Moving? Whether you have changed countries or states or cities or streets you probably have some stories? Hearing a tale from a friend brought to mind some of the terrors.
One of the scariest moves I made was back to upstate New York after years working in cities — first in New Zealand, then London and, finally, in Manhattan. It was a frightening move from my big-time journalism job at NBC to work with my husband to start a business and to become a financial advisor. My friends worried I would regret abandoning that career to move from city life to country life.
We could make this work.
We had to buy a house upstate and simultaneously sell our house in New Jersey. Most everything we owned had to go to upstate New York, except for some things I needed for my last few months working in Manhattan, when I would share an apartment near Carnegie Hall.
Just leaving Belfast to go to London was scary. Soldiers dressed in camouflage gear held machine guns and guarded barbed wire topped fences which ringed the airport.
I kissed my family through the fence. Security whisked my suitcase away and sealed my handbag in cling wrap until we landed in London.
After 10 days in Northern Ireland, I loved the security. I imagined my plane blown up in mid-air, hurtling to the Irish Sea.
But Northern Ireland — I was still with my family. London? Perhaps the biggest city in the world. I had to travel miles from the airport to central London. I had figured out a bus would be the cheapest public transportation — and found the right stop.
A couple of hours later, I was at Kings Cross-St Pancras – railway, bus and underground stations all in one place.
My $1 a day guidebook said my hostel was a short walk from Kings Cross. I realized that author hadn’t been lugging a suitcase with all of his worldly possessions to get there.
Eventually I found the street number on a windowless door. I pushed the buzzer, climbed a windowless flight of stairs. Arrived at a dingy counter where a clerk scrutinized my passport, wrote down details, demanded cash in advance.
Then he locked my passport in a safe. Told me I couldn’t have it till I checked out. By then I expected that he would murder me in my sleep, steal my traveler’s checks and cash them with my passport.
You already know that I have been afraid to do almost everything I ever did, but that never stopped me. But then there were the times when I should have been afraid but wasn’t.
Why did I think I could head off around the world at 21? Emigrate to New Zealand from a small Upstate dairy farm?
From New Zealand there was no easy way to call home if I was in trouble or just homesick. With the primitive system there I had to book calls to the U.S. far in advance. At Halloween I reserved my slot for Christmas Day.
And of course there was no Internet back then. Just handwritten letters on onion skin paper to make them lighter and cheaper to mail. Even an air mail letter could take weeks to get to my family.
There were no credit cards in case of emergency either. I hadn’t even dreamed of seeing ATMs.
So where was my fear when it should have seized me?
I had booked and paid for my 13,000-mile ticket which would let me see a lot of the world. I could get on and off planes, change airlines and visit as many countries as I wanted as long as I didn’t exceed those 13,000 miles.
I put on nylons, dress, gloves and my sturdy walking shoes. One had to“dress” for airplane travel in those days.
My foreign travel began with a drive from Upstate to the JFK airport. Without a look backward, I boarded a 727 and flew from that iconic TWA terminal.
First stop was Ireland to meet my Dad’s brother — my Uncle Tony, my cousins, Dad’s friends.
Dad left Northern Ireland in 1926. He had never returned. I would be the first to visit his family since 1926!
After my TWA dinner, which was served on china even in steerage, I took a brief nap. I opened my bleary eyes at Shannon Airport in Ireland. Shannon was a world apart then, with donkeys hauling goods and people through
Western Ireland. No tractors. Few cars.
But my uncle and two of my cousins were there to greet me. Their hours-long journey to fetch me took almost as long as my trip from JFK.
In my ignorance, my Upstate travel agent had booked me to the right island but the wrong side of it. The McReynolds lived near Belfast. Hours away from Shannon and often on single-track roads flanked by hedgerows.
My cousin Tommy, who could tell a tale about almost anything, told me those hedges housed the “wee people,” who built fires there and roasted mushrooms.
