I decided to call this piece “A Day in April” and so, as I’m an old, very old, English major, the first thing that popped into my mind was the first line of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Wasteland,” which is “April is the cruelest month.” I don’t know that this will have anything to do with what I’m writing, but there, it’s out of the way. As it happens, I was reading a book about four writers, one of whom was Eliot, who’d set the tone for modern literature in the 1920’s. Old English majors read books like that.
I’m a retiree, but don’t get the idea that I sit around reading books all day. I’d thought that once I’d retired, which is now some years ago, I would do a lot of reading, but somehow this hasn’t happened. It’s amazing how much time you have to spend doing the things that occur during the ordinary course of the day when you’re retired, and especially when you’re old and retired. First, there’s the chore of getting out of bed and overcoming the stiffness that sets in overnight. My wife Sally and I usually get up around the same time and, once out of bed and finished in the bathroom, there’s the morning regimen of pill-taking, which takes up quite a bit of time. Then there’s the preparation of breakfast, usually cold cereal, but there’s the slicing up of strawberries and other fruit to go into it as this is supposed to be beneficial for seniors. After breakfast Sally takes up her iPad and plays word games on it. I go to our patio, enclosed, so it’s a sun room when it’s sunny, with my coffee and do the New York Times crossword puzzle, the only reason for getting our local newspaper, which, in the past few years, has been reduced to half its size while its cost has about doubled. Then there’s more bathroom business and getting dressed and by this time the morning is at least half gone.
Sally and I live in a retirement community; it’s in Northern California just outside of the state capital, Sacramento. The community has a Lodge which is the center of its activities and nearby a nature area with a circular walking path. April in the Sacramento Valley is a chancy month for weather but on this April Sunday the sun was out and the sky was a cloudless blue so after the morning’s activities I told Sally I was going for a walk in the park. I put on my windbreaker and took my walking stick, not a cane, as I always tell people. I’ve been using the walking stick for many years, even before my hip replacement surgery, which was three years ago, and definitely after it. I’d recently had another surgery, to have my dead gall bladder removed, and this would be my first walk since then. My plan was to go around the circular walking path, then return home to have lunch, read the Sunday Times and then, finally, resume reading the book about Eliot and the other three writers while possibly listening to some music. I’d discovered that I could get just about any piece of music I wanted by Googling You Tube on my iPad but somehow never did this very often. So, an afternoon spent reading and listening to good music.
I’m usually the only person on the walking path except when I meet the bird lady or someone walking a dog. The bird lady, as I think of her, is a woman of about 50 who lives in our community and gets around in a motorized scooter (something I’ve thought about for myself, in the future, not now). She has a knack of spotting birds, which I hear but never can see, and takes pictures of them which she posts on Facebook. She’s a nice lady and after we’ve exchanged greetings and a few words she always wishes me a nice day.
On this walk I had an odd encounter. There are three benches on the walking path. I usually sit on two or all three as I make my way around. Going to one of the benches I passed a family, husband, wife and two small children, having a picnic in the grass along the path. I’d never seen anyone doing this before. I was sitting on the bench when the father I’d seen came up and said hello. He looked at my Nike shoes and asked if I played tennis. I told him I used to. He told me he’d played tennis in high school and a little in college but wasn’t playing now; the two kids took up a lot of time. He didn’t live in the retirement community of course but nearby. I told him about a couple of tennis clubs and a park where tennis players gathered. Somehow we got around to my two surgeries and he asked if he could bless me. I asked if he was a pastor. He said No, but he believed in Jesus. I said Okay. He asked if he could put his hand on me. Sure. He said something like he hoped I’d recover from my surgeries and be able to walk as I’d used to. Then we shook hands and he returned to his family. I walked to the end of the path, hobbled along with my walking stick as before.
When I returned home, later than I’d thought as a result of my odd encounter, I had lunch and spent the next two hours plowing through the many sections of the Times. It was time to take up my book and listen to music. Instead I fell asleep in my chair; I suppose the walk and the Times reading had exhausted me. I looked at my watch and it was too late to do anything except prepare for Sunday dinner. Then it would be time to watch the Sunday TV shows, the TV powers that be having decided to place any decent show on that night. I’d have to postpone my reading and listening to music until the next day.
The next morning after breakfast I had a nagging feeling there was something I had to do and I realized that April was tax month and I had to mail in my taxes in the next few days. No, I might be old and forgetful but I hadn’t put off doing my taxes until the last minute. I’d already done most of my tax work; I just had to review it and then write out tne necessary checks. But this wasn’t as easy as it might sound. First, I had to find my tax folder, which was in my desk where it should be. Then I had to find the forms and put them in order. I did have the forms and envelopes for the federal taxes, but the State doesn’t send forms and envelopes so I had to print out several things on my computer and unearth the envelopes. While doing all this, I wondered if T.S. Eliot had in the back of his mind when he still lived in the United States the ordeal of dealing with taxes when he wrote “April is the cruelest month.” I didn’t think so but it certainly applied.
At any rate, writing the proper checks and getting them ready to mail to the IRS so they wouldn’t penalize me took up the rest of the morning. Then came the business of putting stamps and return address labels on envelopes. I took everything down to the mailbox, but, as I might have known, this was the one day that the mail had been delivered early. I didn’t want to leave my checks to the IRS in the mail box overnight because we had mailbox thieves who’d broken into one just a few weeks before. So I put everything on the kitchen counter to remind me to mail them the next morning. It was time for lunch, a late one.
After lunch, I repaired to my bedroom chair and watched the news on TV. It was the usual depressing stuff and what it said about the government’s latest antics made it even harder to stomach sending my money to the clowns in Washington. But I supposed I better had. The house was quiet. Sally had gone to lunch with one of her ladies’ groups. I realized that now was the time. I could read my book about T.S. Eliot and the other writers. I could listen to music. I reflected on the day before, when I’d been blessed. It was unlikely that I’d ever be able to walk any better, no matter how sincere that fellow was. But maybe I was blessed to have survived my two surgeries and still be ambulatory. I found my book and hit the You Tube app on my iPad. Reading and listening to good music.