Friday's Weekend Column
Those Retired In The Northland

by James Glaser
January 24, 2003

I find it quite interesting to look at the different ways that people retire up here. Socially everyone up here are in the same place. Rich and poor are doing the same things. Maybe the rich have a little fancier fishing boat or ice fishing house, but I wouldn't bet on that. There are people up here on the lower end of the money scale that will sacrifice in other areas just to have the finest equipment for their year round sport of fishing.

You still see a lot of three wheelers up here even though they haven't been produced in years. Now people are on four wheel all terrain vehicles that cost seven thousand or more dollars, but all in all retired people up here live the same.

Sure there are people that more or less have to grow that garden to supplement their food budget, but you never know if they have to because gardening is such a universal pastime. Some retired bankers have great vegetable gardens that they toil on, when they could easily hire all of the hard work out.

Oh there are the people that look and act like everyone else, but you know they have that new Lincoln in the garage for trips, people just don't flaunt it up here. You would think that the city people who retire and decide to live in the Northland would have more money, after all northern Minnesota is an economically depressed area. Well people can fool you. A lot of the local retirees did all right. Some of these guys were big time loggers. Not big time in the amount of wood cut when you compare it to modern loggers with modern equipment, but some of these guys had fifty men working for them out in the woods, a trucking company, and a sawmill too.

Many of these old duffers you are having coffee with in the early morning are real savvy business men that put away a surprising amount of money. Some guys worked down in the cities in a Union job for thirty some years and they have a very comfortable retirement with good medical benefits that many people would like to have.

Then there is the couple that stayed on the farm and milked those cows, cut some wood in the winter, and maybe one of them worked in town. They might have put away some money, but their retirement is based on that ten dollar an acre land they struggled to buy when the kids were in school and is worth a hundred times that or more now. Sure there are out and out poor people up here, but they are treated the same as anyone else. Some people look well off and are not and some look busted and have a sack full.

Most of these people grew up as kids in the depression and learned just how much a dollar was worth and a lot of them still work part time. They work more out of the joy of the work than the need of the cash. So many of the people that retire from desk jobs down in the cities are I would say jealous of the skills that other people have that there is still a demand for.

Last year I was hired to get a building construction site ready for construction and I hired a seventy five year old retired "49er" who had run a "cat" for forty years and he was a real pleasure to watch. With that huge piece of equipment he made a perfect, level building pad with the drainage right where we wanted it. He took over the whole job for a few days telling the back hoe/ gravel man just where everything should go and when he should drop the loads. Everybody that was working there just knew this guy had the experience and knowledge how to do this job the best way. We all learned a lot from him.

He did take a two and a half hours for lunch, and when he was tired he would shut down the equipment and start bull shitting with everyone, but you know what, we still finished faster than we what we thought it would take. This guy took all the thought time out of the job because he had done this so much everything just fell into place. He was fun to watch.

There are other retired people who you couldn't make work in their field for anything as they are totally burned out at what ever they did. Many former businessmen will volunteer to help young people on how to start a business. I see very few bored elderly people up here. People get sick and that takes them out of circulation, but I don't see people just sitting there waiting to die.

A big part of this is the fact that Northern Minnesota is a community. People know each other. Move up here and you can't help but become involved in the community as much as you care to. Oh, you can come up here and be a hermit if that is what you want, but it is hard. I don't care where you go, the cafe, the hardware store, the food market, or even the gas station and people will speak to you, smile and talk, actually make you feel like they want to hear what you have to say and you know what, they do.

Up here retired people talk and joke with high school kids and know who is going to the prom with who. At high school basketball games you will see lots of seniors and Saturday night card games at the town hall have a real cross section of the community. Those card games taught me that the retired ministers wife from down the road was very competitive when it came to card playing. A social setting like these card games open it up so that all age groups get to meet the others.

Lets say your new up here and never had a well or septic tank before and something goes wrong. The nearest plumber is at least twenty miles away, but just about every neighbor has had to work on plumbing and septic over the years and probably somebody had the same problem with theirs and can tell you just what they did to fix it. You go have coffee at the cafe, stop at the hardware store and get the part, and then you and your neighbor fix whatever your working on. Don't know who to call for some back hoe work? Ask your neighbor and hey, that neighbor might live seven of eight miles down the road or clear across the lake. Neighborhoods up here are bigger than the school district. If you live in the same zip code you are a pretty close neighbor.

There are lots of areas in America like Northern Minnesota. People up here not only trust their neighbors, but because the remoteness of the area, people have to depend on each other. That makes for a close knit community. When you think about it, that is also what makes it nice to live here. When people depend on you, it gives your life purpose.

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