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Under my hat: The man in the next booth

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    Jim Rodick of Hometown, a Marine Corps veteran with a passion for painting, created “Victorian Tamaqua,” a panoramic oil on canvas. DONALD R. SERFASS/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS
Published February 04. 2019 12:21PM


I’m learning that one of the joys of retirement is having almost unlimited time to meet people and develop friendships.

Last January, for example, I stopped in at the local diner for a quick breakfast. A man came in shortly later and sat in the next booth.

I started talking with him.

He said his name was Jim. He seemed friendly, upbeat and conversational. By coincidence, he mentioned that, like me, he’d recently retired.

Jim worked a long career as a crane operator at Dana Corporation in the Reading area where he grew up.

We compared notes about usual topics: adjusting to retirement, applying for Social Security, importance of a healthy lifestyle and so on.

Turns out, we have quite a bit in common. We live in the same town, just a few blocks from each other, where we enjoy advantages of a quiet life and a sense of peace that comes with living alone.

As can be expected at our age, we both experienced bitter loss of family members.

Heartache is universal and inevitable.

I was particularly interested when Jim mentioned military service. He’s a Marine Corps combat veteran, Vietnam. He enlisted to serve his country and was trained in artillery. Jim saw action during the Tet Offensive and was awarded a Purple Heart.

I’m always interested in learning about those experiences. It was an era in which things were so uncertain. For instance, the military draft was based on a birthday lottery system and many of us had to wait and see if our birth date would be selected. Even buying gas was complicated, thanks to an oil embargo. We were allowed to buy gas for the car only on certain days, depending on whether the last digit of our license plate was even or odd.

Jim and I also talked about retirement hobbies. He owns a small motorboat and is a skilled, lifelong fisherman — catch and release.

“I just like to be on the water. I’ve always liked to be near water,” he said.

Offseason, Jim dabbles in oil painting, — wildlife, landscapes, portraiture — you name it. A self-taught passion and he’s good at it.

“For me, it’s comforting,” he explained.

We enjoyed the chat and agreed to get together again. And we did.

In fact, he invited me to enjoy a lobster dinner at his place.

A few weeks later, I hosted him for homemade lasagna. We’ve become friends. It’s nice to have a retirement buddy living nearby.

At Christmas, Jim gave me a vibrant, panoramic work he painted just for me.

It depicts me with my 1890 highwheel along with my high-riding pals. He shows us positioned against a backdrop of my old house and neighborhood in west Tamaqua.

It’s where I grew up, now part of a national historic district and a place where I’m emotionally attached.

The colorful work, “Victorian Tamaqua,” is based on several photos Jim saw at my house. He used creativity and imagination to make the scene jump to life. It took countless hours to complete and, of course, I’ll always cherish it. I’ve recently had it professionally framed. For me, the vibrant painting hits home in every imaginable way.

I’m happy to have met Jim, and I’m sure his retirement years will be rewarding.

For me, there are two take-away lessons here.

One is that retirement is an opportunity to welcome new friends and pleasant surprises. The other is to always say hello to the man in the next booth.

You’ll never realize how much you have in common with the person next to you unless you take the time to get to know him.


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