Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Caution

One of my father's most recognizable attributes, the one that is the basis of many funny family stories, is his conservative outlook on life, his innate caution. He could deflate a new idea faster than a pin in an over-filled balloon; his fallback position was invariably a list of the reasons why a thing was not only not possible, but outlandish, if not ouright crazy. To the question, "why do people climb Mount Everest?" most people answer, "because they can." He'd answer, "because they're fools." As much as I always swore I'd never be anything like him, to my horror, I'm finding some remnants of that old mind-set in me.

There are those who relish a jump off a cliff, the adventure of the unknown, walking on the razor's edge. Apparently, I'm not one of them. That's the only explanation I can come up with for the at-times crazy-making trepidations I have about The Impending Move.

The thing is, I've been known to jump off my share of cliffs. I joined the Peace Corps. I came home from that experience with no certain future, did what I had to do, followed a certain star (which only led me down dead ends, it turned out, but at least I followed it) and finally, with a healthy slathering of luck, landed on my feet. We bought this house at the height of the early 80s recession and were house-poor for years, paying 16 ¾% interest on our mortgage. For a while it was hard, but in the long run we flourished here. I retired early, and that felt like jumping off a cliff, too. We had sensible fears of what the financial impact of that step would be, and despite all the worry, things turned out fine.

I think the difference between those times and now is that before, I always sensed a safety net somewhere. There were other sources of income, other jobs to take if necessary, or we could simply lie low until conditions improved. This time I don't have a sense that these other possibilities exist. We're moving to a smaller town where employment opportunities are fewer, and the current economy is not producing jobs, anyway. And we're not getting any younger. I don't think I'm wrong to worry about these things--just because you're paranoid, that doesn't mean they're not out to get you--but I wish my thinking could always be as positive as it is at this moment, when I'm feeling fairly optimistic about the future. Unfortunately, it's not. I worry. Maybe it's just a simple matter of a good night's sleep?

Meanwhile, back to my father and his caution. When I was in elementary school and all the kids started wearing penny-loafers, my parents wouldn't hear of it for me. They insisted I wear sturdy tie-shoes so that my feet would "develop properly." (So now I have hard-to-fit B-width feet.) When kids in the neighborhood started riding two-wheeled bikes, I was not allowed to ride in the streets with them. My parents proudly gave me an old "English racer" bicycle that had been saved by the family just for me (it was really quite sleek and trim, but it looked silly next to the fat Schwinns of the day), and then allowed me to ride it only in the front yard. Our yard was divided down the middle by a flagstone walkway from the house to the street, with a maple tree planted in the middle of each half. For close to a year, I rode that skinny racer in figure-8s around those maple trees, while my friends raced up and down the street. I cheated by making the loops of the 8 bigger and bigger until they took me out to the pavement, but was invariably caught in my transgression and told to stay in the yard or just get off the bike. Driving a car was the same: the other kids started at 16; I had to wait until I was 18.

So sometimes for better and sometimes for worse, I'm stuck with these habits of mind. They've no doubt stood me in good stead at certain times in my life, but now, they're in the way. Things will work out; they always do. Rationally, I know that. But it appears for peace of mind, I'll just have to throw caution to the wind. (Think I will? HA!)

4 comments:

Linda (SE PA) said...

Ralph,

A very reflective post for this cloudy morning. I sense we all take a dip a bit in the leaping and exercise a measure more of caution when we retire.

I was raised to be a cautious child - overly cautious. My parents adopted me when they were entering their 40's. Take that data - add to it that I am a boomer and coming of age in that time to parents who were raised and raised me in the same fashion - whew... what a mix.

My mother, like your parent, wanted full input on my bike riding. I had one of those big three wheelers until I was 8! Then came the Huffy and then the English racer. By the English racer I was known to take off to several towns over. She never knew!

Anyways, rethinking and reevaluating and adjusting a plan is always a good idea. Tweaks come in handy. As to the employment situation in Delaware, who can predict what it will be anywhere over the next few months. Sitting tight in VA or moving to DE isn't going to change the statistics so take a deep breath and all one can do is keep a watchful eye and keep moving foward.

I sense this is all going to work out fine.

Ralph said...

Now that is quite a hand you were dealt in the family department, Linda! I always thought it was bad enough hitting puberty when my mother hit menopause, but your story just goes to prove again we all have our rows to hoe.

You're right, of course, about being more cautious as we age. If we weren't it would mean we'd learned nothing from the mistakes we made during the carefree days. Wisdom. That bitter apple!

Zoey & Me said...

I can't think that looking out at that beautiful water view you have up in Delaware would be a mistake. In fact, it's why most people work hard so they can find a place in the sun to lay back. You found it . . . now stop bitching and start packing!

Ralph said...

Right, Z&Me. I'll shut up!