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My Turn: Retirement is perfect time to give back

Retirement offers many opportunities for "payback time."

Retirement offers many opportunities for "payback time." Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

As a little girl, our biggest entertainment vehicles were the local movie and the radio in the living room, which was programmed by Dad or Mom. For my 12th birthday, I was given my own little radio so I could listen to the Lone Ranger and join his club. Membership included being kind to all animals and being a good citizen in every possible way.

In my early years, most of our Irish relative “greenhorns” came to our house to begin their lives in America. I didn’t see any green horns on their heads, but I was too polite to ask! Finally, I was told it was a term for Europeans wishing to be Americans. Mom and Dad began preparing them for their citizenship papers. We all studied the preamble to the Constitution and the amendments, as well as any possible topics that might be covered in their test for citizenship. After they were sworn in, we came home and had a big party and great happiness with our records on the windup Victrola.

It was the Depression era, and all the world suffered. I was too young to fully understand until my dad showed me a World War I veteran on a street corner selling apples for 5 cents. Dad gave me a quarter and told me not to take any change. Every time we visited my dad’s sisters’ families, we brought big bags of groceries and always “forgot” to take them home. There were many big grocery packages that never made it home. I was curious, and when I questioned, I was told, “People need help and we are able to help them.”

When the Pearl Harbor attack occurred, nobody knew where Pearl Harbor was. American lives changed that day. Men went to war and women were needed to replace them, i.e., Rosie the Riveter. Homebodies became workers or civil air raid wardens in the event of attack. Air raid alarm training was conducted in all schools, and dark drapes were to be drawn over the windows nightly to cover all possible lights. Many Americans took Red Cross training and they were no longer complacent.

In college, I prepared to become a high school teacher. My adviser reminded me that the men who were high school teachers were returning to civilian life and would fill many if not all of the openings.

As I began my chosen teaching career, I became one of the first teachers in Levittown’s Wisdom Lane School, which was a Quonset hut, just after World War II. Imagine my excitement as I went to my first teachers’ book fair as a neophyte! Next, I taught elementary pupils in the North Bronx and in Whitestone. My first job as an assistant principal lasted 12 years in the South Bronx and two years in Flushing, before I became a principal in College Point.

Throughout my career, my family of four involved me in Boy Scouts, music lessons, parents’ Open School Nights and, eventually, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps. I thought that I had pretty much seen and done it all. After a total of 43 years, I decided to retire to a “quiet life.”

Now with a comfortable pension and Social Security, I felt it was “payback time,” and I volunteered to run the Parish “Shelter for Homeless Ladies.” We became acutely aware of the many problems of the homeless and hungry.

Retirement offers so many opportunities for “payback time” — volunteering and community involvement — it is a whole new chance to enhance our lives. We never stop learning, sharing, and bringing happiness to so many through our involvement.

Theresa Harris,


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