I have to admit I stared hard into those hedges. I wondered when one of the wee ones would spring out in front of our car.
This cousin never stopped spinning fairy stories. But he had some real stories to tell too. A tough Belfast city bus driver, Tommy had been held up at gun point more than once “in The Troubles.”
My Dad had left half a century before. He assured us that it was a time of “The Troubles” back then. Nothing to worry about.
But there had been plenty to worry about then and when I arrived too.
After our visit to my cousin Iris in a border town in the Irish Republic, we had to go through a checkpoint to get into Ulster.
Soldiers dressed in camouflage wielding machine guns; sand bags to deflect bombs; questioning by sentries before we could pass through.
That was unnerving but with Dad’s reassurances I knew this was just normal life.
A few days later when my cousins and Uncle were giving me a tour of a nearby city, a policeman was stopping the line of traffic in front of us. As we neared the road block suddenly my cousin wheeled the car around and started tearing away.
But before we went more than a few yards, an explosion rocked our little Mini, our eardrums felt like they would break and black smoke plumed in the air. Sirens blared. Children on their lunchtime recess ran about screaming. Parents arrived shouting, looking for their children in the mayhem.
Maybe I should have been afraid? But I took my Dad’s advice and didn’t worry. I stayed in Northern Ireland for my 10 days. We were frisked as we went into Belfast department stores. Stopped at roadblocks. Walked past young soldiers in camouflage. But I still had 9,000 miles to go.
Mom told me that they promised her the “Golden Years” but she got the “Rust Years.”
She had dreamed of retiring. Yet after a couple of weeks into retirement her litany changed from “can’t wait to retire” to telling me: “Don’t do it’’.
My Mom was born when women were supposed to stay home, while their husbands supported the family.
But, my Dad, Mom’s husband, lost their farm and his health. He became too ill to work. With three girls under the age of 5 at home, my Mom had to go to work. She got lucky and landed a good-paying job at a factory. After a string of horrible jobs.
Not her Ozzie and Harriet dream. But good money to feed her family. Mom was careful and saved from every paycheck. She belonged to a union and got a good pension. She planned golden years of traveling. After a couple months staying at home she wanted to go back to work. A week or two on a bus tour was OK, but she didn’t want “vacation” all of the time.
Any point here? Sure. You have probably already figured out that I did what most of us do – I didn’t follow Mom’s advice. I retired. Afraid as always. Maybe this time I was right.
Did you know 10,000 baby boomers retire every day?
You don’t need any statistics. You know. You live it every day. Your long-time doctor and your lawyer have retired. Your plumber. Electrician. A year or so ago it seemed that all of the local CEOs, college and hospital presidents retired the same week.
Are they like Mom? Regretting every day that they retired? Baby Boomers do retire a few years later than the Greatest Generation. They are healthier and more active. But many work. Some because they can’t afford not to, but many are just like my Mom. She really wanted a longer vacation. When she wanted to take it. Not a permanent vacation.
Recently I commiserated with a 36 year old. He went from a structured job – which he loved – to self-employed when his wife took a job on a remote Caribbean island. A sort of retirement. Hard to do, he said. No structure. No people coming at you making you react. No co-workers. He liked some of the freedom but he misses having a regular job. Two months later he fell dead from a heart attack.
A week earlier I had coffee with a 67 year old who had retired almost two years ago. He has nightmares about his job. He loved his job. Didn’t really want to retire but it was time.
Intellectually he was at the top of his game. But he had great successors from the next generation. He did the right thing, he believes. But why the nightmares? Does he have a mental illness? Is this normal, he worried?
Why do we have friends who say they love retirement? That they never missed their jobs. Did they hate their jobs and count the days to retirement – those golden years?
For me, I retired at the right time, for the right reasons. I had plans. Spend more time with some terrific non-profits with which I work. Mentor? Take up those old passions like gardening, go out for coffee or lunch.
I knew how I should prepare to retire. I coached clients for 30 years. “You’ll have a black pit ahead of you. Plan”, I told them.
