March 10, 2021

Retired and Married

 

As a follow-up to the post, Retired and Alone from a few weeks ago,   I thought it would make sense to look at the other situation.

satisfying retirement requires lots of pieces to fit and work together. Obviously, your financial situation must be sufficient to support you. Your health, or lack of it, will play a huge role in how much you enjoy your time after work. But, if you are asking my opinion, If you are in a marriage or committed relationship, the quality of that union will be more important than all the rest in how happy your retirement lifestyle turns out to be.

There are all sorts of studies on the Internet, books in the library, experts with degrees in counseling, and your sister-in-law who will tell you what to expect. It has been said that the first few years of retirement are a lot like the first few years of marriage: learning enough about each other to stick it out until you figure out how the game works.

As Sydney Lagier said in a blog of hers several years ago, " [It] turns out that when you spend all day with your best friend, he is going to annoy you, and really for nothing more offensive than eating, breathing, and living." She has captured the mood perfectly. Ships passing in the night are suddenly docked at the same pier.

I have written a few posts that give you some basic guidelines from various sources on making the relationship work. It is generally agreed that communication and commitment are the two linchpins of a successful retirement and marriage or serious relationship.

Rather than rehash that material, I thought I'd share some of the marriage relationship's ups and downs that I know rather well: mine.  After 44 years together, with 20 of them as a retired couple, I have a fair amount of experience to draw on. I have no intention of telling you this is the way that will work for you. That would be foolish. All I can tell you is about some of the problems we encountered and how Betty and I resolved them (for the most part).


Timing

We discussed our plans for retirement in general terms a few years beforehand. But, the reality of what a non-working life together would mean to us wasn't seriously addressed until the last year or so. When we decided to pull the plug on my declining business, and she was tired of preschool teaching, the timing of that change was something we both agreed to. We also decided that when I stopped working, so would she.

That didn't work out quite as we planned. Within a year or so of us being home, she went back to work full time at a department store. She hated the job, but a sudden fear that we didn't have enough money prompted her to agree to un-retire. That lasted a year, during which I felt guilty sitting at home, and Betty disliked the job enough that we agreed to re-retire. Besides, by then, my financial phobia had calmed a bit.

Daily Routines

Being married and retired is an interesting study in balance. Each of you wants to spend time together, and each of you requires time apart. Just because a job has ended doesn't mean everything else that makes up a typical day will change. We each have certain routines and habits that bring us comfort and happiness. Starting the day quietly, reading, and enjoying a cup of coffee alone may be an important part of your schedule. To lose that "me" time just because your spouse is now home could be a serious mistake. Then again, maybe you are ready for a change and would enjoy sharing cereal and conversation. 

The point is to make a change to accommodate another person may be risky to the overall retirement experience. Marriage is a constant compromise, but sometimes your turf must be protected. Betty and I want a mix of both together and alone time. We must be "allowed" time to pursue solo activities and interests without feeling guilty.

Even after two decades, I can't report we are entirely successful in this regard. But, we are getting better at voicing our need for separation as well as togetherness. I am more respectful of Betty's timing, and she is getting better at telling me to buzz off.


Chores

A past post generated some rather strong comments (several of which never saw the light of day), particularly from men, that I had caved into the pressure of becoming too much of a house husband. I had earned my leisure time and shouldn't have to do chores.

Besides being downright silly, that attitude will buy you a miserable household. Betty and I have divided the chores for our entire married life. The only change retirement brought was I stopped traveling so I could pitch in a bit more.

I have always done my own laundry. After all, I dirtied the clothes, why shouldn't I clean them? One of us cooks, and the other cleans up. While I tend to do most of the yard work, it isn't because that is "man's work." It is simply that she can't take the heat like she used to, and I enjoy the process more. Plus, her body is not nearly as flexible and forgiving
 as it once was.

Every week we rotate between emptying the dishwasher and making the bed, so one person isn't always stuck on the same job. In this area, things have worked well because we followed the same procedure before retirement.

