blair, who retired from his job as director of congressional relations for the General Accounting Office in 1977, is one end of the spectrum. Blair is one of a handful of retired federal employes -- one half of one percent he is quick to point out -- who earn an annuity of $2,500 to $3,000 a month.
With that income, the salary he earns from a new job he has taken lobbying for the National Association of Retired Federal Employees and some investment income, Blair is comfortable, traveling to Portugal and Martinique in his time off. Blair's main job is lobbying against the merger of the civil service retirement system and Social Security.
"I feel very fortunate, but you've got to think of the people who are not getting these fat-cat annuities," he said.
Blair retired at a relatively young 63, after nearly 35 years of working for the government. He wasn't looking for a job when the NARFE lobbying job came his way. A combination of things prompted him to take it, Blair said, including guilty feelings that he should still be working at his age, said Blair, who is now 66.
He bought his house in Alexandria in 1964 for $37,500 -- about a third of what it might sell for now. His mortgage payments are $277, less than some pay to live in an apartment.
He also has investments. Blair puts about $200 a month into four-year certificates of deposit, now paying 10.5 percent interest. He also puts money into stocks and bonds out of an attraction for that kind of investing inherited from his father, he said.
While Blair is comfortable for now, he worries about inflation and whether it will erode his income eventually.
"The only thing that scares me a little is thinking ahead. There may come a time when, by God, I'll have to work," instead of doing it for pleasure and out of conviction, he said.
At the other end of the spectrum is Clara Jackson, 82, who has been retired and living on Social Security since 1963. She has managed to make the most of her limited income with a combination of resourcefullness, pride and humor. "It's not enough," she said of her Social Security benefits. "But I stretch it and make it go because I don't want any more help from the government."
Jackson spent most of her working years "cleaning, operating elevators, serving dinner parties, whatever I could find." Now she lives alone in an efficiency apartment in St. Mary's Court near George Washington University, where she moved last spring.She calls it a "first class place" compared with her old "ghetto" residence on Columbia Avenue. Her rent is subsidized by the government. It costs her $48 a month.
When she needs clothes, Jackson usually goes to a rummage sale to find an old dress or coat. "If I need a pair of shoes, I have to save up for two or three months," she said.
Jackson also cuts back in other ways. She never eats out -- not even at McDonald's. "I like to know what I'm eating," she said. Nor does she spend money for entertainment. "I haven't been to a show since 1941," she said.
At the end of the month Jackson said she may have "a dollar or two left over, sometimes none." But she doesn't complain. "I just go along with the tide. When I can't go no further, I sit and wait for the next check," she said.
Jackson's age and her health prevent her from seeking any kind of part-time work. She is a mild diabetic and must maintain a very strict diet. "I have every complication that an old person can have," she said. "If I have one more I'm dead."
Despite all the hardships of living on a severely restricted income Jackson says she feels no bitterness. "I do the best I can," she said. "A lot of things I need I just don't get. I just make myself satisfied."
Robert Kreisinger, who retired in 1965, can thank the falling U.S. dollar for the relative health of his retirement income, which has more than doubled since then.
Kreisinger's pension is pegged to the Soviet ruble, which has gotten stronger relative to the dollar over the years. Kreisinger worked for the Soviet embassy for 25 years, heading the subscription department for the magazine Soviet Life. Kreisinger is a former merchant marine radio operator who first went to work for the embassy operating a radio station for the Soviet diplomats.
Kreisinger lives in his own home in Bethesa. Earlier this week he made his final mortgage payment. In addition to owning the house free and clear, Kreisinger said he benefits from a reduced property tax rate because he is on a pensioner's income.
Kreisinger said he frequently gets questions about whether his work involved him in cloak-and-dagger sort of activities, but it didn't -- it was just like any other job, he said.
"I might as well have been working for the Salvation Army," Kreisinger said.
The major difference is how relatively well off the job has left him in retirement.
"I'm benefitting from the fall of the dollar," said Kreisinger, 79. "I get paid every quarter (of the year) and every quarter it's up," he said. "It's incredible, but it's frightening too."
A retired administrative employe of Howard University, who asked that his name not be used, said that even with several sources of income, making ends meet is "getting harder and harder and harder."
He retired from Howard in 1973 at age 65 after 27 years with the university. In addition to collecting Social Security, he also takes advantage of several retirement plans offered by Howard. However, he regrets ever having gotton involved in a plan that invests its funds in the stock market.
"The idea was that in inflationary times the fund would reflect inflation by giving higher returns," he said. "But it acted in just the opposite way . . . Now I'm stuck with it." Another, more successful plan pays the retired Howard official twice as much.
Even though his wife draws Social Security and they have some money stashed away, the coupe feels restricted in the things they want and need to do. They don't travel as much as they would like. They are driving an 8-year old car "that should have been traded in years ago.
"We thought we had fortified ourselves in such a way that we wouldn't have any financial hardships," he said. And even though their house is paid for, property taxes take a sizeable bite out of their funds.
"Government people really should take into account the diminished income of elderly people," he said. "They should not be loaded up with heavy taxes. People that want to stay in their own homes should be able to."
