A Good Day To Retire…

In the early 1980’s the coal industry of West Virginia was anything but stable.  Following a major setback for the company that my Dad and uncle worked for, everyone realized that the handwriting was on the wall:  it was time to get out.  The ensuing job search resulted in my family leaving Beckley, WV so that Dad could take a job with a company that manufactures exterior wood siding at a plant about 20 minutes outside of North Wilkesboro, NC.  It was December of 1985.  I was 2 and my brother was 6.

Twenty-eight years later, a lot has changed.  My brother and I are both grown and married, he has two sons and my wife and I are expecting our first child in the Spring.  There have been 5 different Presidents since 1985, clothing styles have come and gone…and then come back…and then gone again, gas has quadrupled in price, and the world has gone technology-crazy.  One thing that hasn’t changed though, is my Dad’s place of employment.  Sure, his job title has changed a few times over the years, co-workers have come and gone, and the ownership of the company has shifted on several occasions.  But for 28 years Dad has driven the same roads to the same plant in the same small town surrounded by corn fields, chicken farms, and rolling foothills.  Until today.

Today, November 8th, 2013, almost 28 years to the day that he started, is Dad’s last full day before he retires.  Somewhere around 5pm eastern time he will drive away from the plant as a 62-year-old retiree in much the same way he did as a 34-year-old looking for a new start for his family.  What used to be the future will now be the past.  What used to be the day-to-day will now be yesterday.  Starting today, tomorrow means something brand new.

So on this day I would like to simply tell Dad, “Thank You.”  Thank you because I know that the last 28 years, not to even mention the last 28 weeks, have been full of ups and downs.  Those years have had some stretches where you enjoyed going to work, and they’ve had some stretches where it took everything in you to go….but you went anyway.  And in that going you taught your two sons about loyalty, perseverance, and what it means to sometimes just put your head down in order to keep moving forward.

What I also know about the last 28 years is that the loyalty and perseverance you showed at work weren’t so much about advancing in your career as much as they were about providing for your family.  Your loyalty and perseverance got us through times when Mom’s job was in transition, it put basketball shoes on our feet, it filled the family van with gas on our Summer vacations, it helped pay for us to attend the Summer conferences that shaped us, it provided dental insurance when I took an elbow to the mouth during intramural basketball in college, and it has enabled you and Mom to travel to New Orleans and Seattle to visit our growing families.  What I didn’t fully realize as a kid, I don’t take lightly now:  that almost all of the activities and experiences in our childhoods that helped make us who we are today happened because of the job that you’ve been going to for 28 years.

As you pull away from the plant today I hope you catch a glimpse in the rearview mirror of days catching bluegill and bass in the company pond with your two sons, the spot where the J-car met both its’ timely and untimely end, and the parking spot where two people who may be related to you “decorated” your car on your 50th birthday.  But more than that, I hope you see the family you raised and the community that we became a part of because you were willing to follow God leading us away from family in West Virginia to settle in a state where we didn’t know anybody.

Then, I hope you look forward, to the road that is leading you into the next stage of life–a stage where you will have time to pursue new hobbies and interests, much like you’ve always encouraged us to do.  And while the timing of your retirement is a few years earlier than expected for reasons outside of your control, that’s perfectly fine.  God’s timing isn’t always comfortable, but it’s still God’s timing.

Finally, after the plant has long faded from the back window, I hope you meet Mom somewhere for dinner to celebrate.  The celebration could justifiably happen because the job is finished and the stress of it is done.  But, the celebration should also be in part because the job happened in the first place, and as a result of it happening, you are who you are, and we are who we are.

For that, for you, and for your hard work over these last 28 years, I am thankful.

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9 responses to “A Good Day To Retire…”

  1. donna says :

    We are so happy you are our son-in-law! Beautiful reflection on your family values, and our best wishes on the next chapter. Donna

  2. Becky Grandle says :

    You are a sweet boy, Baby Alex, but then you are a product of Mamie, Richard, Beckley, North Wilkesboro, and all in between, and I wouldn’t expect any less. Now, you can come up with a list of jobs that need doing around your house that Richard, in his great leisure time, can come and do for you!

    • tarheelac says :

      Well, I also know from Summertime childhood experiences that Mom is pretty good at leaving list of things to do while she is off at work. Of course, Aaron and I usually slept through her telling us of those lists and therefore rarely got them all accomplished…which I’m sure won’t be a problem for Dad.

  3. Evy says :

    Loved your blog! Please extend our congratulations to your father. He is going to love retirement.

  4. Mamie says :

    Thank you, Alex. You said it beautifully…..you (& Aaron) make us proud and you showed us why with this tribute to Dad’s retirement. Love you….Mom

  5. Richard Collier says :

    OK, so I guess I really needed that cry to help fully make the transition to retirement. You know how I cry at happy times, more than at sad ones. This blog deserved a really big cry… and it got one. I’m glad no one was here at the time! Mom told me to read your latest blog, in the midst of a few of her own tears. You said it all so much better than I ever could have, Alex. The fact that you put this in words makes my life worthwhile. You and Aaron, along with Kristen, Becky, Camden and Ellis, and of course Mamie, are the reason that it is all worthwhile… the pride of our lives… the reason for our joy and happiness. Thank you for even thinking about doing this, and then for doing it so very beautifully! I love each of you very, very much. Dad

  6. Alison says :

    How ironic it is that I began reading this at 5:05pm, presumably only minutes after that last day before blessed retirement for Richard. As I read your blog, Alex, I reflect not only on your family’s experiences, but on my own as well. The declining coal industry forced us from our home right next door to your family in Beckley, WV to Gainesville, GA. My Dad still works for the same company who brought us to GA in 1984. He naturally hopes to retire… soon. How amazing it is to think that I was 4, and it’s now been almost 30 years since that move. It puts into perspective even more so to think that Richard was the same age as I nearly am at the time of his transition to WV. Makes me ponder if big changes are on the horizon for me as I turn 34 in a few months. Only God knows, of course. I am so grateful for the many experiences and opportunities that I’ve had in my life thus far that could have only come about because of that move to GA. I often think how the seemingly smallest decisions at the time can undoubtedly shape the people that we become, the person that we marry, our lifelong friends, our career path, our ideals, etc. Thank you for sharing your words. They conjured sweet memories of time spent with the Colliers, and truly touched my heart.

    • tarheelac says :

      Alison–great to hear from you! I also often think about how much different life would look if one decision would have gone differently. Obviously, the state of the coal industry was completely outside of anybody’s control, but because of it our lives look very different than what they would have probably looked like had it not happened.

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