By Elaine Rohse • Columnist • 

It truly is the best of times

I’m continually asked by friends not yet retired and those not living in retirement centers, “What on earth do you do with all your time?”

Almost reproachfully, they say, “You don’t have to cook anymore. You don’t have to do dishes. You don’t shop for groceries. You don’t tend a big yard. You don’t scrub showers. How do you spend your days?”

I know what they’re visualizing: me, at l0:30 in the morning, in pink peignoir, hair still in curlers, lolling on my chaise lounge, watching soap operas, open box of chocolates nearby; long nap after lunch; bedtime immediately after the last spin on “Wheel of Fortune.”

How wrong they are. Curlers and nightwear are not permitted in the dining room. At least, I have not seen any there. I have no chaise lounge. I never turn on TV in the daytime and my friends and I seldom have chocolate binges — although we are loyal to Yamhill County vineyards.

In a way, living at a retirement center is a little like a coming-of-age party. We refer to our living area as “the campus” — perhaps because it reminds us of college. I now have a social secretary who arranges my “social activities.” She, to me, is reminiscent of the Energizer Bunny whose batteries never run down. Her goal is to make certain that every square on our calendars are crammed with scribblings of things we are to do.

These notations might include a Washington Square shopping trip, Linfield game, Portland Symphony, or a tour of WOW or Sue Buel School.

Itchy-footed travelers can opt for Cuba, the San Juans, Ashland. How about cruising the Mississippi, or visiting an alpaca farm?

If you’re in the mood for a movie, matinee or evening, “Gravity” or “Oz, the Great and Powerful” might be the billing. Movies are free. So is the popcorn.

Are you a “games” person? Sign up for bridge, mahjong, poker, game night, Mexican train.

If you’re creative, try crocheting, quilting, knitting or join the baby blanket brigade.

Concerned about your body? Call on your fitness director. Exercises three times a week will take up some time — knowing, of course, how our exercise class is visualized by those living elsewhere. They envision oldsters sitting in chairs and rolling big balls to each other if we can but bring up the strength to do so.

That is quite unlike our training. Can you balance on one foot while dangling the other in circles? Can you roll up on your tiptoes and remain standing straight and as steady as the Rock of Gibraltar?

Bothered with neck or shoulder discomfort? Come listen to the visiting physical therapist who might have suggestions for something to help. Lower back pain? Scratch something off your calendar so you’ll have time to see if there is something to eliminate that.

Dining is another item requiring considerably more time than it did for our family meals when I’d sling a macaroni-tuna casserole and a limp-lettuce salad on the table in order to rush off to the PTA or Cub Scout meeting.

Dining, now, is an occasion. Sometimes we have little “soirees,” perhaps prearranged. Agnes may call and suggest having dinner together at one dining room or the other. I respond that I’d love to. I haven’t had a chance to visit with Agnes for an age. She says she’ll give Connie and Georgia Mae a call, so the four of us meet at the dining room. Conversation is delayed until we order from the menu and visit the salad bar.

Then we catch up conversationally. And, indeed, we all now, in my view, are skilled deipnosophists — people who are skilled at informal, across-the-table small talk.

One night our deipnosophistic skills may include a count of the shrimp received on our Captain’s Plate — with the one receiving fewest shrimp sometimes a bit upset. Other times, we may talk about McMinnville’s urban growth boundary or our nice new neighbors.

Next comes a “weighty” decision: choice of dessert. I take mine home to eat during the fourth quarter of the Blazer game.

Something else that takes time: our wine (or sparkling cider) and cheese occasions. I like Open House parties and these are like an open house. Just about everyone comes. We meet an interesting new arrival, not previously met — and have an interesting conversation with her. You have a feeling she may be someone whose friendship you’ll enjoy in days to come.

If, in the future, I break a leg — although with my balance training, I do not expect to — I’ll probably be able to stay here on campus and be assisted, or skillfully cared for despite my not wanting to spend my time that way.

All this remonstrance as to my friends’ thoughts with regard to my “spare time” could have been summed up in one sentence: My days now are inestimably too short.

When we moved to the campus, I envisioned that, with all my spare time, my cupboards always would be neat and tidy. Everything in my chests of drawers would be precisely sorted — order in the highest. Here at the retirement center, I would become the neat, orderly person I always planned to be and I would have the time to do it.

It is with shame that I admit that my kitchen cupboards cannot remember when they were last cleaned. Spices on my shelf have forgotten how old they are. My clothes closet is in such disarray it takes me five minutes to find my green blouse.

But I am not really upset that these mundane chores are not done. I have better things to do.

Elaine Rohse can be reached at

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