Goals

This is one area where we need to do a better job: setting goals more democratically. I will admit that most of the time, my opinion wins. What I think should happen usually does. But, over time, Betty has used various methods, both passive and aggressive, to remind me she gets a vote, too. Actually, over the past half dozen years, I think she has "won" more often than "lost" when we have a goal to set.

Short and long-term goal setting is vital in a retirement relationship. Everything from financial adjustments to vacation choices, when to see the grandkids, and whether we should get a new dog requires a decision. Both partners need to feel his or her opinion is being considered. Both pros and cons need to be aired. I have been very good at airing my thoughts. This is a very public way to say I need to shut up more and listen harder. It will make the marriage stronger and the experience richer.

Marriage after retirement is different. But, as any married person will admit, nothing in a marriage is static. Change is continuous. What retirement does give you is the time to improve how that change is handled. If you do it well, the odds of being happy increase dramatically.


24 comments:

  1. "A past post generated some rather strong comments (several of which never saw the light of day), particularly from men, that I had caved into the pressure of becoming too much of a house husband. I had earned my leisure time and shouldn't have to do chores."

    When I was 40 this would have totally pissed me off. At 59 and retired, it makes me laugh. Kinda like the Dad who babysits?

    Like you and Betty we've divided running the household for decades. (not chores to be done by women). He doesn't like the way I vacuum so he volunteered for that permanent chore. Of course, that was in the days of plush carpet when the vacuum marks could be seen and mine weren't in straight lines.🤣 but the "chore" stuck. 1 cooks, 1 cleans up. He prefers I cook therefore I don't do dishes-I WIN!!!! He can't see dust and I don't like to be able to write in it, so I do the dusting. I take care of my car, he takes care of his truck. I manage the money because he still thinks I do a good job, but he knows where everything is, how it is paid and has access to every account. This is something I check-in with him on every year. He has a few accounts that I don't use and I know how to access those. HE is great at fixing stuff. He evaluates problem things and if he can't do it, then I find and schedule repairs. When we both worked, we took turns being home (off work) for those events. He doesn't give much input on what meals will be and in turn, rarely complains. He will go get groceries if I give him a list. On occasion he will ask for something specific and I of course, will make it. ETC!

    It is important in marriage that we are equally satisfied with division of duties on running the household. That does not mean divided 50/50.

    I retired in 2019 and hubster continues work as he loves it (cybersecurity). And of course, has been work-from-home since March 2019. We call this our trial retirement.

    For sure, alone time is needed! I left for the cabin yesterday. I asked him to wait till Friday after work to join me. I get 3d of sewing (I'm a quilter) and loud music (nothing loud w/him working). Both our home and our cabin are small (1650 and 1250sf) and very few rooms so there's no getting away for loud anything.

    AND he gets to eat whatever he wants which often includes takeout when I'm gone🤣

    There are no kids/grands. I love to travel and he's along for the ride sometimes and a pleasant travel partner. Otherwise, I go with my sister or a friend. (hence we bought a cabin for Mr Homebody when we were 42). He has no bucketlist for travel. I'll say "I want to go here would you like to go?" Examples of places he's skipped: Boston, NOLA, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Nashville. I like to take "focus trips" and really absorb the area fully. No rental car, lots of walking/strolling. I of course, will go anywhere that sparks his interest. He had planned a wonderful 2w trip to Canada taking in 3 national parks, for our 40th anniversary and of course covid cancelled June 2020 :-(

    What will full retirement look like once he chooses to stop working? Who knows. Day to day really won't change given our current state of being together 24/7 unless I run away like I did yesterday 🤣

    He is a woodworker and has a terrific shop we added on back in 2002. He dabbles in there and has a long list of 'want to make' as well as a list from his wife! Many quilters I've met are married to woodworkers. We seem to be a creative pairing.

