At a coffee shop in one of Florida’s coast towns, my favorite joint, many senior citizens congregate for coffee and donuts. Florida is known as one of America’s retirement capitals. Both the East and West coast have many condominiums dedicated to retirees.
An old friend of mine, Mr. Duestenhoft talked to me regarding American retirement process. He had lived his life in Northbrook, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. During the winter, he would leave me to check his mansion while he migrated south to lakeland Florida for the winter. It was my student winter job. He called it, “the migration of the snowbirds.”
When he finally retired, he sold his house in Northbrook for half a million dollars and moved to Florida. He told me that even though he had retired, he still had to pay property tax and other taxes in Illinois, which amounted to over $10,000 annually. He had invested all his profits from his Greek restaurant business into that house. When he sold his house, he paid capital gains taxes and by the time he got the package from his house, the government had taken over 30%. When he moved to Florida we lost contact and haven’t seen him since late 90s.
At the coffee house in Florida, I got to know this old couple. Like many others, they would come and have coffee and ‘hag’ out. The last time I saw him, he was sitting in the corner, and had all his stuff with him. I heard he and his wife were no longer together. The new coffee clerk at the counter did not know him therefore she asked him to get his things and go home. I felt sorry for him and approached him. I asked him whether he had a place to stay. I told him he could come and stay with me. He mumbled some words and said he was fine. I could tell he had a flashlight, pillow, and stuff that had sand in them. I knew he did not have a place to stay. Some people said he was sleeping on the beach. But he refused my offer.
While thinking about this man, I remembered Mr. Duestenhoft. He once said to me, “It is very hard to retire in America.” He said. “Your children move to another state, they marry people who do not want to see you. Then you end up alone.” At least for him, he had a summer home in Lakeland, Florida.
For us who come from Kenya, it is hard to make a decision where and when to retire. But I think the village, with a cow or two, some chicken, a tomato garden, sukuma wiki, and enough money for sugar and tea sounds like a plan. Yes and a cottage in Mombasa to migrate to for whatever reason.
My clergy father built a cottage in the forest and kept some cows, goats, chicken, and grew tomatoes, carrots, and sukuma wiki. He waited for me every year to take him and my mother to Mombasa. I did that with gratitude. He made sure he populated the earth therefore he always had some grand children who came to see him now and then. They screamed and shouted in his house. He did not mind though, he was old school!
Teddy Njoroge Kamau (PhD), SYR Radio/TV, Director International Desk. IMANISHA