Frightening. Retirement – terrified me. Fear drove a planning frenzy for the next third of my life.
My French teacher was right – I am a perfectionist. I intended to corral my fears and do this perfectly.
But even with all of that planning I spent my first year in mourning. I missed my colleagues. I missed my clients. I missed feeing useful.
My friend with nightmares is suffering too.
At a conference with my Adviser Hall of Fame colleagues – many of whom are my age – they applauded my courage. Said they envied me. They’re afraid to retire. Some know they’re staying too long. Missing the chance to spend time with their spouse, children, grandchildren. To do charitable work. Give back. Pick up those old hobbies abandoned to climb to the top.
Like the 77-year-old with whom I had dinner last night? Afraid? Her husband is sliding into dementia. He retired 17 years ago.
“Be Afraid but Do it Anyway” still seems to be working. Now a couple of years later retirement seems less scary, not so heart-breaking. Eventually I plunged into my plans and some unexpected projects too. COVID has upended life, but also has bestowed its blessings.
By ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS • Special to www.AllOTEGO.com
Swimming. I was a kid who wanted to learn to swim.
It really started when I won a week at Bible camp by reciting enough verses. Just being there was scary enough. I was afraid to sleep in my bunk at night. Homesick.
Had all of the wrong clothes. All of the other kids had fancy clothes. My bathing suit was the only store bought thing I had and it didn’t fit. It was a hand-me-down from our neighbor.
My week at camp seemed to get worse, scarier every day. After our morning calisthenics, we put on our bathing suits, huddled in our towels for the frigid march to the lake.
Most everyone could swim to the dock. Not me. I came from a family of non-swimmers. Mom was too scared to put her face in water.
Watching me shiver, a cabin mate decided to push me in — way over my head.
I sputtered, swallowed water till the guard pulled me out.
I was afraid, but I wanted to swim.
Never again – no more being trapped in dark terror, I said to myself. But it did happen again at friends’ ponds.
More than one time I climbed onto rafts with my friends. They jumped off. I fell into murky, reedy water way over my head. Not sure why I didn’t drown.
So when I heard I could take swimming lessons at a summer school program, I put on another ugly swimsuit.
Worse still, since I was 11 and embarrassed. Chubby size 16 that year. Wearing a hand-me down. Budding breasts made that clingy suit even worse. But I walked a mile from my house every day.
Joined the others at the local swimming hole in the creek just outside the village. Finally, I thought.
But it wasn’t to be. A gangly man and a chubby woman were in charge. They got us in the creek. Had us put our faces in the water. Stretch out on our stomachs in the dead man’s float. But then, a few seconds later, they shouted “buddy up.” I became an expert at buddying up. Could lie on my stomach in water without touching. After a whole summer.
I still wanted to learn to swim, though.
In Wellington, they had a pool. I joined. The water smelled like Clorox and was hot. I tried to do it. Still, after a year all I could do was the dead man’s float. Had buddying up in my kit bag. Just in case.
Before I could learn to swim I moved. First to my new TV/radio job. Then six months across the Pacific, America and finally London.
In London, after a lot of “temping,” I got a permanent job. On my way to work I passed the Drury Lane baths (swimming pool) every day.
After my near-drownings, I was terrified of water over my head. But I knew I could do it. Day after day I practiced widths at the shallow end. First the dead man’s float; then I added kicking.
Next I tried the doggy paddle. Widths. But I got really good at widths and thought: I should move on to lengths.
The first time was a disaster. I doggy paddled and paddled but suddenly the bottom of pool fell away. No way I could touch it. Or doggy paddle over the terrifying water. Shaking inside, struggling to float, kick, somehow made it back.
Days, weeks, months passed until I could make it to the far end.
The saga continued. I beat my fear. Swam an hour every day for years.
At a dinner party years later, a friend asked about how I learned to swim. I got to the buddying up, dead man’s float part.
