My Life as a Volunteer Tax Preparer – Ch. 2.9
Another busy day as a volunteer in the VITA/Tax Aide office. I completed three new returns and finished up two that I had started last week. It was a lot of fun because I met some happy retirees.
My first return was for a married couple in their late 70’s. The husband was a proud man who, according to his wife, had struggled mightily over the past few years to prepare their their returns on paper. Last year they ended up going to one of the commercial tax prep services, which they really couldn’t afford. After he worked on their 2009 return for three days, she finally persuaded him to come in to our office.
Thanks to the excellent IRS tax prep software, I was able to quickly work through a couple of issues that had bothered him. He was quite relieved and pleased to be done with the return, at no cost. Yet the pride in him emerged as he got up to leave. He said “I know you are a volunteer here but could I take you to lunch to say thank-you?” I politely declined but asked him to bring me a candy bar when they came back next year. He agreed with a smile.
A man about my age brought in his 88 year old mother. This was her first time in our office also. Apparently her sons had worked on her returns in the past but felt that some of her issues were over their head. They discovered our service by accident. She moved very slowly in her walker but was sharp as tack mentally and full of the joy of living.
I noticed from her paperwork that she had teacher’s pensions from two different states. I asked if she had taught for a living. Yes, she said. Twenty-three years in one state then twenty years in our local school system. I was amazed: Forty-three years as an elementary school teacher! I asked her if she enjoyed it. “Oh yes”, she said. “I never once woke up not looking forward to getting into my classroom.” Wow. How many of us can say that about our work? What is even more amazing is that she had been a widow since 1966. Her husband had died at age 44. She raised her sons on her own and never remarried.
My final taxpayer was a jovial African-American man in his late 70’s. As I worked on his return, we chatted. He was originally from a small town in Mississippi. A taxpayer working with another volunteer overheard our conversation and announced that he had also lived in that town. Next thing you know we had a mini-reunion right there in the volunteer office, with two older gentlemen swapping stories of places and people they remembered. Everyone was enjoying themselves, including me, just listening.
Once again I was reminded by these experiences that these folks were not wealthy by any financial measure. On the other hand, they seemed happy and contented about life and made the best of what they had.
We all should be so wealthy.