One way that he prepared for retirement was by taking real estate courses. While at Howard, he had seen too many professors and administrators who knew nothing except teaching and administration, who faced an uncertain future upon retirement. "I was determined not to do that," he said.
Now he as a license and works part time for agencies in the District and in Maryland. He said he has not been very active in real estate in recent months because he has qualms about "convincing someone to pay $100,000 for a $20,000 or $30,000 house. My heart's not in it."
"According to some standards, I would be below the poverty level," said Lillian Morrison, 72, a retired secretary and an active member of the Gray Panthers, the advocacy group for senior citizens. In addition to Social Security, Morrison receives a small pension from the Verteran's Administration for her service in the Women's Army Corps during World War II.
What would normally be a meager income goes farther because Morrison lives in subsidized housing. She pays $68 a month for an apartment that would cost her $300 without the government assistance.
"Up till now I've been able to get by," she said. But with the rising cost of heating oil, she'll soon be paying more.
She also pays about $400 a year in premiums on her health insurance. "I have indulged myself somewhat in clothing, but otherwise my expenses are low," she said. Morrison says she has no problems adjusting to her limited budget. "It comes natural to me. I never was a big spender," she said. She walks whenever possible, even though she suffers from arthritis, and she would rather check a book out from the library than buy one.
Because her VA pension is conditional, she cannot go back to work and still receive those benefits. And because her rent subsidy depends on her maintaining a certain minimum income, she would run the risk of losing that if she returned to work.
Morrison has taken advantage of all the benefits available to her. "I've had as rich a life since I retired," she said. "It's vital for older people to know what their entitled to and to apply for it." Morrison said it is sometimes a matter of "false pride" that prevents the elderly from getting what is rightfully theirs."Some think that Social Security is charity and not something you have earned," she said.
A retired Army major, who asked that his name not be used, was fortunate to go straight from the 20 years in the military into the civilian work world without missing a step. Unfortunately, because of the nature of his work, he lost half of his military pension, from $12,000 to $6,000 a year.
He is involved in government contracting, something that his years in the quartermaster corps prepared him for. "But since I was a regular Army officer I lose a little less than half," he said. Things could be worse for him, however. "Thank goodness I wasn't in the artillery -- I'd be out selling insurance," he said. "I learned a trade. It's completely transferable."
After the Army he got the job to putthree children through college. Now he finds he likes the work and because he is young enough, 56, plans to continue as long as possible.
"Obviously there's less money for everyone," he said. "But due to my circumstances, I don't feel it as much as everyone else."
And when he's not working? "I get a chance to take vacations and I have the finances to do it," he said. "But after 20 years of traveling in the Army, it's no big deal. I've had diarrhea on four continents."
Sie Young Jr. had the foresight to prepare financially for his retirement from the government. Before he left his job as a clerk in the Congressional Document department of the State Department in 1975 Young and his wife had accumulated several thousand dollars worth of E bonds and a lesser amount of stock. Those investments now provide them with a comfortable margin. "I'm not really hurting," said Young. "My wife and I do a lot of traveling and we own our own home."
Young, 61, collects about $800 a month from his civil service pension. That income is supplemented by the pension his wife receives for her 34 years of service as a teacher in the District. "We're getting by pretty well," said Young. "We're not overdoing it (retirement), but just enjoying it."
Wendell Campbell, 79, retired for 14 months, but went back to his former employer, a millwork company. For the past year and a half he has been working three days a week.
"I was thinking of taking some volunteer work at the Smithsonian for a little variation, but I was talking to people I worked with and they said, if you want something to do, come back here and work your own hours," Campbell said.
Now Campbell draws his salary for his work drafting and estimating for the millwork company and adds it to his investment income of about $5,000 a year. The millwork company had no pension plan.
"I didn't have any retirement except Social Security and what we managed to save," he said. "If I didn't been working three days a week, undoubtedly we would have been a little cramped."
Still, the Campbells are comfortable enough that Campbell can say "I wasn't really worried about the pay. I'm still thinking I might be better off doing volunteer work than tying myself down to a schedule," he said.
"Since the kids have grown up and left home, I've been able to save money. We never had two nickels to rub together until the kids left home," he said.
Campbell and his wife own their home in Adelphi, paid for in cash 30 years ago when they moved to the area. They also own 20 acres near Columbia, Md., purchased as an investment in 1962. Taxes on both pieces of property have climbed steeply, he said.
Real estate brokers have contacted Campbell about his land and made it clear there are buyers. But Campbell said, "I don't know what I'd do with the money if I sold it."
Inflation worries Campbell, in part because he remembers the days in the 1920s when "everybody was on the ragged edge of going on relief."
"I haven't worried about food prices or the cost of things we buy. It's just the idea of what the economy is headed for," he said. "I think the greatest country in the world is not going to let the economy blow up in our faces and make paupers of everybody like it did," he said. CAPTION: Picture 1, Robert Kreisinger practices his banjo. By Fred Sweets -- The Washington Post; Picture 2, Smith Blair, a retired federal employe. By Linda Wheeler -- The Washington Post; Picture 3, Lillian Morrison . . . never was big spender; Picture 4, Sie Young Jr. with AARP's sought-after hat rack: It cost only $15. Photo by Linda Wheeler -- The Washington Post