    Fitness will also be a partnered focus. Plenty of walking, hiking and downhill skiing (I'm scheduled for my 2nd knee replacement and then watch out 2022-I'm coming back) are in sight. I'm feeling the pull for some personal training. We did a year of that in 2007 and really enjoyed it.

    I am excited to see what other commenters have to say. I'm always willing to learn and add new to me ideas.


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    1. I could have just run your comment and called the post done, Elle! You have described how a true partnership works, along with some of the compromises and minor hiccups along the way.

      Betty doesn't mind cooking but isn't much of a fan of the planning. So, I usually pick Five of the seven meals each week. One is take-out so that leaves her with one to pick. We food shop together each week and put the groceries away so we both know what we have and what might have been forgotten. We usually share at least part of the cooking, too.

      Your husband's comment about the vacuuming made me smile. There are times when keeping one's opinions to oneself is the best plan.

      A very big thanks you for such a great comment to start things off.

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  2. I've been retired a little over a year and a half and the transition has gone well. We don't have assigned chores, but my wife usually cooks and I clean. On laundry, we both just grab it and do it as needed. We both have been sharing weekly duties of watching our granddaughter while our daughter works. My biggest adjustment had been the some loss of "me" time. Even when working, I could shut my office door and enjoy a cup of coffee while working on a project by myself. Now, I usually get my "me" time if I take a walk during the week or enjoying my morning coffee and book on the weekends since she like to sleep in and I'm usually an early riser.

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    1. Most of your arrangements sound workable for both of you. The "me" time issue is important. Over the years I certainly have receieved enough emails and comments to know that not having enough time to oneself can become a big deal. That is something that should be discussed so both of you know how each other feels and what combination of "us" and "me" time will work best.

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    2. Me time. We've done that for decades as I am early to bed/early to rise. Hubster is late to bed and late to rise. We both have valued that time on Sat/Sun when there is no work alarm.

      I think it's important that people communicate enough on this so that there are no hurt feelings or upset/anger when it comes up. Like me heading to the cabin and asking hubster to wait till Friday to join me.

      I've heard stories of Moms who wanted a hotel weekend alone as their annual birthday present. i thought it was wonderful. Other feedback was more like, 'how dare you', 'what about your kids who want to celebrate with you'.....etc.

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  3. Hi Bob! Good post. For all of us couples that have been together for a long time (Thom and I are at 43 years) it truly becomes a dance. While we aren't "technically" retired, we both work at home and have for years. I do the cooking and the laundry, he washes the dishes and maintains the car. But neither of us are into cleaning even though we like a clean house so years ago we hired a house cleaner who comes in every other week and Daisy and her sister Arely are like family now. I know it is a luxury but it fits our rightsized life. We do like to spend a LOT of time together but when we need alone time we just go in our respective offices and stay there!

    I'd say the only thing you didn't mention was finances. When we first got together that was one of the most challenging things we had to address. We had different approaches to spending money but through the years we have gradually arrived at a good place. He does pay most of the bills online but I do the taxes. We recently set up a Family Trust so we have that covered and each of us is aware of where all our assets are located and we both have access to each others separate accounts. As for "spending" our money, once we settled into a "rightsized" life that fits us, we eliminated most of the confusion about how and why and where to spend what we have. That helps us tremendously.

    Thanks for making such an important idea more visible. ~Kathy

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    1. Like you, we also employee a housecleaning service every other week. We keep a neat home, but the deep cleaning and feeling that someone else is finding places we miss is worth the cost.

      I have handled virtually all the finances, it is just my strength. But, we have worked to get Betty ready in the event she must take over. One of the most important steps was to get her a credit card in her name. All the cards that show me as primary account holder would close upon my death. Banks no longer issue joint ownership cards, so this was important for her to have her own credit account and be building a FICO score of her own.

