Retirement can seem like things are crumbling a bit -- too much time, lack of reinforcing work structure, advancing life, etc. -- but then I think of one of my many “jobs” in the so-called “golden years.” I am a “cookie” in sometimes crumbling times.
Like some other retirees. I am a volunteer. I do electrical, plumbing and carpentry work for historical societies, churches and museums, and give of my time in art-related endeavor. This is all a gift, a blessing to me, for it offers a post-career career. I am grateful, for goodness results, and that’s what it’s all about.
One of the volunteer jobs is as a cook, or “cookie” in Navy terms, for the Rockland Interfaith Breakfast Program out of United Church, Spring Valley, N.Y. I have been with them since before I retired as a newspaperman, as part of the Tuesday crew. Into my 10th year, I am now the only cook on Tuesdays, after the passing of George Chalsen and the “retirement” of Al Witt, two colleagues at the old Journal-News in nearby Nyack.
I try not to poison the 120 or so people we get for breakfast, offering French toast, pancakes, sausage, soup and grits. The recipes are not basic -- we try to present unexpected cuisine, with the French toast, for example, made from many real eggs, honey, cinnamon, milk and a bit of coffee.
It is an odd turn of events being cookie since I open the church at 3 a.m. (there are numerous tasks to take care of before the cooking begins). For me it is deja vu all over again. United Church used to be called the Dutch Reformed Church of Spring Valley, and I attended Boy Scout meetings there from 1954 to 1961, also opening the church, then at 7 p.m., for the sessions. (I like to get to places early, and that’s why I am often the opener.)
So, here I am 58 years after first entering the church where I am now cookie, and despite many major changes and challenges to the village where I, my father and my grandfather lived, 3 a.m. Tuesdays in 2011 and 7 p.m. Fridays in 1954 are the same. I still hear the Pascack Valley Line train (the old Erie). I look at the storefronts and recall Brown’s, Arvanite’s, the Valley Theatre, Ro-Field Appliances, Perunna’s, Slavin’s, K&A, Tancos, Kulle’s and many more. I remember elementary school, high school, think about my father’s days there, my grandfather’s. As I cook, I look out the window and see Memorial Park, which I watched being constructed in 1948. I hear the voices of so many gone and see the faces of my teachers, my friends. I recall the cops on the beat, chasing us home at curfew, checking the store locks.
The rhythm of a time past reassuringly reverberates in my post-retirement job as cookie, and it links me to the present. I am thankful I am able to serve, that so many of us at the program are able to do so. I am especially grateful that I am cookie in my old hometown. It kind of ensures that my time-on-my-hands won’t crumble.