A Journal

"I'm going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There's something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I'll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don't want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave".----Breece D'J Pancake, in a letter to his mother. 

Kathleen Abate





Every day more than 10,000 baby boomers will reach the age of 65.
That is going to keep happening every single day for the next 19 years.


            The rhythms of “Living La Vida Loca” reverberated off the walls and wooden floors of the school gymnasium. The South Middle School Mustangs, painted maroon, manes flying, hoofs set to stampede, looked down from the cement-block wall as my Zumba classmates and I arranged ourselves in ragged lines. The stallions had been the backdrop of my children’s gallop through middle school: convocations, band concerts and award ceremonies, ball games, dances, and middle school medieval fairs. The stallions stood frozen in time. Returning their steady gaze, assaulted by the vibrations of the Latin beat, I became unstuck. Not another Billy Pilgrim. More like a time traveler rooted in place, but bouncing from time to time, unable to stick a landing. Was it 1990? 96? Or 2012? Confused and disoriented I looked for familiar anchors. Where were the bleachers and basketball uniforms?  The parents with cameras? I watched my youngest daughter tune the tympani, introduce the new superintendent of schools whose tenure ended long ago. I blinked and saw my older daughter and her friends pass by, dressed in medieval fair garb.  Was I supposed to be helping students with costumes for the school play or making a quick exit before I embarrassed a daughter at her first formal?

            I was raised on the Miriam Webster notion that time is a continuum, measured by events that succeed one another from past through present to future. Physics was strictly Newtonian. In high school I read that Thoreau believed that time was the stream where everyone fished. Being from Michigan, I thought I understood the fishing part and had some knowledge of rivers–they flow in one direction, straight to the lakes. But it was not until years later, on a small boat in the East River near the foot of Manhattan, navigating the currents of Hell Gate, that I began to appreciate the chaos caused when cross currents meet tidal ebb and flow. My introduction to quantum mechanics, like my notion of tidal rivers, postdates my formative years. And now, on the brink of retirement, I am increasingly conscious that the flow of rivers, as well as time, can be confounding.


Fifty percent of all baby boomers plan to move when they retire.

There are many good reasons to consider downsizing or relocating.

            Maybe it’s a product of aging, but it takes some effort to keep the synapses firing in proper order.  My hiccups in time are not confined to the junior high gym. I am surrounded by triggers that keep me bouncing back and forth along the fourth dimension. I am never quite

sure when or where another spasm will occur. Watching the high school students streaming downtown after school, I think I recognize one and am about to wave, then catch myself as I realize it can’t be her. The child I tutored on times tables in second grade now has children of her own.

            Physicists dismiss the sci-fi movie notion that meeting oneself in time travel can result in a rent in the space time continuum, causing the hapless wayfarer to disappear in a puff of special effects.  But I am not entirely convinced. Better to proceed with caution. I know I am no longer a homeroom mom, but the possibility of crashing into an earlier self, figuratively or literally, seems like a good enough reason to get out of Dodge. 


According to current projections, the global population will reach

eight billion by 2030, and will likely reach around nine billion by 2050.


            I am not sure about the rest of the planet, but the streets of my town are getting crowded. Phantom vibrations from the past fill the sidewalks and jostle with the now.  Families positioned at the curb, waiting to catch candy thrown from the floats of the annual Christmas parade, are joined by memories of my own toddlers. When the quarter horses from Dalton Stables trot by, I see visions of my younger self, catching my daughter, now a horse-poor A-circuit competitor, by the back of her jacket as she ran into the middle of the street, tears of excitement running down her cheeks, crying “Heeses! Heeses!” Girl Scouts, interspersed with shadows of my own Brownies, come next. Then, one by one, the bands appear, majorettes and drum lines, like DuChamps’s Nude Descending a Staircase marching in multiple time lapse exposures. Rhythms from the past compete for my attention and threaten to drown out the present.

When baby boomers were asked about where they want to retire,

33% of them said they want to retire in a rural area, 30% in a small

 town, 25% in a suburban community, and only 12% in an urban community.

            I love the small town where I live. I have spent the past 40 years bragging to my family back home that here we don’t have six degrees of separation. “Really, it’s six degrees of connection.”  The families I know from PTO are the ones I share the wait with in supermarket lines and meet again at the movies on Saturday night. My city connections have tired of my mantras: “This college town is a perfect place to raise kids. I don’t worry about them being snatched walking to the bus stop. On summer evenings, it’s okay for them to go out and hunt for fireflies.” After a snowfall, a neighbor gets on his four wheeler and clears my driveway and our side street. The assertion that I don’t need to lock my house is no longer entirely accurate. But still, not only do I know my neighbors (and their children), I have friends and acquaintance on each of the blocks I pass on my way down the hill to town. If I am alone and a strange car appears in my driveway, the phone rings as neighbors check on me.

