My electric radio/clock was set to go off at the usual five-thirty in the dreary a.m., the coffee maker was set to start the brewing, and my business warrior's uniform was hung on a hook.

For those who may not know what a warrior's uniform is, let me expound. It is a dark blue suit, white shirt, red necktie and highly polished black shoes with black socks. You see, I was trained during the dress for success era and the IBM image was everything. There were no casual Fridays, and it took me three years to get permission to grow a mustache, and only after I made the boss a couple of million.

Before I go further, let me explain that I took an early retirement at fifty-five and to this day, the company muckity mucks still disbelieve I did it. With weeks of accumulated vacation time, I came in on January 2nd, promptly told them I was going on a trip and not to expect me back for five weeks. The boss groaned and I really thought he was going to cry when I also told him to have my retirement package ready when I got back. Talk about blank stares and his face would be beside it in the list.

Okay, so you now have the image. I am sawing the Z's and having wonderful dreams. The electric beast shatters my dreams as it screams for me to get out of bed. I reach down and grab the monster's tail, yank it from the socket and throw the animal of my nightmares into the trash bin. I promptly roll over instead of rolling out and drift back into the soft arms of Morpheus. My dear wife of thirty-two years at that time hardly moved.

A funny thing happens. I awaken after about an hour and I can't stay in bed. After an hour of trying, I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and curse the early rising habit as I sit there trying to decide what next to do. I hear the last gurgles from my coffee maker and decide to get a taste of the brew.

After a brief visit to my reading room for a morning pit stop, I pad into the kitchen. Shoot, I could have found the coffee blindfolded by following the fragrance. A funny thing happens around the homestead when all of the children are out on their own. The house becomes a home where one may scratch when and where ever one wishes and I like to sit around in my skivvies and a tee shirt. Now this image you may try to expunge from your mental gray matter, but it's too late. Sorry.

For almost a half an hour, I sat there drinking coffee and savoring each sip. During that process, I came to realize that one thing would not be missed from the daily grind. It was the drive to and from I hated most. When we first moved to our rural abode, drive time was about twenty minutes. In twenty-three years, it grew yearly until that time was at least forty-five minutes of pure hell on wheels. A single fender bender could make it an hour without half trying and most days were like being in the middle of a demolition derby.

After three cups of the brew, I thought I would dress and step outside to see what was going on in my landscape. Landscape is just a fancy ten-dollar word for yard. Since this was my first day of retirement, I went to great lengths to not have it planned and chose to wing it. I looked in my closet to see what I was going to wear and realized I had few true work clothes. You know, the kind you don't mind getting dirty as you garden or turn the compost or some other grubby chore.

"You have a new set of khakis in the closet," I hear my wife LaShon say.

"Oh, sorry to wake you."

I find the khakis and dress, liking the feel of new material, but hesitant to break them in with a lot of grime. I guess it is like a new pickup truck, not broken in until a load of manure is hauled in it. At least that's what my dad always said.

"What you going to do today?" she asks.

This should have been a clue of things to come, but at that moment, I was enjoying the day too much and was trying to be clueless to the mind of a woman, a wife in particular. She gets out of bed and stretches, letting the knots of the night ease from the muscles.

"I am just going to wing it today."

"Well, if you don't have anything planned, we could drive to the mall," she replies as she pads into the bathroom.

Shoot! "What for?"

"New drapes."

"There's nothing wrong with the old ones."

I glance up just in time to see her steely eyes glaring at me, and realize I made my first mistake of my retirement. I think, take a note, gray cells, always have something planned, even if there is not anything. You would think that after thirty-two years I would have learned something, even through osmosis.

So help me, she got ready faster than I ever saw before. In an hour, we were back in drive time, fighting the traffic to go across town to the big mall, not the one closest to home. I mumbled and I grumbled about the construction, traffic and the idiot drivers.

By the time we arrived at the mall, my frustration level was peaked and so I dropped her off at the main door and searched for a parking spot. Ten minutes later and three hundred yards from the door, I pulled into a slot.

"What took you so long?" she asks as her foot taps the floor with impatience.

"Lot is almost filled."

"There's a spot right there," she says, pointing to a car pulling out of a spot within fifty feet of the door.

Second note to gray cells, don't roll eyes over a stupid comment. This retirement thing is getting more complicated than I first thought, as I watched her wheel around and head into the mall in a huff. Except for Christmas time, I usually avoid the malls like the black plague.

Tagging along with wife as she shops is on the same level as having a root canal without Novocaine--painful. With no intention of buying an item, she will examine it for long minutes before moving on to the next item.

After fifteen minutes of this foolishness, I usually make some excuse to go to another store to get out of the painful exercise in futility. "Hon, I'm going to the shoe store for some sneakers," I say.

"No, I need you to look at the drapes."

"Okay, why we looking at picture frames?"

Third note to gray cells, never ask a sensible question when she is shopping.

"I…I just don't know about your retirement. Come on," she snaps as she headed for the drapery department like a bullet shot from a gun and me in tow.

"May I help you?" a tall, leggy saleslady asked.

"We just want to look at the drapery fabrics," wife replies and looks over at me as I vacantly eye the lady and her too-short skirt.

I snap back to attention with an elbow in my ribs. For thirty minutes, we feel, we touch, we look, and we even smell the materials.

"What do you think about this one?" wife asks, as she holds up a roll of floral fabric.

I was beginning to learn about my answers to her. "Hmm, it's nice, but what about that one?" I point to another roll.

"Too vivid for the living room."

An hour later, we are back to the first roll, exactly where I mentally predicted we would be.

"Okay, I think you're right. That one will look good," I say.

"You aren't just saying that, are you?"

Forth note to gray cells, never raise hands and roll eyes at the same time in exasperation.

Except for the road noise and my grumbling about the traffic, the drive time home was as quiet as a tomb. Wife sat so close to the passenger side door I thought she was doing a Vulcan mind meld with it. If my truck had a back seat, she would have been in it, and the temperature in the cab felt near zero.

"Want some lunch?"

"No. Take me home."


I wanted to take that one back.

"I'm going back to work," she states, as she gives me a sidewise glance.

I just look at her, not wanting to ask why again.

"I can't stand you at home all day long."

Let's see. I have been retired exactly six hours and twenty minutes and somehow she has arrived at that decision?

I ponder the possibilities, pushing the gray cells into high gear. She goes back to work, leaving me to my own devices. That's a positive.

She brings in a paycheck. That's another in the plus column.

I can get up or go to bed whenever I want. Oh wow, that's plus again.

There will be no crazy shopping with her. Great balls of fire, I'm on a roll in the plus side.

Her mood will be better. That is a plus.

I become a househusband. That's both plus and minus.

"If that is what you want."

"You agreed to that really quick."

It was the tone of her voice that sent shivers up my spine. Fifth note to gray cells, do not agree with wife too soon, even when she has already made up her mind.

"Well, I just realized you have given this some considerable thought, and it is what is best for you."

Ooo, good one, with a little more practice I'll have this down pat, I think.

"I'm hungry. Let's eat lunch."

With all the energy I could muster, I recalled notes two and four, and nodded my head.

Our drive time ended in the parking lot of a steak house restaurant.

My cholesterol count is forgotten and I am celebrating.

Joseph Schild is an older writer with a slightly twisted sense of humor who strives to be a soft curmudgeon. Joe loves writing about childhood adventures and many of his short stories are from that era.

©Copyright 2005 David Ray Skinner/SouthernReader. All rights reserved.