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Paul Turner: At a retirement party, looking back, looking forward

Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Paul Turner (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

The highlight of Saturday night’s retirement party for Madonna Luers up on Green Bluff?

Well, you would have to ask her. But it might have been the surprise arrival of her three sisters from South Dakota and Nebraska.

The evening’s honoree seemed stunned, literally bent over in amazement. (I took a picture of the moment with my phone but it doesn’t do it justice.)

Though she still has vacation time to burn off, last week was Madonna’s wrap-up after 34 years as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Eastern Washington public information officer.

It wasn’t hard to imagine animals in the woods surrounding the house she shares with husband Woody Myers pausing to silently salute her.

Rumors of still-to-come speeches and singing circulated as the gathering of dozens of her friends took turns wishing her well. That’s what retirement parties are for.

How many have you attended?

Maybe you would agree that retirement parties are unique. Part celebration of a happy transition to another chapter of a person’s life and part melancholy farewell, they are a mixed bag of emotions.

Of course, much depends on the retiree. If he or she is thrilled to walk away from a career or particular workplace, well, that’s one thing.

But what if the retiree headed out the door with an overstuffed box of resentment, regrets and unfinished business?

What if that job is what partly gave that individual’s life meaning? What if circumstances pushed the retiree out the door before he or she was really ready?

For all sorts of reasons, not all career endings are happy ones. You don’t need me to tell you that.

But from all appearances, Madonna Luers would seem to be one of the lucky ones.

“I’m giving out hugs tonight,” she said as she smiled and embraced a partygoer out on her deck.

The opportunities for a rich, full post-career existence can be virtually boundless. A retirement party can be a satisfying capstone atop a decades-long job well done.

“No more meetings,” said one woman Saturday night. “No more office politics.”

But there’s also an implied reality at a retirement party. And there’s no denying just what sort of milestone we’re talking about.

Remember those certain songs you heard when you were young? The ones that moved you and made you think “It’s all ahead of me” and “I can hardly wait to get there”?

You can still savor those same songs decades later. But they don’t mean the same thing anymore. They tend to make you look back, to reflect.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Life moves on.

But first, it’s fitting and proper that we raise a glass to the retiree.

And tell stories that begin, “Remember the time she …”

A late summer Saturday evening, just before the smoke-obscured sun starts to go down, can seem like the right time to hail a friend’s new beginning.

I’m not wild about the word “reinvention.” But you know what I mean.

That’s what retirement parties are, after all. Or what they can be – launch pads.

What was it they said at NASA?

Let’s light this candle.

Smoked out

I opened the door Sunday morning to get the paper and smelled the smoke.

Again.

And I realized something.

I have run out of things to say about the air-befouling impact of the wildfires. I’ve got nothing left to offer.

So here, as a handy time-saver, I present a template for use by anyone who might cross paths with me this week. Here’s what you can expect conversation-wise.

You: “Boy, that smoke is really hanging in there, isn’t it?”

Me:

You: “You have asthma, don’t you, Paul? This air quality can’t be good for your breathing.”

Me:

You: “I’m almost used to this now. Is that insane or what?”

Me:

You: “I don’t know how much more of this I can stand.”

Me:

You: “What color is the sky in your world? According to my ancestors, ours used to be blue.”

Me:

You: “This stuff is getting to my eyes.”

Me:

You: “I guess you are weary of talking about it, huh.”

Me:


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