October 3. Since retirement, it seems as if I’ve taken on a new persona as a wayfarer. Home barely a month after our two month cross-country odyssey, Melanie and I are on the road again, this time heading east for Melanie’s fifty-year high school reunion in Auburn, Massachusetts. The occasion also gives us time to visit our two children in the Boston area, Amanda in Malden and Paul and his girlfriend, Katie, in East Boston. The journey across I-80 is familiar to us; we’ve traveled this way frequently. For several reasons, this route is exceptionally appealing. The ever-changing seasonal landscapes never disappoint, particularly in fall and spring when nature’s colors dazzle the viewer. And now as we trek across the Pennsylvania Wilds, this eastern landscape is ablaze in bright yellow and orange, reminiscent of an Impressionist’s palette. And although tints of red occasionally add rhythmic counterpoint to this magnificent splash of color, Melanie reminds me that in New England the reds are both more plentiful and more scarlet in color.
Brilliance is also applicable to the Auburn High School Class of 1963. Indices of measuring success point to a class that achieved the American dream. Among these students of working class families are teachers, engineers, research scientists, nurses, military career officers, university professors and administrators, insurance executives, banking managers and entrepreneurs. As an outsider, it was fun to observe their interactions as they renewed acquaintances, traded stories, and celebrated professional achievements of the last fifty years. I listened gleefully to the banter and anecdotes about sweetheart crushes, academic competitiveness — successes and failures –- athletic prowess, and tidbits about teachers.
Adding to the magic moments of storytelling was music from the 50s and 60s, expertly executed by a talented three-person combo. Their first musical selection was a rumba that found only Melanie and me on the dance floor. Surprisingly, the ensuing musical selections did not entice others to join us. We later learned from one of Melanie’s classmates that we had set a high bar intimidating others. Certainly, that was not our intention. But as the consumption of alcohol increased, inhibitions were cast to the wind, and the dance floor became crowded with arms in the air moving in sync to swinging hips. The intoxication of familiar tunes of Chubby Checker, Chuck Berry, Dion, the Isley Brothers, Gary U.S. Bonds, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Sam Cooke, among others, made the evening magical. The music had happy feet dancing the swing, the twist, the cha-cha, the slide, the bunny-hop, the waltz and the inimitable two-step, — the latter dance particularly popular when the combo crooned doo-wop songs, encouraging several of us in turn to join the chorus of doo-wop harmony. All in all, it was a memorably gay evening. My own fifty-year high school reunion happens next year in New Orleans, a city renowned for its good times.
If you’ve been following my blog since its inception, you are aware of my internal dialogue about making the transition into retirement. Surprisingly, my fears were unfounded; I’ve adapted easily from a regimented schedule to one free of the necessity to fill every moment with some meaningful tasks. Initially, idleness made me feel guilty. Surely, nothing good comes from unstructured time. But as each day unfolds, I am discovering that idle time is rare. Luckily for me, our cross-country journey was therapeutic escape from the titled self-identity of university administrator. For the first time in decades, I was simply Alfred. I was responsible for no one other than myself. I was free to do what I wanted when I wanted. I did not need to plan; I could do things spontaneously, even take a mid-afternoon nap. I was no longer tethered to the cell phone or the laptop to tend to those 24/7 chores that demanded my attention. Frankly, I am amazed how quickly I ‘ve cast aside the responsibility of academic administration. There are principal reasons to explain why this is. First, I feel that in my fourteen years at IUSB I’ve made significant contributions to academic advancement. Second, the university is well-poised for different advancements under new leadership. IUSB’s current chancellor, an experienced university administrator and academic, is well-versed in the issues facing universities nationwide and is setting the right tone for the future that will enable the university to prosper in partnership with the faculty and the at-large community.
Just the other day someone asked me if I missed my work. My answer is simple, though contradictory. Yes, I do, and yes, I don’t. I miss engaging the faculty, working with them in setting new directions, imagining and re-imagining the possibilities, and, most of all, enabling and encouraging them in their work. I don’t miss the increasing bureaucracy that demanded more and more of my time. But life in retirement, like the river currents, continues to flow. After a few more trips to visit family in the next few weeks, my pace will slacken and life will return to normalcy. How that will be is not yet defined. Besides travel, I continue my commitments in the community; I have more leisure time for reading and gardening, and to keep my mind active and vibrant, and I’m sitting in Professor Andrea Rusnock’s class in art history. Next semester, I’m considering a course in gender studies. But for now, it’s more travel. My niece’s wedding in Baton Rouge happens soon.