Junior …

Junior assistant ranger helper-person… chief toilet washer-gardener-cabin cleaner… odd-job doer, workamper, volunteer…  That’s my new title!

Before setting out to full-time RV, I certainly had plenty of trepidation over the economic challenges that would accompany my prospective new lifestyle.  The largest line item in my budget was nightly camping fees.  Even estimating $25 per night (a seemingly reasonable amount), the cost of a safe place to park my house each night would soar to about $9,000 per year.  An amount like that would eat through my retirement nest egg faster than I could lay another.

While researching the economics of living and traveling full-time in an RV, I found lots of sources that, bottom line, said not to worry.  That things turn up once you get out there.  Most mentioned workamping as a viable way to defray the cost of nightly rental fees, for example.  Basically, you volunteer a certain amount of time helping around the campground and you get a camping site at no cost.

And wallah, here I am.  I stayed at this campground last Fall and when I was checking out, the camp supervisor mentioned that they were going to start a workamp program in the Spring.  Talk about wonderful timing!

After I am finished here, I will head to Texas to volunteer for two months at the CARE Center (Continued Assistance for Retired Escapees) associated with my mail service/RV club, the Escapees.  Again, a rent-free site is part of the deal.  Although Texas in the Summer is not particularly attractive (unless you are an armadillo or scorpion), that is when they are in real need of volunteers.  So when I told them I could work either July or August, they quickly signed me up for both.  That’s all right.  I’m really looking forward to the work there, and I’ll get the added benefit of little-to-no competition for the campground’s laundry and shower facilities.

I’m not sure yet what my duties will be at the CARE Center, but at this campground, I am mostly doing cleaning chores so that the rangers can do more important things.  And boy am I building up some muscles.

I do have to be careful of my back, though, and remember that I am well beyond those tender years when I was mighty and invincible.  When I walked the corridors of a large government agency (in beautiful high heeled shoes!), feeling like I owned the world.  Proud of my degree and my position that I had worked so hard to attain.

It’s funny, but as I scrub toilets and hose down the showers, pull weeds and spread mulch, I keep thinking of some of the immigrants who have come to this country for a better life.  Maybe they fled war, persecution, or some man-made or natural disaster.  Many of them were highly respected professionals back in their home countries.  Doctors, professors, business owners.  And the only work many of them found here were often jobs like the one I am doing now.  Janitors, taxi drivers, temporary or seasonal workers.

And through those jobs–sometimes two or three at a time–they built new lives.  For themselves and for their families.  Often when you hear stories like that, pride in a job well done, no matter what that job entails, is a central theme.  That’s a good book from which to borrow a page.  For me, now.  For anyone, ever.

The people here have been terrific.  A couple of the campers have even made a point of saying how wonderfully clean the bathrooms are.  Kids look at me with envy if I’m lucky enough to be able to drive the Work Horse (a golf cart-type of work vehicle)–oh my gosh, it’s so much fun!

So I shall follow this stream where it leads.  Save money so that Dawny and I can continue to enjoy life in the manner to which we have become accustomed (staying in decent campgrounds rather than Walmart parking lots).  Gather good work experiences to keep life and breath in my resume, in case it is ever again needed.  And enjoy the heck out of this incredible lifestyle.

For although no one is ever truly invincible, might, it turns out, is a state of mind.

(Re photo:  Dawny has loads of pride, and she will sacrifice every bit of it for the promise of a good cookie!)

Jammin’

Where can you enjoy musicians ranging from age 9 to 92 playing and singing, laughing and sharing for close to three hours without break?  In an RV park, that’s where!

Who knew?  I sure didn’t, until I lucked out by selecting this park to spend my Winter.  Apparently this part of Florida has attracted a good number of retired, vacationing, and budding (such as the 9 year-old) musicians over the past couple of decades.  Songbirds from Canada on down migrate here and skip around several RV parks in the area to jam with friends, old and new.

As opposed to a show, a jam is very fluid and relaxed.  Probably a dozen or so musicians form the core of this group, with other participants coming and going over the weeks.  Many of them spring out of the audience for just a song or two, then take their seat back out with the spectators.  When it is someone’s turn to lead their piece, they simply call out the key (“A as in Canada!”), and everyone somehow figures out how to play along.

