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Front Porch: Work is more than husband’s livelihood, it’s his life

As I write these words, it’s 9 a.m. on one of those about-to-be broiling hot days of summer. My husband has been out of the house since 8 a.m., and I probably won’t see him until dinner. He’s doing exactly what he wants to be doing – he’s working.

And I’d like to mention that he will be 75 this fall.

You know all those people who work with the explicit goal of retirement at a certain age, look forward to travel, new pursuits and endless leisure? Well, Bruce isn’t one of those people.

He loves to work, loves solving problems for people in his work and looks forward each day to doing just that. He is a happy guy who feels privileged to be able to work and plans to keep doing so as long as his body and mind allow him to do it the way he feels it needs to be done – which is carefully and thoroughly and with as much attention as each customer needs.

And it’s not that his small one-man business operates in a climate-controlled environment. Much of his work is outdoors, on ladders, in crawl spaces under buildings and up and down stairs. In the heat.

Bruce is not a one-dimensional workaholic; he has other pleasures and pursuits. In the slow season, winter, he reads a lot – and skis. We sail when we can. We go to the symphony and Spokane Civic Theatre, have friends over for dinner, visit our son in Seattle and, when we can, our other son in Europe.

He’s just not a hobby kind of guy, good at puttering or a man who needs a lot of social interaction. If he needed to retire, he’d (if able) build houses for Habitat for Humanity or do something that resembled official work. That’s his normal. Why retire so you can do anything you want when you’re already doing that?

This attitude has caused us some problems. I’m pretty sure it’s put a dent in at least one friendship, and it does separate us to a degree from most of our retired friends. I’m a freelance writer now, so I have more flexibility with my time, but as a couple, we are not available for impromptu day trips or shared summer vacations or some of those activities that retired couples engage in with peers.

But the biggest issue seems to be in understanding. I don’t think our friends get why Bruce continues to work and probably wonder if we’re actually having financial difficulties or suffering from an obsession or lack imagination. I mean, who wouldn’t want to retire if he were able to?

Bruce, that’s who.

True, he has the advantage of being the boss, but he is also the labor force. And he loves what he does. That certainly makes a difference. But work also gives a sense of contribution to the greater whole for a man like my husband, a feeling of value and the energy that comes from providing a service that people want and need. These are things of importance beyond just the income.

Now, it’s not all delight. There are impossible customers, of course. And, oh lordy, Bruce’s bookkeeping is antiquated. No computer for him. His ledgers are pen and paper, as are his invoices. He inputs daily, after a long day doing the work. We even had to petition the state for an exemption in filing certain taxes, normally required electronically, so that we can do it on filled-in-manually tax forms.

I do our taxes, including quarterly sales taxes, which requires reviewing each invoice to ensure it’s reported in the correct municipal taxing district. It is a task I’ve been at for decades now, and not one I’m especially fond of, especially since I embrace working online. There are computer programs that can do this task in a snap, but those would require computer invoicing, and, you know – old dog, new tricks.

Sure, I worry about him out there. When it’s as hot as it is now, I make sure he takes along a cooler with lots to drink and a small bag of ice (for application to his neck, as needed). I wag my finger in his direction in the morning and tell him I will positively kill him if he dies of heatstroke. We both smile, and off he goes.

There’s another thing, too. Way back when, when we got married, it was in Miami, and Bruce, who was stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base, sent the appropriate paperwork to me there so I could get our marriage license, for which I paid $3 from my own pocket. When he gets snarky now, like neglecting to pay attention to his wife’s directives about staying hydrated, I remind him that he’s mine, bought and paid for, and that he needs to heed me.

If he’s on his way out the door, I sometimes just call out “$3.” He gets it. Or I’ll do an extreme shorthand and just hold up three fingers.

I often tell my hard-working guy that he was the best $3 I ever spent.

He still is.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor@comcast.net.


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