Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Toughest Thing about Retirement

Backroads Information-The Toughest Thing about Retirement

Prior to retirement I kept asking retired folks about retirement.  There were the usual questions about travel and finances.  However, I asked one couple "What is the toughest thing about retirement".  Their answer surprised me and gave me pause.  They said "You lose on average a friend a year and all you are left is your memory of them".

This summer is my fourth in retirement and yesterday I lost a close friend.

Brad was the most unlikely friend.  He did NOT drink, smoke, swear, hike, hunt, fish, argue about politics or the weather.  He did not listen to classic music like Hank Williams or that middle-ages stuff from Europe.  He was without a doubt the worst driver I ever had to follow on a Forest Service road and he was allergic to dogs.  

Back in the early 1990's the Wenatchee World did a feature story on our little astronomy group in town.  Brad read the article and commented to his wife that he was always interested in astronomy, but had never done anything about it.  His wife encourage him to call us.

Now we got four or five calls from people curious about astronomy as a hobby including one from Brad.  My friend that spoke to Brad gave me a call about Brad's interest in astronomy.  I said "Great, but lots of people show interest in astronomy and very few follow through because it is a difficult hobby".   Frank said "but you don't understand, he is a machinist".  Now for an amateur astronomer to find a machinist that is interested in astronomy is the equivalent of going out with a Playmate when your 17 years of age.

So there were definitely ulterior motives on our parts.  Which is understandable since Frank and I are "practicing Christians".  That is we need lots of practice.  Frank went through the Marine Corps as a helicopter pilot and flew a fire helicopter for LA County fire department.  I went to school at Berkeley with the California National Guard and we both left campus at the same time.  You could see why we had become "practicing Christians". 

Brad on the other hand was simply a Christian.  More on that later.

Brad came over to Franks house where he was shown Frank's 10inch Newtonian telescope on a German Equatorial Mount.  Frank showed Brad how the telescope worked and complained about the tangent drive on the declination axis.  Brad said I can fix that.  Now when people say that it is usually to show how smart they are without having to "actually" fix it.  Two days later he showed up at Frank's house with a completed tangent arm that actually worked better.

Later in the month we went up to a dark sky site outside of town with our group.  Brad barely knew the constellations and was interested in looking through the telescopes.  I showed him how to operate the computer that pointed my telescope and settled into my LaFuma with a beer.  I called out the ID numbers for celestial objects that Brad then punched into the computer, moved the telescope and we started talking a astronomy, life, and other cosmic topics.  He looking at the stars and me drinking my beer.

He was hooked and Frank and I had a machinist for a friend.

Now as "practicing Christians" Frank and I did tease people that did not walk the talk.  We started out teasing Brad but quickly learned that he was the real thing.  There was not a mean bone in his body.  We never heard a discouraging word.  He did not boast, lie, cheat or do any of those other things that cause humans to fall short.

We stopped teasing him fairly quickly.  And soon his good nature and his willingness to help anybody and everybody without any expectations soon started changing us.  I ended up being a much better person for having known Brad and as a result needed "less practice".   I guess I finally understood what my mother meant by your friends changing you though I suspect she never thought I would find one that would change me for the better.

Now God gave Brad a gift that let him fix and build things.  From piles of aluminum, wood, and glass came works of art that were functioning telescopes.  Even the simple ones have the elegance and style of good design.   He completed a 24 1/2 inch telescope that was 10 feet high about the same time he was diagnosed with brain cancer.

A couple of weeks after his brain surgery he called and asked for my help for a couple of hours one morning.  We went over to a neighbors yard and fixed their fence.  He needed my help to hold the fence boards and drive a few screws.  He stayed in character throughout his difficult trial with brain cancer.

I am going to miss him.  I am going to miss observing the stars late at night with him.  After a couple of years he knew the night sky better than I did, but he never told me that.   I have one of this telescopes and the memories of a friendship and I now know the "toughest thing about retirement".

As life goes on and I face those simple choices and decisions in everyday life I am going to have to remember to think "What would Brad do?".   Hopefully, I will need "less practice" having known Brad.

Here I am helping Brad build my observatory.  Brad on the left and me on the right.

The picture at the top of the blog is the observatory after a light Cascade snowfall.  Yes, Virgina there is an observatory under all that snow.  Next winter, Arizona.

Here is an article in the Wenatchee World on Brad.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing Brad with us. Those snippets of his life were precious.

I'm retired, and lost a dearest friend, also a real Christian, earlier this year. But knowing him also made me a better person and enriched my life.

Somehow your story of Brad is a beautiful fit into your boondocking theme.

Linda said...

I'm sorry for your loss. We've been lucky so far but that time will come for us, too, I'm sure.

Frank said...

Vladimir, Great job writing about Brad. You hit the nail on the head.


Anonymous said...

What a beautiful tribute to a great man. I will keep in touch via email.

Alexandra said...

Brad's legacy will live on through the people he touched in life, we are truly lucky to of had such a great man in our lives even if it was for such a short time. Couldn't of asked for a better friend and confidant for my father.

Miss you.

Your Daughter

seawallrunner said...

what a beautiful tribute, what a beautiful story. thank you for sharing your memories with us.

Vladimir Steblina said...

Thank you all for your comments on Brad.

In my travels throughout the world I have always looked up in the sky and felt at home.

This past month on clear nights I have looked up and remembered Brad.

The stars will now always remind me of Brad and hopefully, he is exploring the universe up close and personal.