Barely 13 years old, he confidently approaches the pulpit. His treble voice is strong and clear: "Will you please turn to page 437."
I am sitting in a back pew watching my latest student at his bar mitzvah. We had been studying together for six months, and this morning marks his entry into the adult community. I'm more accustomed to Bobbie in Adidas running shoes, high wool socks and shorts. Today he is resplendent in a grownup suit and neat patterned tie. As he recites the Hebrew text and translates fluently, I nod to his father who is standing beside him. I furtively raise my hand and form a circle with thumb and forefinger: Bobbie is doing his parents proud. He is reading from Deuteronomy 26, which describes the ancient ritual of donating the first fruits of the harvest at the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Although rites are prescribed and written, the sincerity of those performing the rites is not thereby diminished.
I participated in a ritual of another sort yesterday afternoon, when I was honored at a retirement party. Along with the traditional punch, ice cream, cake and cookies, I was presented with a plaque and embarrassingly kind words from our union president, division chief and assistant director -- whippersnappers all.
This evening, Selma has invited a few couples to our home to help us celebrate. Marvin comments that he can't imagine staying at one job 38 years; he rarely remains in one place more than three. Jay's wife is glad "he'll have someone to play with." Jay retired just a few months ago. Sy and Dorothy recite an original doggerel, "Ode to Retirement." Our Baltimore cousins brought a box they call a retirement survival kit. It consists of a yoyo, ball and jacks, a little math puzzle game and a book, "Games for the Superintelligent," items to keep me occupied while at loose ends. A most pleasant evening. Sunday
This morning we telephone Boston and speak to our daughter, Jo, and her husband Mark. They have been married a year and a half now. Mark is in his final term at medical school while Jo is preparing her Ph.D.
In the afternoon, I go through the closet and cull out the clothes I've regularly worn at work. Several jackets, slacks, ties and shirts are no longer of any use and I throw them out with a minimum of ceremony.
We place another phone call at night, this time to my sister Irene in San Francisco. She recalls that I once won a prize for portraiture in high school. Wouldn't it be great if I got the oil paints out again. I'd forgotten that 45-year-old talent and take her suggestion under advisement. Monday
We go out to do a bit of shopping. I buy a new hand calculator, come home and drop the old one into the waste basket. I must become accustomed to sloughing off things beyond repair or that I no longer need. For too long, I've been keeping things for sentimental or pecuniary reasons.
Spend the afternoon at the swimming pool where we chat with our friends who are planning a trip to the West Coast. Joe insists that in view of my new situation I must plan to exercise regularly. He demonstrates a few stretching exercises, and soon has me exhausted from doing knee bends and push-ups. Statistics show that some 60 percent of the population feels it doesn't get enough physical activity, and I am with the majority.
Although she's reconciled to may new situation, Selma is really somewhat apprehensive. She smiles, but she still wonders whether I will have enough to do, that I might spend my time tagging after her or may be bored without a regular occupation.
Fortunately, she has her own daily activities downtown. In the meantime, we've prepared a list of chores. (I put in many years of six- and seven-day work weeks at the bureau, so I managed to develop a fair-sized backlog of incompleted household tasks.) There are several bushes that need trimming, the front door should be caulked and painted, there is a sagging picket fence at the back of the house that should be taken down, etc. etc. Tuesday
After Selma leaves for her office, I sip a second cup of coffee and watch TV. Phil Donahue is interviewing three "househusbands" who stay at home taking care of the kids while their wives are out earning the family income. (Two resolutions: Get up by 7 a.m. daily; no TV in the afternoon -- I have heard that soap operas may be addictive.)
I visit the neighborhood bank and transact some business; then to the lumber yard. The salesman is helpful in showing me the materials I'll need to put up a valance at the kitchen window, another item on my list.
In my 38 years at the Bureau of Engraving we rarely left the building during the day because of security regulations. Now that I'm traveling about town, I find myself running out of loose change. I've never considered this before. Selma says I have to carry more "walking-around" money. Wednesday
Spend an hour or so putting up the valance at the kitchen window; a creditable job, I think, although it still requires a wallpaper covering. I've volunteered to prepare dinner tonight, so I visit the Bethesda Farm Women's Market to pick up vegetables, cheeses and other good things. The hot Chinese food smells so sinfully delicious that I purchase some and take it home for lunch -- at 10 a.m. They have a flea market operating there where folks sell things whose cousins repose in our basement. Apparently there is some viable economic worth to objects we call junk and are ready to dump.
Many of my friends have said that after they leave their jobs, they find so many things to do and keep so busy that they don't know how they were able to work at full-time occupations before they retired. And it is true that you can get involved -- and bogged down -- in a host of details.
And while you cut and wash the string beans or clean out the basement, the radio is describing all the important events taking place throughout the world: presidential debates, peace talks, war talks, economic prognostications. Your own piddling efforts don't seem of much consequence.
The nursey man and concrete repair rep arrive in the afternoon to give me quotations for trimming trees and repairing the driveway. The prices always seem about 50 percent more than I had anticipated. Thursday
Our cleaning lady is coming in today, and I must get the papers on my desk straightened out so that it will look respectable before she arrives. Alicia and I communicate by smiling and pointing to the vacuum cleaner and say "bueno," to indicate that I have installed a new bag. Perhaps a vacuum cleaner is really feminine and I should have said "buena"?
While Alicia is busy in the house, I decide to take down the picket fence and trim the hedges and the monstrous forsythia bush. By the time she is ready to leave, the yard looks a bit more orderly. As she goes out the door, I smile again and say, "hasta la vista," and she replies "good-bye." Friday
To the barber shop -- appointments are much easier to make in the morning -- for a haircut and to have my gray beard trimmed. Return home and cover the valance with wallpaper. I check over the chore list and find it substantially reduced.
With some satisfaction, I note that I haven't had to use my retirement survivial kit. On Wednesday next, the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission will have a special pickup of trash, used furniture and other materials no longer useful or needed. I must make a note of that.
A Mrs. Weinberg calls to ask if I will be available to tutor her son for his bar mitzvah scheduled