"What do you do all day?" asked John, a non-retired friend, a year or two after we left the workforce. My husband jumped in to reply: "I don't know, but it takes us all day to get it done."
Our retired friends smile and nod in agreement when we tell them that story, but when I think back, I remember that I had been a retirement skeptic too. A Registered Nurse for thirty-five years, I'd never known a life not filled with work. Those years had ultimately led me to an executive nurse position in the fast paced world of hospital crises. Each day had held new and urgent challenges; nothing was ever predictable or mundane, and truth be told, I'd probably developed an adrenalin addiction by the end of my career. I couldn't imagine a life filled with nothing to do.
I had to admit though, that I was exhausted by my sixty hour work weeks. I would have willingly exchanged them for a more balanced life, but didn't know how to do that. This emotional unease consumed me for most of the final years of my work life. My husband, Bob, couldn't understand me; he'd already retired and had been waiting for the past five years for me to join him. He wanted to travel in our RV, and he especially wanted to spend the Canadian winters in the warm southern states of America.
The idea of an extended winter vacation was very appealing to me, but I knew full well that retirement wasn't a vacation. It was a permanent, unknown future; an empty, black universe. Armed with colleagues' assurances of consulting projects upon my return, I finally bit the bullet. This was the sop I offered Bob: I'll retire now and travel for the winter but I'll work again when we come home in spring.
So armed with our Next Exit highway travel book, we joined the community of Canadian Snowbirds. We intended to spend several weeks travelling through other southern states en route to our final destination in Texas' Rio Grande Valley. The Victoria Palms RV Resort in Donna, Texas awaited us.
In those travel weeks, I almost lost my mind. I had no freedom to come and go, no crises to manage, and only my husband to talk to. Trapped in a vehicle for days on end, I lost my sense of self. Although I fully understood the cause of my dis-ease, I couldn't dismiss or modify it so became irritable and weepy. Poor Bob was completely unprepared for this new (retired) me.
We finally arrived at Victoria Palms, the self-described "premier age-qualified RV Resort of the Rio Grande Valley... catering to those fifty-five and older." Lush greenery and flowering hibiscus trees surrounded us as we drove through the grounds on a boulevard lined with palm trees. Finally at our reserved spot, Bob proceeded to back the vehicle into our site only to find ourselves suddenly surrounded by smiling people who'd gathered to assist and welcome us.
Everyone was warm and friendly, introduced themselves, then asked where we were from and how long we were staying. Many of them were Canadians, representing nearly every province, and even more were Americans from all parts of the United States. "You're gonna love it here" they all said "we sure do. If you're staying here for the winter, you are Winter Texans, just like us." It was at that moment that we understood the lettering we'd noticed on decals in the back window of vehicles we'd passed on our drive through the park.