Retirement: Payment in Cookies
Auntie Mae's Various Ramblings on Life in a Small Town
Ida Mae Nowes
Nubbins Special Correspondent

I don't know what the formal definition of "retired" Is, but I think it means working twice as hard for nothing. To tell the truth I don't mind, except that I tend to over-volunteer myself. My friends are always having to remind me that "No" is a complete sentence.

I've been trying to listen to their advice, which is why I surprised myself last month when the word "Yes" escaped from my mouth right after my neighbor LuAnn LaGrange asked me if I'd mind tutoring her fifth grade son, Johnny Mac, in reading.

"It wasn't my fault!" I told my friends Roberta and Pearl when they chastised me later about taking on another project. "She got me at a weak moment."

That weak moment was 6:30 in the morning at the end of my driveway. I had tried to sneak out of the house to get the paper without anyone noticing I was still in my jammies, but LuAnn appeared out of nowhere in a pink jogging suit. I had on a sweater, but my gown-tail was sticking out all over the place and I was in my fuzzy leopard slippers when she asked me, so what could I do? Plus she knows I have a soft spot for kids and reading since I gave up teaching.

I thought about backing out of it, but I never called her back. Then one day he was at my door.

"Come on in, Johnny Mac," I said a little too brightly to the pale boy in a Spiderman t-shirt. An almost inaudible "Hey," emerged from beneath a wad of disheveled brown hair, but he didn't look up. He was clutching a standard, fifth-grade reading book in his hands.

"It's good to have you come by and visit," I said conversationally to no response.

"Your mom told me last week you'd like to get in a little practice reading," I rambled on, and when he didn't respond again, I added, "And that's handy because I've been looking for someone to come over and read to me now and again and share some cookies. I just hate eating cookies alone, don't you?"

"I guess so," he said, and I'm grateful he didn't say, "What's wrong with eating cookies alone?" which is probably what I would have said if some gray-haired lady said that to me. It's amazing how much I had forgotten about interacting with children since I retired.

We sat down in the den together, and it didn't take as long to get my groove back as I thought. The first thing I did was bag the classic fifthgrade reader and bring out a couple of books I thought Johnny Mac might actually relate to. Luckily, I still had a good stash in my attic. I showed the books to him and his face brightened up a bit. I also gave him a journal for writing. That didn't go over so well.

"I'm not too good at writin'," he said, a cloud of worry passing over his face.

"That's okay, because you don't have to be good at it, you just have to be consistent. I've found that writing and reading go hand in hand. If you want to get better at one, it helps to get better at the other. And like everything, getting better comes with practice. So, I hope you'll write in it everyday, even if it's just one sentence."

"Are you gonna read what I write?"

"Well, yes I am, because it will help me to know where the trouble spots are. So I wouldn't put anything in there you don't want me to see. But," and to emphasize this point I put my hand in the air, "cross my heart and hope to die, stick a needle in my eye, I pinky swear that I will never tell another soul as long as I live what I read in your journal."

He looked up at me with a skeptical eye.

"Even Momma?"

"Even Momma," I said, standing up and pointing my pinky finger down at him.

"Okay, I'll try," he sighed and wrapped his pinky around mine to shake it. "So, you want me to read to you?" he asked unenthusiastically, dropping my pinky and picking up his books.

"I tell you what. Why don't we skip reading today and just go straight for the cookies? And you can tell me about school. You know I used to teach fifth grade a long time ago, but now I'm out of the loop. You can fill me in." He hesitated, then hopped up.

"Sure," he said, with the teensiest glimpse of a smile and a look of relief. Then to my surprise he added, "And thanks for the journal, Ms. Aunt Nowes."

"You're so welcome, Johnny Mac. And it's fine for you to call me Ms. Ida Mae."

"Okay," he said, resting his hands on his hips. "So, where's the cookies at, Ms. Aunt Ida Mae?"

I sighed. Retirement is hard work, but then it's got its perks. For instance, someone to eat cookies with.

Retirement is hard work, but then it's got its perks. For instance, someone to eat cookies with. -Ida Mae Nowes

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