Cars, cats and cataracts

Marcy O’Brien

Looking in the rear-view mirror, 2018 was quite a ride, a year of retirement and change.

I was sitting at a stoplight last week, thinking not of traffic or last minute stocking stuffers but reflecting on what a whackadoodle year it really has been. A year of personal firsts and lasts similar to those end-of-year television lookbacks.

The traffic light changed. I never noticed.

Eventually, the patience of the driver behind me wore thin and he committed that rarest of small-town offenses – he tooted. For cripe’s sake, lady, move it.

Okay, okay. Guilty of whackadoodleness. It’s a seasonal disorder.

Back at the beginning of 2018 I treated myself to a new car. When the calendar rolled over, it hit me that my trusty little 2008 RAV-4 was now 10 and had just cost me a few age-related repairs. Hmmm. After this year I won’t be working, meaning that fixed income lay straight ahead. Arggh. Maybe time to look at new models but naturally just for curiosity’s sake. Hah. It never works that way.

A week later we were driving my new wheels home from Erie in a raging blizzard. The remainder of the year wasn’t as stormy – but much of it was just as momentous, filled with firsts and lasts. Was this my last car? Yup, probably.

Also back in January, it had been a year since I had given notice of a 2018 July retirement date. I began to lead all my email messages to the trustees, my bosses, with a count of the remaining days until my departure. 183 days remaining. 159 days. 117 days, 74 days . .. .

As the days ticked by we were, as usual, selecting acts for the next season, fundraising, and wading in the applicant pool for my job replacement.

A winter flight to New England involved being in the audience for the Princess of Boston’s first play performance which followed her becoming a teenager. Gasp!

A few months later I zipped in again for her younger brother’s momentous 10th birthday. How is it that time marches on as my grandchildren rapidly age and I remain the same? Self-delusional is a good retirement state of mind.

Spring also brought the news that the Maine Coon kitten, for which we had been on a 15-month waiting list, had been born. We watched the breeder’s website daily for pictures and videos of playtime and mealtime. Dear Richard and I were both excited by the prospect of our new roommate. We met Finian, weighing all of 2 pounds, for the first time in May and he moved in permanently in June. Now 11 pounds, the little bruiser dispenses love, laughter and cuddles on a daily basis. And yes, he probably is our final pet.

Back at work, as I was writing an outline for the course we would teach at the League of Historic American Theatres annual conference in Austin, we received word that we had won their national award. Our theatre was named the League’s Outstanding Theatre of the Year, granting us enormous prominence and distinction. The announcement email elicited screams from our offices. The euphoric high lasted all the way to Austin. National recognition for our Warren County community, and our theatre work specifically, excited me more than I imagined it could while I was counting down those retirement days.

When we announced the big win to the community, a surprise retirement party was waiting to end the evening. And they truly got me – a shockeroo.

Amidst the friends, the kind words and the champagne, reality began to set in that this was the final goodbye. The Austin Awards Dinner celebration was grand, but being with the people who helped make it happen was joyful. My daughter had joined us in Austin; my son surprised me at the Warren festivities, both amazing their Mom.

Less than two weeks later I cleaned out my desk and my office. Getting used to the new schedule – wait a minute, let’s be honest – the non-schedule, has not been as restful as I thought. One of the long-awaited luxuries was not setting the alarm clock. Aaah retirement, right? Well, turns out that not having ANY deadlines has its own set of restrictions. I still have responsibilities, it’s just a matter of re-prioritizing. A slower process than I imagined.

Then August brought a long-awaited theatre trip to the Big Apple. My first, and probably last, ticket to see Bette Midler in Hello Dolly was a retirement gift from my dearest friend. I don’t imagine that the Divine Miss M imagines herself as a much-coveted item on a bucket list.

Autumn brought a little get-away, a brief trip to New Jersey for Richard’s grandson’s birthday followed by a few days in Dutch country. We came home to a well-cared for Finian and a terminally ill laptop. It was another “new” for the year that I hadn’t expected, didn’t particularly want, and absolutely can’t survive without. I keep reminding myself, “It’s only money.”

Before Thanksgiving’s trip to Boston, I headed to the ophthalmologist’s office in Erie. The cataract in my left eye has been removed in recent weeks and its twin in the right eye is coming off next Wednesday. This miraculous, painless process will endow me with a clear vision for the New Year ahead.

2018 – my year of firsts and lasts, new and olds will remain unforgettable for a very long time. They say that short-term memory goes first. For my car keys, yes; for the highlights of 2018 – they’ll be playing in reruns for a long time ahead.

And retirement isn’t quite complete because I intend to keep writing. Hopefully, I plan expanding my output to include a few book ideas that have been simmering on the back burner waiting for me to have the time.

One last thing: staying out of trouble can sometimes be a full-time job. Maybe I do have my work cut out for me. That’ll be a first.

Marcy O’Brien, retired Executive Director of Struthers Library Theatre, is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at