What Happens When You Retire?

A red kettle day


Red kettle with silver lid, black handle and spout, nestled in grass and weeds.
Evergreen has two new retirees - me and this old red kettle.

After many years in the paid workforce, I’m retiring.


To celebrate this milestone, I’m going to buy a new red kettle.


Our property, Evergreen, relies on solar power, so we cook with gas to save electricity and always have a red whistling kettle to boil water. Not a black or yellow or blue or silver one. It must be red. Like most traditions, the origin of this rule is lost in obscurity, but we refuse to change it. It’s like an eleventh commandment carved into stone by the finger of God and brought down from Mt Sinai: Thou shalt only have red kettles.


The current red kettle is looking untidy and tired – a bit like me at the end of the workday. Its paint is bubbling and peeling; its bottom is thin; its innards are caked with mineral deposits from the water with which we fill it from the spring; its whistle has lost its joy and is more like a plaintive wail. Like me, it has done enough in the hot seat and is ready for a change.


There is also a twelfth commandment at Evergreen: Thou shalt put tired red kettles out in the garden in a special spot so they can bask in the sunshine and add a dash of colour to the great outdoors.


So, today, the first day of my retirement, I have two jobs to do, and two commandments to obey: get a new red kettle and put the old red kettle outside.


Actually, I only have one job to do. Rob has already bought me a new kettle as a surprise retirement gift. He’s taken it out of the box, and it sits cheekily on the counter, ready to take over. I remove the old red kettle from the gas ring, tip out the water it still contains, and together we go outside, the kettle and I.


The big question is: Where shall I put it?


I carefully place it between the nasturtiums by the birdbath near the blue gate and step back. No, not there, it looks lost. I pick it up and wander over to the lemon tree, but no matter where I put it beneath the lemon-ladened branches, it seems insignificant. I don’t want this kettle to feel insignificant. It has done important work and needs to be appreciated. I move down to the edge of the winter lake and prop it beside the gnarled roots of the willow. Perhaps this will be its new home. I go back inside the house and look through the window at it. No, it’s not working. The kettle seems awkward there, out of place, as if it doesn’t feel comfortable in that position.


I go back outside, retrieve the kettle, and make my way to the small muddy spring that runs out of the hill. I nestle it against the side of the spring so it’s half in and half out of the water. Green shoots rise around it, and frogs croak. There’s an earthy smell here, a mixture of old and new life. If I leave it here it will slowly rust, settle into the landscape, and finally disappear. Do I want that to happen? I think so. Yes, I think so. I step back, bow, and make my way back to the house.


Within minutes the new red kettle is whistling like a joyful bird. I make a cup of tea, lean my elbows on the sink and stare at the old red kettle, barely visible in the distance, while I sip the tea.


I’m keenly aware that the feelings I’d attributed to the kettle as I’d searched for a place for it to be now, were really my sublimated feelings about my retirement. I don’t want to feel lost. I don’t want to feel insignificant. I don’t want to feel out of place, as if I don’t belong anymore.


Officially retiring can bring these thoughts and feelings.


I realise that as I wandered around the property with the old red kettle in my hands, I was really carrying myself.


I was wondering where to put myself now.


I get out the binoculars we keep in the kitchen drawer to spy on birds that visit our place. I adjust it so I can see the red kettle clearly. Ah, there it is. I zoom in more. Bright green shoots move across its red belly in the light breeze, and the sun's rays flash silver where the paint is peeling.


The kettle is home. It is graciously accepting what life is doing with it. Beetles, green shoots, wind, water, frogs, and reflections will fill its days. And children will come to the spring and be delightfully surprised when they spy the kettle. So that old red, rusting kettle will bring joy into the world.


I put the binoculars away and take a final sip of tea.


And what will happen to me?


Well, life will happen, that’s what.


Just like it always has.


And I will respond.


The kettle is at home in life, and so am I.


With love, Marlane


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