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  4. Early in our marriage we had taken turns as who was " in charge" of the day to day household- switching off who stayed home full time with kids. We could have fully retired in 2003.
    We both struggled with "being too young" and our identity. We decided to both work full time and just stash money. t. We were working for a nest egg attitude. We established new "no kid" routines. We finally stopped working in 2013, with established routines.
    Household routines are easy. Every other day dishes. Every other day dinners. I do the normal inside stuff. He does the normal outside. I vacuum, he does the toilets. We buy and care for our own car (that is a huge change for me. He always did this.) Do your own laundry. The law became if you complain about how something Is done it becomes YOUR job! We always grocery shop together....
    It is my twenty years to do the finances (I am excited to exit this job in two years).We termed many things on "twenty years we will switch" roles.
    My husband likes to woodwork, relax with the dogs and read at home I like to travel to see grands and family. We, occasionally, do a big trip together, but he is just not into it. I am wondering if moving to Idaho will change that, but I seriously doubt it.
    I save my allowance for trips, he saves it for woodworking. At first we disagreed with each other on how to spend time, but we are happier now that we have settled into our nightly chat- where ever we may be.
    We have many friends who divorced at 20 years of marriage- end of little kids. Many other considered divorce at 30 years- empty nest. Those who chose to continue are much between Brett and Laura or Scott and me. Either all on the same page or different pages of the same great book.

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    1. "Different pages of the same great book"...I love that way of describing a relationship that works long time. And, like Elle and her husband, in your house complain about how a job is done and you own it.

      I am fascinated by the comments so far because they support the idea of dividing up chores and playing to each other's strengths. One might think more of the man-woman "traditional" roles would exist in our age group, but that doesn't seem to be the case.

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    2. Janette, I'm in Idaho. We should connect!

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  5. Just fmi - how do the commenters who do their own laundry divide it? We throw it in the machine and run it on cold when fullish! More seriously- major change here was husband used to talking most of the day ( attorney) vs me - a researcher used to solitary work in archives - still trying to work out his need to talk to someone and my need for hours reading etc

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    1. We use separate clothes hampers in the bedroom. When mine gets full, I wash it.

      Working out conversational times vs. project and quiet time is a normal part of making the transition to full time retirement. Without being rude about it, you could tell your husband that when he sees you with a pair of headphones on, you are enjoying some quiet time. There doesn't have to be any sound in the headphones. They are just a symbol of your private time.

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  6. Chiming in from a 40+ year marriage generally based on the more traditional male/female roles of past generations. (Didn't want you to think there weren't any of us out here, Bob!) Alan spent the first two years of our marriage building our house while working a full time job. During that time, I handled the cooking, cleaning, laundry and grocery shopping at our apartment, and pitched in with clearing the property and building the house when I could. I can swing a pretty mean hammer, but I still remember the day we put up a 16' piece of sheetrock on the kitchen ceiling as one of the most challenging days of my life. While I don't mind more strenuous chores, I find that my size, weight and lack of leverage makes some of them difficult or impossible. I'm 5', 1" tall and weight 115 pounds soaking wet; Alan is 6' and 250 pounds. I could split wood all day, but if the big guy isn't around to pull start the splitter, I'm dead in the water which frustrates me to no end. I don't like being out in the summer humidity or winter cold (a real weather wimp, I know), but Alan doesn't mind and even finds mowing enjoyable. He's a fanatic about our vehicles, so while I'll run mine through the car wash occasionally, he's the one who details them, changes the oil, replaces the brakes, etc. Because I worked in banking and have always considered numbers to be my friends, I've always handled our finances and investments - although we talk about all major decisions and sit down together for periodic reviews so Alan knows where we stand. I think we took on traditional male/female roles simply because dividing responsibilities that way made the most sense to us. It proved to be efficient and played to each of our strengths. For example, we always said that if we had kids we wanted one parent to stay at home with them. It didn't matter to us which parent it was and, when the time came, Alan was making much more in IT than I was, so we decided that I'd be the one to stay at home. I always felt like he sacrificed a LOT and I truly believe I got the better end of that deal.