Suddenly, my husband asked if the teacher was really tall and wore glasses?
It was my husband. First time we met.
Years later I learned that without knowing it when we first met — he taught me what I needed to know to beat my fear. Taught me how to do it.
By ERNA MORGAN McREYNOLDS • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
When I walked into that newsroom at The Dominion in Wellington, New Zealand I still had some hope that I might become a superstar journalist. I had landed a job at THE morning paper in the capital of New Zealand.
I had never been in a big city newsroom. Reporters pounding their stories on manual typewriters made it noisy. The air was blue with cigarette smoke and language to make a sailor blush.
To meet my editor and start my job, I had to make my way past hard-bitten smirking, leering men. Except for the prim women’s page editor wearing a tidy sweater set with a string of pearls decent girls didn’t work at places like this in the ’70s.
The editor was kindly yet he gave me an assignment appropriate for a young girl — writing features for a special advertising edition. That wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to hold my own in that tough newsroom. I wanted to be a real reporter.
I learned right away that these superstar men planned their day around the pub. And they had to be fast. Pubs opened for just one hour at 6 p.m. People called it the 6 o’clock swill. Barkeeps lined up pitchers of beer and filled them with hoses. Drinkers stood at round tables and downed all they could between drags on cigarettes in one hour.
I figured if I had a shot at making my mark in the newsroom I had better prove myself at the pub.
We didn’t drink alcohol growing up. I hated beer. So to show I could hold my alcohol, I had to down gins and tonics as fast as I could. After an hour, we all walked back across the street to the newsroom — for reporters to write their stories, since we were a morning paper.
I hung around every night until the chief reporter gave me an assignment.
One night he needed a quote from the ministry of energy — I ended up with an “anonymous source” from the ministry. Made my story a front-page lead.
Who was the anonymous source? The minister of energy.
After 5 p.m. his secretary went home and he answered his own phone. While I was terrified of looking foolish in front of all of the hot-shot reporters, I wasn’t afraid of interviewing a government minister.
I didn’t think he was like a cabinet secretary in The States. If I had — I would have been terrified. I thought he was like the highway superintendent in our little town.
Maybe he was charmed by a naive young American woman who listened to him. And did exactly what she said she would do. Named him “an anonymous source.” But terror led me to winning his trust. I was so afraid I could make a mistake in my story that I called him back and double checked that I got it right.
Those hot shot, cocky, big time journalists knew too much to call anyone back. They decided what the story was before they even did the interview.
Then there was me. I trembled with anxiety every time I banged out a story on my Underwood with five carbon copies.
There were a lot of “Be Afraid But Do It Anyway” moments but also not a few “Don’t Do It — Be Afraid”.
One weekend when only someone trying to prove themselves would be in the newsroom, the chief reporter sent me to the docks to find out what was going on. There had been reports that there might be a dock workers strike.
Shipping was a big deal in in a country way out in the Pacific that relied on ships to bring in things like cars, shoes, tractors, pretty much anything that required mass production. The country was simply too small to manufacture them.
Ships also took away the meat and cheese and timber that brought in the foreign currency that allowed importing.
Not often did I have an assignment that meant I could drive a company car — but this one did.
Within minutes I was on the docks walking between mammoth ships surrounded by burly, tough, tattooed men.
Dressed in the standard frock and nylons that women wore to work in New Zealand in the ’70s, I walked around chatting, trying to get one of these tough guys to tell me what was going on. No one was going to do that for sure. Eventually someone told me that the purser on one of the ships would know.
But who among those dockworkers who would break ranks and let me through?
I watched for my opportunity. Snuck up the gangway and wandered around the corridors looking for the pursers office. The offices had brass plates on them. Eventually I found the right door. The purser took one look at me — “you are crazy.” How did you get here? Did you know these are tough guys? They smash people’s heads for less than this.
But I got my story — afraid that I could make a mistake. Fail to get the “real” story. Fail to become one of those real reporters.