The Colonel’s Plan – Walking Toward the Future

Please note that this was written seven months ago. It’s all still true. I have made no decisions. I am still in the same job, and still thinking that it might be interesting enough to keep me in place for a while. There are no deep, dark secrets here; just me thinking out loud. To my co-workers–my work family–be aware that I will not retire without having another job. As of today, I haven’t so much as gone on an interview. Deep breaths. 

July 31, 2018

Dear Daddy –

The green bathroom is ready for the plumbers. Did I say that already? I may have. I’ve started the pink bathroom now. Did I say that already? I may have. It’s very hard to hold anything in your head when your life is controlled by lists. 

Last night, I posted the letter from January which talked about the meeting with the Maryland lawyer. Today I’m setting up a meeting with him to draft the new deed for the house on Simpson Road, and working with the North Carolina lawyer on adding a right of way to one of the deeds down there. The five North Carolina deeds have been condensed down to four deeds—two for Charles, who is getting non-connecting lots, one for Susan, which combines two deeds, and one that they’ll share. But the road to the Chocolate house crosses Susan’s land. Now that they’re owned by two different people, even though they are family members, we need to record a right of way. 

This is not my house, but it’s a pretty accurate reflection of what my childhood was, inside my own head.

I need to meet with a financial planner. Paying my own mortgage and two car payments, paying tuition, and assuming a loan against your house is going to be a challenge. I need advice on that. (And I half suspect that the “advice” may be: seek psychiatric help.)

My boss—and soon to be ex-boss—John Butler said yesterday that this past week was a reset button on all of our priorities. I see what he means. Having a death in your organization—your extended family—does make you think, even if the person you lost didn’t work closely with you. I’ve been thinking that the time may be nearing to draw a close to my career at Howard County Fire & Rescue. 

Did I say that already? I may have. 

And I’ve thought it hundreds of times over the years, but I’ve hung in there for 21 of those years. I have a very sensitive fight-or-flight reflex, that makes me eye up exit doors with an almost sexual attraction.

(Yes, I hear you up there. You just made that cautionary “uh-uh-uh” noise. Your mother said, “Now you just thinkabout that! Great day!” And your father is in the corner chuckling.) 

But for all my many ruminations and downright threats, I believe I’ve mentioned that I’ve completed the three big tasks that were assigned to me back when I started at HCDFRS. Well, I’ve overseen and pushed their completion, and a lot of other people have worked on them—some by my side, some not so much. The point is that they’re done, and, well, maybe I could be too. I need new challenges, and I need to do some work where I see directly the outcome of my efforts. Something like working on a house, but maybe not as lonely. 

Nothing is in stone yet. I can retire with 30 years in April. I can take another job in the County. I can hang in and see what happens when John Butler is gone and we have a new leadership. If my role were to change enough, I’d probably stay. This letter will see the light of day again when we know more. It’ll be interesting to look back at what I’m saying now.

But, with all this in my head, the grand and moving funeral Renee and I attended Saturday felt also like a ceremony of passage for my time with a very nice group of people who have done good for me, and will continue to do good for others… but may represent my past. 

We’ll see. (One of your favorite phrases)

In the meantime, the pressing of the reset button has caused me to make decisions about how my team operates at work. I’m going to sit down with them and re-align their job descriptions, finally delegate some work away from myself, and try to shape them for a bright future that might not include me as their boss. 

Adapting. Apparently, it’s my talent. Maybe that has something to do with being moved into an unfinished house when I was two years old, in the middle of nowhere, where the days were filled with unorthodox projects in a bizarre combination of farm life, camping, suburban-living and mad, scientific endeavor. 

Susan and Charles aren’t like me, because they knew another life. In the before times, during the Kennedy administration and into the Johnson, they lived the House Beautifullife, in rooms that looked like they were permanently ready for a magazine photo shoot, with you and Mother dressed up and looking like the lead couple inLeave it to Beaver, Ozzie and Harriett orFather Knows Best. Me, all my memories are of living on Green Acres. Or maybe the landing site of the Jupiter IIon Lost in Space. 

Those differences can come to a head sometimes. Sunday, the reset button brought on the calling of a family meeting to discuss the tensions, hostilities and frustrations of a family whose patriarch has died, whose home is in rapid transition to a form it’s never had before, and whose third generation are no longer its youngest members, and are all adults. There was shouting. There was crying. There were walkouts. There were heartfelt declarations. And, in the end? 

Well, I don’t know yet. But we resolved to keep moving forward, and to at least let each other live, if we can’t promise to like each other some days. 

Some of us wish you had been here. Some of us said it wouldn’t have happened if you were still with us. Some of us tried to claim that we, and we alone, knew what you would have wanted us to do. But I say you did your time, you made your mark, and we can’t speculate on how things would be different if we weren’t in the situation that we are actually in. We have to work with what we have, and we have to be the grown-ups now. 

Adapting. It’s what I do. I don’t claim to know how you would have reacted to every situation. I don’t claim that you would like the decisions I’m making. I only know that, beginning 50 years ago this past Fall, you led me through a dream of the future, and you told me how it would look when it was finished. When I’m uncertain of what to do next, I walk toward that dream. 

And now I need to go put outdated pink tile on an unfinished wall. 

Love,

Steven 

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