    As for timing and subsequent goals, we had always agreed that we would both retire from the workforce as early as possible without sacrificing a rich and fulfilling life. (Travel has always been our thing.) Alan's position was eliminated when he was 55 and he never went back to traditional employment. He became the at-home parent (we didn't have kids until 15 years into our marriage) and I went back to work full time, escaping by choice about five years later. We made it a point to talk about what each of us wanted out of retirement before we retired, and we continue to talk about it occasionally in case our goals have changed. Every marriage and every retirement is different from the next, and I will always believe that the most successful ones are built on the cornerstones of honesty, trust, respect and communication and that love holds it all together.

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    1. Your final sentence really says it all in terms of a lasting relationship. At over 40 years, you and Alan have obviously found the proper groove.

      Concerning your earlier "traditional" roles, another possible interpretation was that you adopted roles based on pure physicality. Betty is 5 ft. and 105 pounds. Even if she would be happy splitting wood (she would!) there have been things she has been unable to do because of her size. Of course, we have always been suburbanites so the opportunity for swinging an axe or building a home have been nonexistent.

      But, she has tackled retiling bathrooms, refinishing front doors, and other chores that push her to the edge of her strength, but she still finds very fulfilling. I am just fine, giving her encouragement and praising the outcome.

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  7. Great column again, Bob. I laughed out loud at the comments you've gotten about men who think they've earned their leisure and should do no chores. Sure wouldn't fly at our house.

    We have worked out a division of labor that works for us, as most people in the comments seem to have done. This year we'll have no yard work in the new condo, so DH will have more golf time. But he is still interested in immediate snow shoveling (he has strong opinions about driving over snow when backing out of the garage...ha!), etc. He washes dishes, cooks some of the meals and unloads the dishwasher regularly. As do I. I do the laundry, but only because I'm super picky about it and there is no point in running less than full loads. And we both agree that I'm better with the finances, although he has an overview of what is happening.

    I understand that others do things differently. The bottom line is whatever works between the two of you. And we've commented many times during the year of lockdown how happy we are to be spending it together vs some of the stories we hear. We each feel free to decamp to a far room for "me time", and we also walk together sometimes and sometimes we walk alone. Neither of us gets too fussed over the small things anymore. It's a blessing.

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    1. "Don't sweat the small stuff, and it's all small stuff" (in the grand theme of things) was a popular book and saying several years ago. That would seem to sum up your arrangement.

      We play to our strengths, listen and react to the other person, understand compromise, and know when to fold 'em (to quote another song). It works.

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  8. Every long married couple come to an arrangement one way or another that works for them - whatever that is. As we've seen above some share jobs (I do it one week and you do it the next) and some divide jobs (I do this and you do that). There's no right or wrong way and as others have said every couple is different, each couple strikes their own deal and, I am sure, adjust as things change over time.

    I won't go into any detail about how we've structured our roles, it wouldn't do anyone else any good anyway, but I can say that after 38 years married and 6 years of retirement we are happier now than we've ever been and that's what counts!

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    1. Not all that many people can claim that level of happiness after so long together. Congrats to you and your wife.

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  9. We were both teachers for 31 years (I started a bit sooner and ended a bit earlier). Even though hubby often taught summer school and we always had things we wanted to work for the next year the routine changed each summer. Same with the routine as kids grew up. We learned to "roll" with it most of the time.

    We also had Christmas break, spring break, along with summer that we spent more time together. That was retirement practice.

    When we actually both retired it was not all that big of deal. We pretty much just fell into our normal both at home routine that we had used for all those years.

    Guess even short times made good practice.

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    1. You mention a way to ease into retirement living: practice. Several retirement coaches recommend this for someone who isn't sure if they are ready to fully retire. Take a few periods away from work to see how it feels, whether you become lonely, or bored, or whatever. If these "practice" sessions what your appetite for more, you are probably ready to enter this new phase of life.

      In your case, you used the normal rhythm of teaching to do the same thing. Very clever!

