I am 88 years old. Mary is 87. We have been married 64 years. Our first apartment in Kansas City was above a bar and a whorehouse. Its location enabled us to walk to work, Mary to woman’s specialty store where she was a copywriter; me, to Folger’s Coffee Company. Not until we went to work as teachers for the Panama Canal Company in our early thirties did we have much in the way of disposable income. In Panama, we wrote One Potato, Two Potato: The Secret Education of American Children (Norton). When the new treaty with Panama started going into effect (a gradual process), we were given the option of retiring early with a reduced annuity. We were happy to do so.
We bought a house in western Massachusetts and Mary went to work for a non-profit charity; I stayed home working on our next book: Red, White, and Blue Paradise: The American Canal Zone in Panama (Harcourt). Shortly after that book was published, we moved to Manhattan to be close to one of our daughters. I’m simplifying this, of course, but we were able to do this because having grown up during the Great Depression we have always been “careful with money,” something we notice very few people are today.
In the city, Mary was enchanted by the Old Merchant’s House Museum down on Fourth Street. She wrote two books about it which we published ourselves. I devoted myself to writing poems that I was sure no one wanted to read, and painting pictures I had no desire to sell. I used to trash pick frames for my paintings (Manhattan is a great place to trash pick.), and we bought most of our books (especially the expensive art books) online from the second hand booksellers ABE or Alibris. I mention this because as I prepared drafts of posts to come, it occurred to me that since we retired before we were fifty and moved to Manhattan which is not an economical retirement community, readers might suppose we are trust-fund babies who have led charmed lives. Well, yes, we have led charmed lives, but there was no trust fund.