A bunch of my friends have begun getting AARP registration cards in the mail lately. Oh, no! The big 5-0!
Let me tell you, I’ve gotten a taste of retired life lately, and I want one of those cards. Early retirement has occupied my mind so much that I’ve mulled over whether it’s worth it to get dinged by the IRS if I call quits on work before I’m 72 years old.
I blame my state of mind on veggie tortilla pie.
This simple quiche-frittata hybrid with a tortilla crust has been my go-to brunch dish for years. After we published the recipe in The Atlanta-Journal Constitution in December, reader Lynn Ford contacted me, writing that she liked the dish and would be preparing it as part of a holiday lunch spread for two longtime friends, Olive Toy, 93, and Mary Hubert, 95.
The morning of the luncheon, Lynn sent me a photo of the festively decorated table and place settings. A couple hours later, a post-meal shot of the ladies arrived in my inbox.
I just had to meet these women who raised their kids in the same neighborhood, who are longtime bridge partners, who still go to the same beauty shop, and who soon both will have a place at St. Anne’s Terrace retirement community.
Three weeks later, I drove through the winding backroads of Buckhead and parked in Mrs. Toy’s driveway. I gave hug-squeezes to Mrs. Toy and Mrs. Hubert. They sat me down. I was offered a bloody mary. It was lunchtime on a weekday.
The native Southerners — Mrs. Toy hails from Darlington, South Carolina; Mrs. Hubert was born in Cairo, Georgia — wanted to know about me. Halfway through the who-I-am, where-I’m-from conversation, someone asked if the ladies wanted their bloodies refreshed. Both said yes. Note to self: Make it to 90, and you, too, can have a second bloody at 1 p.m. on a weekday.
We moved to the dining room. They seated me at the head of the table. Mrs. Toy had her silver polished for the occasion. They served me veggie tortilla pie. It was exactly like I make it, but, this time, with red cherry tomatoes bursting on top, a fine addition. I don’t recall ever having been served one of my own recipes as someone’s guest.
Mrs. Toy squinted, and apologized that she could not see me due to her macular degeneration. I heard her loud and clear, though, as she and Mrs. Hubert reminisced about starry Atlanta moments, such as when the Olympic torch came running through their neighborhood. Both of their husbands were alive at the time, and they celebrated that day, like now, with a round of bloody marys.
Memories are what also prompted a recent trip to visit my aunt in her retirement community in Mesa, Arizona. Wouldn’t you know that veggie tortilla pie resurfaced then, too?
For five years, Aunt Barb and Uncle Lee coordinated and emceed the annual Greenfield Village Resort talent show called Ham-O-Rama. Hokey? Sure, because I’ve seen them practice their “Aba Daba Honeymoon” act. This round was different, though. Uncle Lee passed away last year. After 50 years of marriage, Aunt Barb is moving ahead. I came for moral support, and told her to sign me up for a guitar-singing act.
With a couple of days to spare before the big shindig, though, I took full advantage of the opportunity to relax in this adult playground.
After an early-morning dip in a massive heated outdoor pool, I walked over to the activity board. It was jammed with options — tennis, ceramics class, bocce ball, wood carving, shuffleboard, pinochle, tai chi and more — that began at 7:30 a.m. and ran until 7 p.m.
We tootled around the RV community in my aunt’s golf cart, stopping to check out action at the pickleball court, and to pick ripe lemons, grapefruit and oranges from everyone’s yard. She offered to let me take the wheel, soon regretting it, because I drive too fast. That probably gave the retiree bikers, joggers and walkers something else to gossip about.
The day of the show, while Barb held a last-minute planning meeting on the front porch with her new co-host, Rick Stockstad, I rummaged through fridge, freezer and pantry, finding the goods to cook up veggie tortilla pie, the same dish I made for her last spring when she was anxious about going home to an empty house after her husband’s wake.
While it baked, I squeezed a bunch of that citrus we’d snagged, and offered glasses to Barb and Rick, as if my fruit juice concoction was the greatest invention in the world. Hey! A freshly-squeezed fruit juice concoction is the greatest invention when you actually have time to appreciate it.
That night, I clutched the guitar as I walked toward the ballroom. A crowd of early birds was standing around the doors. Cyndi Lauper’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” piped through the speakers.
Did they want to hear a closet guitar player strum oldies like “Sloop John B,” “When You Wore a Tulip” and “Edelweiss”? These were the same people who seemed to be die-hard tennis players, who were serious about their pickleball and shuffleboard games, who might be over 55, but who acted younger than some 20- and 30-year-olds I know.
I texted my husband afterward. Success! Barb had come onstage and harmonized with me. The crowd actually sang along to “Edelweiss.”
There were cookies and coffee after the show, but I overheard Rick say he needed a martini. That sounded good. So did fresh-squeezed juice from a tree growing 10 feet away.
As I walked back to my aunt’s house that evening, I recalled a conversation I’d had earlier in the day with a woman who was awaiting the start of a water aerobics class.
“Neat place you live in,” I told her. “I want to retire.”
“Don’t wish your life away,” she replied.
I called my husband. Told him about the talent show. That my aunt’s friend, Nancy, had invited me to go on a walk at 6:50 a.m. the next day. That I also had plans for yoga and water aerobics, and wondered if there’d be time for a nap, because isn’t that what seniors do?
“Glad you are having fun,” he said. “It all sounds like you’re on a cruise ship.”
I’ve never been on a cruise ship. I hear they eat well. I might even be able to find a game of pickleball. And, they let you on-board even if you’re not over 50.
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