Food For Thought

So You're Retiring? Then What? 

by Lillian Hicks, Contributing Writer

As a young girl growing up on my father’s farm, I would hear the word “retire” from time to time. I thought of my father as a workaholic, but he had planned to retire someday, and spend long hours fishing. In the 1950s and ’60s, as I reached adulthood, marriage and the responsibility of a family, the word retirement easily slipped from my mind.

Rearing a family in the 1950s and ’60s was financially challenging. I was committed to being a stay-at-home mom, but to supplement our family income, I decided to put my talent and love for sewing to use and, hopefully, develop a profession. Taking courses from Virginia Tech through the Extension home-economics program was most helpful.  In 1962, I started a home-based sewing service. I made all my family’s clothing, even the boys’ and my husband’s jackets. With my children as my walking advertisements, I was able to build a successful business. However, being very active in the community, church and school demanded a great deal of time of my husband and me.

Our lives were so busy we had to make many adjustments. Even though I was determined to succeed in my business, I still had to meet the needs of a very active family, which included five children with very busy lives. Our calendar was always full with church, school, Boy Scouts, 4-H, basketball, football, cheerleading, band and other activities. I learned to manage my time wisely. I worked six hours a day, five days a week, unless I was sewing for a wedding — then, I did whatever it took to get the job done.

In 1970, our boys had gone off to college. They had worked as bus drivers, so there was a shortage of drivers and my husband and I were offered bus-driver positions. My husband accepted.  My response was, “Not in this life.” Yes, you’re right — a year later, I was an Amelia County school bus driver, a career that lasted 18 years.

In January 1988, my husband announced we were retiring. “Close the machine,” he said, “put away the sewing box, we’re going to see the world.” After all those years, there was that word again: “retirement.”

I always told my children to have a plan B, so if plan A doesn’t work out, you can fall back on your backup plan. After two weeks of retirement, my husband died of a sudden massive heart attack. I had no plan B. At a time in my life when I needed a new focus, there was, as I have always believed, divine intervention. In April 1988, I was appointed to the Southside Electric Cooperative Board of Directors, to fill the remainder of Mr. William Kantlzer’s term. I also returned to my beloved sewing for 10 more years, finally retiring in 1998.

Today, my life in retirement is very busy and fulfilling. I’m still a director at Southside Electric; the cooperative board and staff have become a part of my family. I continue to serve the community and my church, to travel (especially abroad), and enjoy my children, grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Life in retirement is wonderful.

My idea of what’s important in life and retirement was shaped and influenced by World War II, especially the ideals of sacrifice and helping others. Growing up during this time, we learned early on to make good use of the resources that were available, and to understand the rationing of so many basic everyday items. I remember as a 4-H’er in school, we were given seeds to grow a victory garden. It was so much fun having our own gardens, not to mention it was very helpful to our families.We also collected tin cans that we took to school and stockpiled.  When the pile grew very large, a truck would come, load the cans and carry them off to be recycled for the war effort. We all gathered, with our teacher, around the loaded truck and sang the “Victory Song.” We were all so proud of ourselves, because we were helping. It was fun, but a very scary time for me as a child. Little did I know this period of my life would mark the beginning of my community involvement.

Everyone had to sacrifice for the war. I remember we did a lot of walking, because gas was rationed. My father even walked to work many times. What little gas he was allowed was used for important events and church.

At that time, my family consisted of my parents and seven siblings. In a large family, each member was allotted a certain number of coupons for goods that were rationed, such as sugar and shoes. I especially remember the shoes, because of an incident that made a big impression. My mother ordered two pairs of shoes for my sister and me, and carefully enclosed the two coupons, one for each pair. A few days later my mother received a letter telling her she had not enclosed the coupons as required. My sister and I were very unhappy. You had to be very careful with your coupons, because whoever had them could use them.  Mother sent two more coupons and we received our shoes.

Growing up in Amelia County , everyone was addressed as Miss, Mrs., Mr., aunt or uncle (even if they weren’t part of your family). For the most part, they all reared you (it takes a village to raise a child). We had no appreciation for the “village” rule at the time, but years later I thank God for it. Honoring simple values and helping others is important to me these days. I think that during retirement one should find ways to give something back (words, deeds, time, etc.) and especially make and enjoy time to think, read and count your blessings.

What’s Your View?

Obviously, there are at least two sides to every issue. Do you have a different view? This column is meant to provoke thought, so keep sending comments. Each one is read with the utmost interest. Send e-mail to:, or send written responses to the editor. Mail will be forwarded to the author.




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