After a year or so of this retirement thing, it's time to take stock. Seems to me it's working out pretty well. For example, I am acquiring new skills, like going to the supermarket all by myself. I am proudly accepting government handouts in the form of Medicare and Social Security. I have been showered with perks, like discounts for Metro-North and the movies, and I even have a cool plastic card that lets me in to all national parks for free. And I get to write this column!
But even with this great start, I have been struck by the central importance of three retirement lessons.
Lesson 1: Having a personal retirement game plan is infinitely better than not having one, but the bigger game of Life All Around You will require you to make mid-course changes to that neat little plan of yours.
Lesson 2: Make a commitment to stay as healthy as you can.
Lesson 3: A fulfilling retirement has a lot to do with where you live.
Our own game plan has already required some revisions, and we're really trying to keep one step ahead of our aging body parts. But relocating was never a serious consideration; we were lucky in many respects when we moved our young family from Tucson to Fairfield 35 years ago.
What we value about living in Fairfield didn't change when I retired -- our house, our friends, the seasons, the beaches, the open spaces, the rich history, the benefits of a college town, good restaurants and shopping, local entertainment, the proximity to New York City and Boston. A few bike lanes would be nice, parking downtown can be a pain, and some winters can be tough, but those are pretty minor quibbles. Taxes will always be something to argue about, but overall I believe we get very acceptable value for our tax dollar.
Eventually, though, we know that things will change for us, just as it did for our own parents. Let's not sugar-coat the eventualities: Our health will someday decline. We may not be able to manage our house, shop for food, or safely drive a car. Our friends may have moved away or died. We may become increasingly isolated as our world shrinks. We may face financial challenges. What will Fairfield be like for us then?
I had never so much as poked my head into the lobby of the Fairfield Senior Center at 100 Mona Terrace, but now that I'm an official senior, it seemed like an excellent time to find out what was going on there. After a conversation with director Claire Grace and a tour, I came away with a few shattered preconceptions and a better understanding of Fairfield's commitment to its senior citizens.
The former Oldfield school became the Fairfield Senior Center in 1992. The town "privatized" the Center through an arrangement with Family Services Woodfield until a few years ago, when the town reassumed management. The Center is "open," in that non-Fairfield residents may use the facility, but they have to get there on their own. Fairfielders can drive down or make arrangements with the Center to be transported by minibus. Fairfield seniors can also use the bus system to get to medical appointments or supermarkets.
The Senior Center, I learned, has offerings that cover the full spectrum of needs for older adults. Every day, it receives about 200 seniors. A glance at the monthly calendar reveals a surprising array of activities, and during my walk around the Center, I saw many of them in action: A very well-attended exercise class, a walking group, a computer class, a wood-carving shop, spirited table-tennis and billiards games (complete with good-natured trash-talk), a library, and a Shakespeare class. There's a movie every Friday at 12:15. There are lectures on a variety of topics, and multi-week courses on subjects ranging from Chinese religions to the EuroZone crisis.
You can get a hot lunch for $2, and a morning coffee and doughnut for 35 cents. The Senior Center also provides social services to help with financial, housing or daily living issues that seniors commonly confront. A comprehensive listing of activities and services is at http://www.fairfieldct.org/senior.htm.
Fourteen percent of Fairfield residents are 65 and older, and an additional 18 percent are right behind them in the 50-64 age bracket. The demographics are not lost on Senior Center management, which is soon to release the findings of a comprehensive assessment of its facility and services against senior centers in comparable Connecticut communities, and develop a five-year plan. The Center faces staffing and budgetary pressures; as a result, it cannot offer night or weekend hours, a significant deficiency.
The "U.S. News and World Report," to name just one media source, has devoted considerable analytic resources to identify "best places to retire." They came up with various types of "bests," such as "sunniest," "greenest," "mountain towns," "water views," "recreation and culture," etc. I think Fairfield stacks up pretty well. But as I look out at the time horizon, I'm hoping that Fairfield will be there to support me as my needs change. The Senior Center will likely be an important part of my future, and perhaps a growing part of my present.
Ron Blumenfeld is a Fairfield writer and retired pediatrician. His "Moving Forward, Looking Back" appears every other Wednesday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.