When is it time to retire?

Wayne MitchellWhen is it time to retire? It’s a hard question to answer.

My father worked hard at jobs that mostly required manual labor and when he turned 65, he was ready. It also was the expected retirement age at the company where he worked.He and my mother lived on their Social Security checks, along with their company pensions, until he died 24 years later at age 89.

Most of that time, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment in a large retirement community in suburban Kansas City.

They spent many days doing volunteer work at the local hospital and socializing with other retirees. It was the right thing for them, and they enjoyed it right to the end.

Jenny and I have been talking about retirement the past few days. No, not for us. Golly, that probably would drive us both a little batty. We enjoy our jobs and don’t know what we would do if we didn’t have them. We don’t have a lot of hobbies and we don’t spend a lot of time socializing with friends.

No, we’ve been talking about Jenny’s father, Jack Swartz. He’s just turned 83, and he surprised us the other day by saying he plans to retire at the end of the month. He’s been cutting hair for 64 years in Covington, Ky., a city just across the Ohio River from the skyline of Cincinnati.

His father opened the first Swartz Barber Shop in Covington in 1928. Jack joined his father in 1950, and except for two years in the Army, including a stint in Korea, he’s been cutting hair in Covington ever since. If he retires, it would end 86 years of Swartz family barbering.

He still cuts hair in his shop five days a week (closed Wednesdays and Sundays), but in recent years he’s reduced his schedule to four hours a day.

His shop is much the same as it always has been, with rich wood paneling (not the ‘70s rec-room variety) and only one barber chair. An art-deco ashtray is nearby, although few customers still smoke in the shop.

In one front window is a large bottle of Wildroot hair oil left by his father. In the other is a large glass jar of Brylcreem, left over from the ‘50s. Even I used Brylcreem, the greasy white cream with the advertising slogan, “A little dab’ll do ya.” (Yes, I had hair in the ‘50s.)

Jack has resisted change in his shop. He has no website and the shop has no telephone. Customers, some of whom have been coming for 50 years, know when he’ll be there and they just walk in.

We think his talk of retirement has been prompted by a couple of things. The city of Covington wants to renovate the building where the shop is located, and this winter Jack fell on an icy curb and broke his right foot. He has a boot on his foot and can’t drive.

So Jenny’s mother, Janis, who is 84, drives him to work each morning and picks him in the early afternoon.

Is it time to retire? Only he knows, but we’ll believe it when the barber pole in front takes its final spin.

About Wayne Mitchell

Publisher of the New Albany Gazette