            I have lived here long enough to give directions like a native--by landmarks that used to exist. Turn left where Connie’s market used to be. It’s just past the old mall. When a radio ad for a new eatery in a nearby town urged: “Come to Mom’s Place, across from the former Phillips Lighting plant,” I knew exactly where it was located.

            These six degrees of familiarity are comforting and warm. The downside: I cannot walk downtown without being distracted by a tsunami of images of stores and merchants long gone. A history of personal interconnections adds to the disorientation. I don’t have althzheimers or dementia. Really, I don’t.  But I seem to be losing track of who’s still with us, who has moved and who has passed. Was his mother’s funeral a year ago? Is she still living at home? Should I ask about her husband? At lunch, when a sweet young waitress greets me by name, I smile, warmly, trying to remember her name, whether I knew her from soccer or band, and which daughter had her as a friend. Maybe it’s a failure to make and maintain meaningful relationships, but, at times, I yearn for a life without the double-edged sword of connection. I believe that retirees’ moves are not merely motivated by a desire to climb out of snow banks and into warmer climates. Nor are they merely a quest for more grandparent time. Relocating is the road out of fourth-dimensional  dilemmas.

            Retiring is like adolescence without the same angst. It’s a time to explore who I am and what I truly care about–to figure out what I want to do with what’s left of my life. Planning for retirement requires more than determining what to do with an IRA. It means jettisoning at least some habits born out of the routine, yet intense, demands of years spent juggling career and child rearing. Removing complexities by downsizing and disposing of the accumulated “stuff” piled in the attic is not sufficient. For me, moving on requires a respite from the ever-present flashbacks.

            My personal solution is a front row seat to an ever-changing kaleidoscope of blues and grays and, when weather permits, sunsets that wrap the sky in refracted ribbons from the longer, slower wavelengths. It is a lake house where birches, wind, water, and sand surround me with sound and filter out the noise of past lives. The major entrepreneurial endeavor in the nearby town is marked by a hand-lettered sign: “Gas, Hardware, Groceries, Beer, and Bait.” This new neighborhood allows me the illusion that life is new, or at least less crowded. It gives me rooms to fill with colors and furniture and friends and family. Rooms that don’t reverberate with past failures or old triumphs.


The “oldest old”–those aged 85 and over–

are the most rapidly growing elderly age group.


            He swooped down from his deck–or as close to swooping as an eighty-plus-year-old buzzard whose main activity is keeping watch over his beach can swoop. Actually, I was a little envious, and not just of the 150 feet of private beach. I can’t walk five steps without a sand-in-the-shoe crisis. Maybe he had lost feeling in his extremities, maybe it was his white tube socks, but there he was: long sleeves, sansabelt dress slacks and loafers. An arthritic wraith moving steadily toward the intruders. Tubesocks was a man on a mission.

            I sat up in my beach chair and poked my husband. “The geezer’s at it again.”

            “Don’t use the ‘G’ word. It’s too close for comfort,” he said. “And, besides, you don’t really know how old he is.”

            The defender of his family’s sand arrived at the pink and turquoise towels that violated his family’s turf.  Then, he betrayed his age. It wasn’t his eyesight. He could spot invaders at 100 yards. He glared down at the two twenty-somethings, their hair covering more flesh than the strategically suspended triangles of reflective, space-age material, and he began to grimace and gesture. Priorities change with age.

            It was an unwanted, uninvited, unnerving vision of the future. I turned away, watched a freighter drift across the horizon and buried my feet deeper in the sand, determined to stick this landing for as long as possible.


Kathleen Abate grew up in Detroit on the city side of Eight Mile at a time when kids, at least those living in white working-class neighborhoods, could hang out and play curb ball until the street lights came on. Although her  father was not able to graduate from high school, her parents valued education and sent each of their six children to parochial schools. Kathleen believes that the nuns’ no-nonsense approach to learning taught her to not only to question authority, but how to ace standardized tests, a skill that enabled her to take advantage of scholarships available through the auto industry. She attended the University of Michigan and after graduation worked as a social worker for a time before moving with her husband to Morgantown, West Virginia. There she raised two daughters. Now retired, Kathleen divides her time between the mountains of West Virginia and the sandy beaches and birch trees of Lake Michigan’s shoreline.