Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News

Walter Albritton

January 19, 2003


An intimate glimpse into the private life of an old war horse


          “What are you doing, now that you have retired?”

            Interested friends pose that question to me frequently.

            The question does not imply that retired people have little to do. Rather it springs from a sincere desire to know how a person handles all the “extra time” that retirement brings.

            With six months of retired living now under my belt, I will throw caution to the wind and bare my soul. Read on only if you are ready to embrace an intimate glimpse into the private life of an old war horse.

             Use your imagination and assign an estimate of the number of hours I spend in each activity. Add them up along the way if you wish to know how much time remains for sleeping. You will be amazed at how little time retired people have for rest.

            My day usually begins early. This morning, for example, I was wide awake at 5:45. Did I bounce out of bed? Not hardly.

             My bones and muscles demand a cautious greeting of the dawn. I hear them growling as I crawl out of bed, “Move slowly, you old fool, if you expect our help!”

            I respect their wishes, asking only that they move with just enough speed to get me to the bathroom in time. They comply, and that enables me to begin the day with gratitude.

            Frequently I make biscuits for breakfast. Like the folks at Hardee’s, I make biscuits from scratch. I scratch open a plastic bag, rub butter on four of those frozen white rocks, and pop them into the oven for 25 minutes.

            Forget the Wheaties. Two warm biscuits baptized with honey are the true breakfast for champions. Add a scrambled egg and a strip of bacon and you have a meal fit for a king. And I am not even a prince.

            On Mondays, the big event is the coming of the garbage truck. This adds a bit of mystery, somewhat like the return of Jesus, since we never know what hour the truck will arrive.

            A few months ago, the waste management engineers came down our street before noon on the second day of the week. Now it may be after dark before they get to us.

            The reason I imagine is the ever increasing amount of garbage. There must be tons and tons of it somewhere. My wife and I may cancel our trip to see the Grand Canyon this summer and just drive out to the county garbage dump. That surely must be a sight to see. I wonder if they sell tickets to see all that stuff.

            One thing is certain -- no one can relax until the garbage can is emptied each week. Sometimes my wife and I turn the TV off and just sit by the front door, waiting to see the garbage truck drive up. Hey, don’t knock it; that is a lot more fun than watching those stupid sit-coms that have infested television.

            One of highlights of each day is the arrival of the mail. Our mail woman is consistent; she delivers the mail by 10:45 every morning, no matter how bad the weather.

She always waves at me, so I watch for her every morning so I can make her day with a friendly wave and a smile.

            I tried to buy some stamps from her one day, but she said, “No, that is something your mama used to do, but we make folks drive into town nowadays.” I reckon it has some connection to the economy. If you drive into town for stamps, then you may stop by the super market or the hardware store and spend some money. It makes sense.

            You never realize until you retire how important the mail really is. There are days when nothing more exciting happens than getting the mail. I think it has to do with the element of surprise; you never know when you will a personal letter submerged in the normal five pounds of junk mail.

            A personal letter, even a card, can cause the heart to sing. Why just last week I got a card from an old man in Opelika. I could tell it was a used card, but, hey, it was a card. He had used “white-out” to remove the name of the person who sent the card to him, but it was still personal to me.

            The man is evidently so old that I could not be sure of the signature, but it looked like “Andy.” The best I could tell, he had scribbled this message on it:

            “Mister Allbritches, I came across your name today, and I wondered if you are the old goat who used to be my pastor. If so, I just wanted you to know I still share my vegetables. I gave our new pastor a mess of collard greens just this morning. I don’t remember you being a very good preacher, but I do remember how your face lit up every time I shared the stuff out of my garden with you. Come by to see us sometime if you are still able to get out of the house.”

            That same day I thought I had received a personal letter from my insurance man, Rusty Sheehan. It was somewhat personal. It was addressed to me, and signed by Rusty. However, it turned out to be only the one-millionth invitation to sign up for another credit card.

            I get five or six such invitations daily. The way I figure it, if you pay your bills, your name is added to a list of folks who are solicited by banks and the credit card companies.

            Junk mail is useful, however. I haven’t bought any firewood in years. My friend Michael Melnik used to bless me with firewood. These days I just roll the junk mail up into tight bundles and burn it like wood. When burning, all those lies sparkle like fireworks, adding some color to drab winter days.

            Since my busy life is so demanding, this intimate glimpse will require a minimum of 49 installments, of which you have now read the first. Stay tuned for further episodes from the exciting life of an old war horse now frolicking, albeit in slow motion, and grazing in the back pasture.