Stepping in with both feet

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Early afternoon a few days ago, as I was slogging past the half-way mark in the 500-page 1939 novel, "Verdun, " by the French writer Jules Romains, I stopped and asked myself, "Why am I reading this book?"

Well, for one thing, I thought, I remembered seeing it in my parents' living room bookcases, so they must've thought it worth keeping. For another, since I bought this copy from one of Nevada's libraries (at this point, I couldn't remember which), at a recent book sale, it must've had a pretty good reputation when it was first published, in 1939. It obviously had legs.

Still, the question persisted: "Why am I reading this book?" After all, I continue to receive, for reading and writing reviews of, a steady if manageable stream of new books, and I'd like to continue that immeasurably interesting habit.

In addition, as Ginny's quick to remind me at the first sign that I hunger for a visit to Barnes & Noble's or Border's, I've already got 100+ new and used books I haven't yet tackled. Finally, I'd like to continue writing the occasional "At Random" newspaper article, as I have for some 30+ years. If nothing else, it's a good warm-up for more serious writing projects, like my still-aborning novel.

OK, I decided, after an agonizing 5-minute mental debate on this issue, I'll surrender "Verdun"to Ginny's Book-Mooch network and let one long-yearning reader in Oshkosh experience a long-awaited gift.

As I was pondering these bibliographic pro's and con's, still another question occurred to me: "If I'm, in fact, retired, why am I spending my first five years of retirement doing exactly what I did when I was employed?"

That was a no-brainer: "Because I love it," I thought. "Still," the nay-saying half of my consciousness fired back, "you can't keep reading until they lower you into the grave, can you?"

"Well, no. I need to get out of this damned, cracker-strewn chair and into the great sun-splashed outdoors. Specifically, I need to help Ginny out at the farm! We'll do something together!! Now, is that a novel idea or what!!!"

My sudden inspiration lasted through the night, and was still alive at 7 a.m., the next morning, when I sprang out of bed (before Ginny, I might add) and dressed in my paint-splattered pants and sneakers (themselves so fashionably splattered with paint that a young girl had approached me and asked, "Dr. Nash, did you buy those shoes in a store?") ready for work.

After I'd mastered the maneuverability of our new previously-used Snapper mower, the direction of which is controlled by a stand-up throttle (a new implement to me), I mowed most of our grass by mid-afternoon, and was ready to do more. I met Ginny back at one of the gardens.

"You know, Chuck, by mowing as much as you did, you freed me up so I could plant these 300 hostas I bought last weekend. Thanks!"

Thanks!? Last week, she'd finished reading a collection of short humorous essays by the same guy who wrote the memoir "Marley and Me," then, perfectly serious, she'd set the closed book on the bedside table, and remarked, "You know, Chuck, you're a much better writer than this fellow."

Heył what was my wife of 43 years up to?

Well, in retrospect, I think she was just showing her appreciation for the grunt work I was willing to do to leave her some time she needed to get done some of the more creative gardening. So, in the next couple of days, I helped her install a drainage system beside the new barn, then fill with stiff-smelling potting soil a godzillion plastic pots for some (to me) nameless shoots that before Christmas will be spilling madly over the sides; all the while zipping along in our low-to-the-ground mower cutting back our grass, which, like the poet Emily Dickinson, I could swear I heard growing.

By dusk of the second sunny afternoon, I'd lost the pasty complexion on my face and was starting to develop a nice tan. In addition, as a kind of reward, I thought, I'd almost inadvertently found my 1959 class ring from my prep school, which I'd lost while shoving some branches into our shredder at the other end of our farm a couple of months ago.