Most of the music is Country and Bluegrass, with powerful strands of Blues and Gospel woven in.  Heck, last week we were treated to a yodeler!  Some of the pieces are too old or obscure for me to have heard them before.  It’s kind of neat how an old piece of music, when heard for the very first time, can be as fresh and powerful as the day it was created.

Probably four or five decades separated the 9 year old performer from his next eldest peer.  He played and sang one song with the group and then, before heading off to bed, soloed an instrumental in Spanish-guitar finger-pickin’ style.  One fine lady exclaimed as he was leaving that it was her fellow musicians’ highest calling to encourage young talent like that.

Then there was the gentleman who seemed to be the leader of the loosely knit group.  Oh my, oh my oh.  He was a wonderfully talented banjo player, with great vocals to match.  The levity of the evening settled briefly back to earth as he played “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” in memory of his friend, whose ashes he had taken to the Florida National Cemetery just that afternoon.  His banjo had belonged to that friend, who had purchased it 80 years ago.  I suppose there might have been a few dry eyes in the house afterwards… but not many.

Last week the Grand Dame of this local music scene graced the gathering.  At 92 years of age, she was the most beautiful woman in the room.  Elegantly dressed, silver hair perfectly coifed, she stepped up lightly to lead a couple of pieces, playing the violin for one and the mandolin for the other.  The respect and love she shared with the group resounded with each note.

I must report that, despite the extraordinary entertainment these jam sessions have provided, they have not inspired me to play my guitar.  I finally took it out of it’s case a couple of weeks ago, but I have only played it once so far.  I wasn’t as awful as I remembered.  But it also didn’t feel natural, right, inspired.  I will continue to fiddle with making my own music in the privacy of my own little house, but on the greater stage, I know my role.  I am a gifted audience member, delighted and grateful to bask in the beauty and magic created by others!

Home Sweet Home

Dawny and I have been visiting my big brother and his family in Pennsylvania.  It’s been fun showing off our little house to them and relaxing over good meals and lovely visits.  Dawny has been treated to some terrific doggie walks and has fallen in love with my brother and his cooking–she got grilled salmon skin one night!

My brother escorted us to Gettysburg one day and we spent hours strolling around the battlefields and perusing monuments.  Long an avid Civil War buff, he provided vivid descriptions of the history, the people, the battles.  We encountered a gentleman on Cemetery Ridge where Pickett’s charge took place who had a small display, including photographs of a reunion on the 50th anniversary of the battle.  In 1913, 60,000 veterans from Gettysburg returned.  Blue and Gray.  Old antagonisms and griefs were buried by their most basic, common bond:  soldiers, brothers, Americans all.

While being welcomed, entertained, and spoiled, I’ve been able to quietly observe and celebrate my brother and sister-in-law’s post-retirement lifestyle.  They are great examples of staying connected, active, and productive.  They travel to interesting places when the mood strikes.  They have two wonderful children, both married, who live close by.  And they are blessed with a grandson that they get to see and enjoy often.  This sweet little charmer even graced me with a little kiss–a special gift that I will be able to pull out of my memory-pocket anytime I need to lift my spirits.

Both my brother and his wife volunteer at a variety of places, using their expertise from their working years, as well as their interests and passions, to make their corner of the world a better place.  Between the two of them, they are helping with pet adoptions, working at a historical library, assisting ill people with paperwork, and serving as a volunteer ombudsman at a group home.  All of this is in addition to taking care of their grandson two days a week.  My sister-in-law has Fridays open, but does she sit back and kick her feet up?  Noooo… she is trying to find another volunteer opportunity to fill that day.

This is a wonderful time for my brother and sister-in-law, and I hope it lasts for many, many years.  That their health stays strong, their family loving and safe, and their home warm and secure.  I hope their children and grandchildren appreciate the solid foundation passed along to them, enriching their own years and families, and that they pass the love along with generosity and grace.

When I first arrived, I was asked a couple of times what my favorite place has been that I have visited so far.  I was at an unexpected loss for an answer.  Don’t get me wrong–I love what I am doing and do not regret my choice of vagabond lifestyle for a moment.  But now, near the end of my visit, I can easily say this has been my favorite spot, where my little house on wheels met my brother’s sticks and bricks.

Home is where the heart is, and as I continue down the road, my home and my heart are warm and full.

(Photo of the fields at Pickett’s charge, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.)