How should a man spend his retirement? Flying across the world? Scratching off a list of life-long goals? Or should he aim for something more ordinary, like taking up a computer card game?
In 1995, the Metzgers and their closest friends gathered in the Gladieux Reception Hall of Toledo, Ohio to toast their patriarch, my grandfather, Norbert Metzger, on the end of his career in the printing business. There were hugs, finger foods, and questions about what the man of the hour would do next.
Until then, my grandfather had jogged through life in step with an unwritten agenda. Every morning for nearly 35 years, my grandfather rose from bed at 5:30, showered by 5:40, skipped breakfast (took too long), and drove to work in his American-made car, out the door by 5:55. Just outside Toledo, Norb managed his eponymous print company and its 7 employees, including his two youngest sons. In the evening, he caught a Cleveland Indians game or a police procedural (depending on the season), ate a potato-laden dinner prepared by my grandmother, and returned to bed - where, in 6 or so hours, he would wake and repeat the process.
The routine defined the man, and in that way Norb was the quintessential Ohioan. He worked hard at mastering one very specific thing, printing, and took on extra hours and duties to better provide for his dedicated wife, five kids, a couple of dogs, and the tithing bucket. He believed that hard work was always matched by a fair reward - be it food on the dinner table or a condo in heaven - because he had no reason not to.
The end of Norb's career, that moment after the final acquaintance glad-handed him in Galdieux, clashed with his long held ethos. What was next?
At first, my grandfather did what any workaholic would do in the absence of work: He worked. He bought a pickup truck and made deliveries for the very company he'd left, playing an active role in the transition of ownership and responsibilities to his boys.
But that couldn't last forever. He was a retired man. He should enjoy it, my envious relatives exclaimed over every Thanksgiving turkey and Easter ribs platter.
In February 2001 - five years into his "retirement" - my aunts and uncles spurred their parents to book a trip to The Villages senior living community in Florida. They were welcomed with fragile arms. The locals labeled Norb and his wife Pat "snowbirds," a playful jab at that subset of northern retirees who only visit the rubbery, tropical oasis for relief from the winter months.