Now I’m delivering novel turns of phrase

I tend to forget the correct words for things. Instead of asking my husband if I put the lid on the oatmeal pot, I say, “Did I hat the sauce?”

Daniel Garzon/VWPICS/AP/File
A lesser violetear hummingbird hovers by a nectar feeder in Bogotá, Colombia. The bird ranges from Costa Rica to northern Argentina and coastal Venezuela.

“Not much,” I heard myself say the other day. “I need to juice the birds and then I thought I’d make a bunch of stars.”

Well, I’m always a little startled when someone asks me what I’ve got planned for the weekend.

It’s not that I don’t plan the occasional thing. It’s just that I’m frequently unaware there’s a weekend coming up. The days of the week don’t distinguish themselves so much when you’re retired, and weekends never did mean much to me. 

When I was a mail carrier, my days off rotated through the week. I got one actual weekend off every six weeks, and worked all the other Saturdays. But since my schedule was predictable, if odd, I had my personal calendar so internalized that I never even wrote down appointments. I knew I was due at the dentist the afternoon before my next Wednesday off.

Now I miss appointments altogether. All the days are the same, and I might very well remember I’m going to a concert on the 14th, but not notice that that was last week already. It’s all well and good to live in the Now, unless your concerts are living in the Then.

I loved that postal schedule, though. It was great to have days off in the middle of the week when other people were working. Stores were empty, and I had hiking trails to myself. I had signed on as a letter carrier at age 23, aware that I would be able to retire at 55, and even back then I knew it was a great deal. Not only that, I’d retire rich. 

Previously, I had worked at the Harvard School of Public Health with my shiny new science degree for less than $6,000 a year. Yes, a dollar went a lot further then, but those wages barely got me into the next week. Two years later, as a fresh recruit at the United States Postal Service, I started at $18,000 annually and figured I could afford to vacation in Dubai.

Over the next 32 years, our union squeaked us up to something in the 50-grand range, and that was plenty. These days kids roll out of college in debt up to their eyeballs but jump into jobs pushing six figures, and I don’t even know what it is they do. They move zeros and ones around. They circle back, and they touch base, and they pivot. It sounds exhausting.

All I did was stick mail into the holes in people’s houses, and my former salary impresses no one. But I did retire rich. It’s easy to do if you have a solid middle-class union wage and a bit of a pension, and your idea of entertainment is to juice birds and make a bunch of stars.

Oh, that. Another thing I tend to forget is the correct words for things. This is why I write. Nobody has to see me grasping for a word and coming up with a handful of feathers. And when the correct words don’t pop into my head, I’m forced to get creative. That’s a good thing for a writer but less impressive in normal conversation. Thus I might say I’m going to run the “dish grinder” because I can never come up with “garbage disposal.” Or instead of asking my husband if I put the lid on the oatmeal pot, I say, “Did I hat the sauce?” And it’s too much trouble to say I’m going to make up a new batch of hummingbird nectar, so I just juice the birds.

And when I’m collaborating on a quilt with my cousin and she puts on a border of hand-appliquéd moons, obviously I have to follow it up with a border of stars. So this weekend – thanks for asking! – I’m making a bunch of stars. 

And that’s what makes me rich.

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