Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

COLUMN: Keep the Golden (years) Opportunities coming!


Retirement has been known to offer “golden opportunities”, but this summer has offered something better than anything I could have expected. Introducing… “B & K Handywork Service”. You got it. I’m now one of those “baby-boom entrepreneurs” that I heard about on NPR’s All Things Considered. Story goes that more and more restless retirees are finding innovative ways to apply their life experiences and skills. Maybe in that spirit of “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over?” Well here’s mine.
As some may know, I have been blessed with a wonderful grandson. It seems that I often find myself looking over friends’ shoulders as they search their phones for the latest photo of their newest grand-baby. While I “ooo and ogle” over their many, I silently gloat over my “one and only”. I’m surer now than ever that my grandson isn’t just some ordinary 13-year old. He’s the best! Here’s how I know…
For the past year, my priority has been helping my spouse recover from his health issues. Thankfully, he is well on the mend. When I realized I was needed a little less now, I began looking for a more challenging project to supplement my forever job, weeding the garden. I decided to dedicate any “free time” to reopening our abandoned log house. It had become our “storage unit” these past twenty years which wouldn’t be bad if it was a shack, but it’s a beautiful hand-built structure where John and I raised our sons “off the grid”, back when readers of Mother Earth News were the only folks who knew what that meant. I loved our life and have sometimes missed it sorely since our move in 1997 to our present location on the 40 acres next door, equipped with electricity, running water, and amenities like bright lights in every room, a washing machine, air conditioner, TV, and an electric guitar. For our teenager, that was the topper. Here I am, many years later, moving forward on the grand reopening of our cabin.
OMG!! Upon initial assessment, the yard had been completely taken over by aspen saplings, wild raspberries, and a virulent form of five-foot tall reed grass that completely engulfed our beloved home right up to the windowsills, that would require nothing short of machete and chainsaw to carve a path to the front door! Having humped my way in, I stood speechless at the extent of our pack-ratting over these two decades. I felt overwhelmed but that didn’t dampen my desire to bring the place back to life. I only questioned if I could tackle this project alone. Time would tell.
As others can attest, thirteen is an interesting age. For example, my “favorite grandson” suddenly seemed like a stranger. When he’d visit, he didn’t want to do any of those fun things that we used to do — like board games, mushroom hunting, building little clay figurines, or any other goofy idea Grandma would come up with. Once upon a time, everything was fun! I never felt like a boring person until Brad turned 13. And it seemed, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t compete with all his new found friends, and games that appeared on his smart phone. That is, until one day the proverbial light bulb went on! “Surely, he needs money!”
That night, I asked him over to give me a hand with my new project. And I’d pay him for his assistance. Surprise! He sounded interested. The following weekend, he explained, he hoped to invite a girl from school to go to the movies with him. But, he was worried. To buy tickets and treats, it would cost him $35! (Yes! The gods were working with me. My timing couldn’t have been better.) “Perfect,” we both agreed. We made plans to meet on Monday.
Upon arriving, we exchanged glances. It was obvious. He felt as overwhelmed as I did.
I assured him. We would employ the age-old strategy, “aim high, do our best, and be satisfied” with whatever we could accomplish in one day. Brushing and clearing were first on the list. I had an old scythe and some brush-clippers. He chose the clippers. The challenge was on.
At break time, I offered a proposition. “Brad, can I hire you for the summer? Or, better yet, what if we formed our own business? Kathy McQuillan could be our first customer. She’s definitely got enough work to keep us busy for a long time. She should pay a livable wage. If she hired anybody else, she’d offer them at least $12 an hour. So, if you work hard and do a good job, you should earn the same. If she likes our work, maybe she’d give us good references, in case other jobs come along. What d’ya say? We could call ourselves B & K Handywork Service. Just think about it.” Break time was over. We got back to work.
That afternoon, we’d carved a nice path to the front door. Brad went home tired with $50. in his pocket. Now, six weeks into our plan, we’ve worked together many times — emptying rooms, hauling, stacking, setting tanks, building steps, vacuuming, scrubbing walls and washing windows. Brad’s used shovels, hammers, screw drivers and drills for the first time. He’s learned to “dress for the job”, gotten his hands dirty, learned to use new tools and discovered ways to get them to work better for him. He’s chimed in with solutions to problems, worked up a sweat and an appetite. And this is only a part of the story. We’ve gotten to know each other again. We work well as a team now, tease, make jokes, look back to measure our progress, and take pride in what we see. We’ve shared feelings, commiserated, talked about money, made agreements, shook on them and high-fived. Not bad for being just partway through summer! Quite the “golden opportunity” for this Gray Pantherette!


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