Retirement is time to make a fresh start, writers say

Former TV reporters find makings of a book in beach house visit

June 18, 2000|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Retirement. To some, it simply means growing old. To others, it's a chance for a new beginning - an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream or just do something different.

For former television news reporters Susan White-Bowden and her husband Jack Bowden, retirement means having the time to do what they want to do - like spend time at a beach house on the Delaware shore.

Which is how the couple came to write their latest book, "OffSeason - Living the Retirement Dream," the couple's story of their life after retiring from full-time jobs.

"We went to write a book of fiction set in television," White-Bowden said. "But once we got there, I realized this was the thing to do. It was the off season [at the beach] and the off season of our lives."

"Because we'd heard so much negative about retirement," Bowden added, further explaining the subject of the book, "but that wasn't what we were experiencing."

The couple, with their Labrador, Angel, had a ball at the beach for almost eight months - relaxing at their rented beach house between Rehoboth Beach and Dewey Beach, writing, making new friends, meeting old friends, checking out area sights and attractions, or just doing nothing except enjoying the beach and themselves.

"It seems so perfect for us to tell people - there's so much positive in retirement," said White-Bowden, who has written books about the suicides of her first husband and son.

The Bowdens once lived a life many dream of - local television news reporters and anchors for many years, the pair traveled around the world on assignments, meeting celebrities (White-Bowden interviewed Clint Eastwood three times) and world leaders and seeing places most visit only through books or television. They also had - and still do - a 50-acre family farm in Finksburg to come home to every night.

And yet, they both agreed the eight months at the beach in 1998-1999 was a highlight of their life together.

"We had fabulous careers and wonderful families, and we shared that with our families, but this was the best year we've ever had," White-Bowden said.

The book, published by The Baltimore Sun, isn't just the story of the Bowdens' extended retirement vacation. The Bowdens also incorporated the stories of others who retired from their jobs and followed their dreams.

Like Gil Breeding of Gamber, who always wanted to be a cowboy and became one, traveling out West with his horse, riding the plains, helping out on a cattle drive, visiting his hero Gene Autry's home, sleeping out under the stars.

"Retirement is a chance to take a different path," Bowden noted. "Some start a different career."

The book offers personal tidbits about the couple and their families and helpful tips and information about the off season. But it also deals with issues that retirees face in their twilight years - family, living on a fixed income, home, health.

"People are healthier, younger, more people are going to the other end- retiring in their 60s instead of their 80s," White-Bowden said. "We found people doing something they chose to do that they were enjoying - not for money, but just because they wanted to."

She tells the story of her parents, who never got to share their retirement because her father kept promising her mother they would travel "next year." Her mother died unexpectedly at age 82 before her father retired from his dental practice. "My father sobbed with regret," White-Bowden wrote.

White-Bowden said the important thing is that people must identify their passion, what they want to do after retirement, then pursue that dream.

"Once you realize what you want to do, then you have to know how to deal with the issues involved," White-Bowden said.

A major issue for senior citizens is money. The Bowdens share tips they have learned on how to conserve money - like vacationing off season when hotels and restaurants are cheaper, shopping yard sales for items pertinent to your adventure (White-Bowden bought two cushioned lawn chairs for the beach house for $7 apiece) and taking advantage of Elderhostels.

"Elderhostels are huge all over the world, and they're an economical way to see the world," Bowden said. "It's like a college - you can take a class or just take a tour. It's also a great way for singles to meet, and it's a safe way to travel because you're in this group."

Another issue retired couples face is being together all the time. The Bowdens agreed individuals have to have their space and work out things to do together and apart.

When retirement starts, "The secret is to be productive, whatever it is you choose to do," White-Bowden said.

The Bowdens are deciding whether to visit the West Coast, Spain or Italy - off season, of course - to write more books about their experiences and the stories of others who are achieving their dreams.

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