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Not a retiring community

by John Pixley

“It’s insanely hot,” I heard as the pedestrian light came on and I took off to cross Indian Hill Boulevard in the Village.

It was the Saturday before Labor Day, and it was pretty darn hot. Nothing unusual there.

After all, it was September, and the county fair was up and running. Both have been long known for coming with some of the year’s hottest weather.

I don’t know if the guy who spoke was a student at the Colleges, but it would make perfect sense if it was. The Colleges were set to begin classes on Tuesday. (Strangely enough, after years of holding or even starting classes on Labor Day, the Colleges took the holiday off this year.)

And there’s the old yarn here about the colleges interviewing new faculty and students from back east in February, when Claremont was at its loveliest with blessedly balmy weather and ripe oranges shining against the snow on Mt. Baldy. Then, the new hires and students show up in September, with Claremont at it hottest and smoggiest, wondering what they had done, what they had gotten into. The orange groves are pretty much gone now, but so are, thankfully, the horribly smoggy days.   

Yes, it may get “insanely hot” here in September, at least according to those joining us from New England as well as probably those of us who call Claremont home, but everyone can be happy that there aren’t nearly as many summer and early-fall smog alerts as when I was growing up here. (It appears that the tough rules and regulations that made this decline happen may now be in danger of being rolled back.)

No doubt the students and new faculty from afar have various impressions of this small town that they’ve found themselves in, whether or not they are wrong. I often wonder what goes through their minds as they amble past our evergreen landscapes, featuring blooms all the year round, and in and out and pass our not-so-old famed historic buildings, especially as they walk around in tee-shirts, shorts and flip-flops on chilly, even wet January and February days.

Some years ago, I attended the commencement ceremony at Pomona College to hear the featured speaker. I happened to arrive early enough to hear the student speaker. The young man described finding himself in Claremont, which he referred to as a “nice retirement community.”

I thought this was interesting, considering that he was in the midst—actually on the edge—of seven colleges and graduate institutions. Never mind that thousands of young people were being feted that weekend, and there was another graduate institute across town.

But, then again, there are months when the students aren’t here, and Claremont is left on its own. And just as this town is home to an unusual number of colleges and graduate schools, Claremont has more than its fair share of prominent, yes, retirement homes—Claremont Manor, Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pilgrim Place—with thousands of older adults calling Claremont home.

For better or for worse (I’d say for the better) this is a community in which we are very aware of retirement, in which retirement is thought about a lot.  Claremont isn’t a retirement community—indeed, we’re known as a college town—but retirement is a big part of Claremont.

I have become even more aware of this. As I wrote here a couple months ago, because of health problems that I have dealt with in the last two and a half years, I have had to cut back on how much I do. I have had to retire, more or less. As I wrote earlier, one friend pointed out that it is like I got older, closer to retirement age, fast. And now that I think about it, I’m old enough anyway so that it won’t be that long before I’ll reach the typical retirement age. (Really?)

What I find myself wrestling with, even as I’m doing now as I write this, is how much to do and how much not to do. How do I find the time and energy to write this when I need the time to get the rest I now need and when I need the time and the energy to attend all the medical appointments and therapy sessions I now have?

And what if, as has not been unusual this year, I have a medical issue that lands me in the ER for most of a day or in the hospital for a week or two, throwing off my intentions to get this done?

I imagine that many of the older adults, the retired people, in this community deal with such issues. But I have also seen over the years that I have lived here, at least in the example of those living in “the Manor,” “the Gardens” and Pilgrim Place, that retirement definitely doesn’t mean doing nothing, doesn’t mean giving up.

There’s the old joke about folks getting even busier once they retire, what with volunteering, traveling, spending time with grandchildren and whatnot. Well, it’s not a joke, at least not here in Claremont.

Look at the Joslyn Senior Center. It’s abuzz with activity, not only providing help for those with lessening abilities, such as in finding assistance in daily living and in regularly calling those who can no longer get out easily. It also hosts an array of classes, arranges for many day trips and tours, provides lunch and other special meals and parties. Many of the services the center provides to those who are less able are provided with the help of retired people now volunteering.

And then there are the folks that live in Pilgrim Place. These retired ministers and other church workers put the rest of us all to shame, and not just with the two-day festival they put on each November.

They are often in the lead, often ahead of the college students, in organizing and attending protests, whether to urge action against climate change, the on-going, seemingly endless war in Afghanistan or whatever they see as the latest injustice. When the Occupy protest was going on, the Pilgrim Place residents provided food and bathing facilities to those camping out at city hall.

I have been learning to see the visits to the ER and hospital stays, like all the doctor appointments and therapy sessions as just things that are now just part of my life, rather than things that ruin my life. This has definitely been an ongoing challenge, but it beats seeing life as I know it as constantly threatened, endangered. In the same way, for those living in retirement here, the nearby care facilities provide peace of mind as they go on living their lives as they can.

As I have seen with the older, retired people living here, retirement doesn’t mean giving up and doing nothing. Far from it, retirement doesn’t mean retiring from life. It means living fully, with various adjustments and safeguards wisely made and in place, as one now can.

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