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  10. Brett and I got a trial run for our current retirement when he retired from the navy back in 1992, after 22 years of service. It was a tumultuous experience for both of us for a variety of reasons, but we learned quite a bit that helped make his retirement from work a much easier transition.

    When he left the navy, Brett had been in charge of 250 men (no women serving on ships then), and he knew his role, his place in the hierarchy, etc. I also knew my role. Because of Brett's very frequent deployments over the years, I had been responsible for everything, from the budget to repairs to childrearing, and so forth. Everything. It worked better that way because he deployed so frequently. We used to joke that the first thing he did whenever he checked into a new duty station was turn in a list of all important family dates and occasions (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) so that the powers that be could make sure he was deployed then.

    Well, when he retired, he had just me and our son to deal with. He tried to be "in charge" of us, but that didn't last more than a day. He also felt lost as he didn't have a defined job or role. There was a recession going on, and jobs were hard to find at that time or paid very poorly. He was honestly lost for a while, but eventually he decided to return to school and earn his degree, and that gave him a role and a purpose. He eventually also found his role within our marriage as I was able and grateful to relinquish many of the tasks I had been doing for so many years.

    We had a "honeymoon marriage" while he was in the navy; his always having to leave meant wonderful reunions. Several years before he retired, I began if our relationship would or could last once he wasn't traveling all the time. Once we were together all the time, would we discover we really didn't love or even like each other all that much? That thankfully didn't happen - we found out we liked each other more, and our relationship grew stronger. We're getting ready to celebrate our 42nd anniversary at the end of this month.

    We've always played to our strengths throughout our marriage, and that has continued after he retired from work in 2013. I am the organizer, the planner, and he is the logistical wizard who makes sure everything works like it's supposed to, and we get where we need to be on time. We're very different people, with very different interests and ways of approaching issues and problems, but we deeply respect each others' way of doing things and so it works.

    We've also always agreed on the "big things" from the beginning: money, children, and so forth. It's the reason we were able to add and raise three more children during our mid- to late- 40s, move to Hawaii, or travel around the world for a couple of years. We still joke that NO ONE can drive us crazier or faster than the other can, but thanks to that earlier experience with retirement, we know how to work through these times. We also made a rule when we married that we would never go to bed at night feeling angry, and that, I think, has made all the difference in our ability to work through any issues that come up.

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    1. What a great summary of a not-everyday arrangement, but one not unheard of with military families.

      There is no way you two could have sold everything (or put in storage) and travel around the world with a few suitcases and backpacks and not have worked out how best to compromise and play to each other's strengths.

      A great story for us all. Thanks, Laura. And, yes, Beatty and I hope to make it to Kauai this fall.


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  11. Interesting blog post, Bob, which has generated lots of detailed comments. Reading through them, it is clear that couples who have figured out how to share the household work equitably are relying on a number of principles: respect for each other, recognition of personal strengths and preferences, and communication.

    In our household, the way we split tasks has evolved over time. I shop for groceries and cook (except he cooks one day a week), and I set and clear the table; he does the dishes. He vacuums, and I wash the floors. He cleans the cat box and I clean the bathrooms. I do the laundry, and he fixes things and replaces lightbulbs. In the garden, I do most of digging, planting, and weeding, and he does the lawn mowing and pruning. We have separate bank accounts and have split the bills and each look after some. I do all the planning and purchasing of tickets, season’s passes, etc. He does the wood chopping. We both shovel snow, look after our own vehicles, and wash windows. Neither of us likes to dust, so we rarely do it. As both of us are perfectionistic Virgos, we seldom work on the same task together, or if we do, we work on separate aspects so we don’t get in each other’s way.

    Jude

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    1. You have described a way to work together that plays to your strengths. I think others who read your comment will be inspired to assess how they approach tasks and responsibilities with an open mind.

      P.S. I am very, very glad to have left the snow shoveling duty behind almost 36 years ago when we moved to Arizona.

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