My Life as a Volunteer Tax Preparer – Vol. 3.2
An awesome day today as a volunteer at the AARP Tax Aide Office. More words of wisdom from the happily retired and a small world interaction.
The first couple I met with was a long0time retired couple (since 1989) with a moderate retirement income. Most of it was from a government pension because the husband had worked 41 years for as a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers. This couple was just as happy and pleasant as they could be and for that reason, I was determined to engage them in conversation to pick up some “happy retirement” tips.
A little more backstory is relevant. Both of these folks are native Tennesseans and love living in Nashville. In the middle of the husband’s Army Corps career, he was required to move to Mobile. Alabama to help build the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. (Google it – it’s impressive) They didn’t want to leave Nashville but the only other option was to be out of a job. They told me they “cried all the way down.” They ended up staying 18 years. They finally decided they had to get back to Tennessee. The husband had some friends in the Corps who had moved up the ranks after he had transferred to Mobile. He was able to leverage his friendship to get a transfer back, under the condition that he work at least one more year. He told me he enjoyed the work so much he stayed another five years. That’s what friends are for.
I asked this man if he retired cold turkey – at work full time one day and no work at all the next. He said that he did and never looked back. I asked for a tip on how to make my retired life as pleasant as his seemed to be. His advice was simple but it is something that will I have to remember. He said each and every day you must try something different – even just a little bit. He added this about retired life: A lot of what you might try to do each day might turn out to be “wrong” but at least some of it will turn out to be “right.” It’s that “right” part that makes it a good day and makes you forget the wrong stuff.
Finally, I could tell this 85 year old couple really loved each other. I complimented the husband on the work he had done in preparing a draft tax return using pencil and paper. His numbers were very close to mine. He said that he did that every year but thought he needed help because he just wasn’t “smart” like his son, who had a college degree. His wife immediately slapped him on the wrist (gently) and lovingly scolded him for even suggesting that her husband wasn’t “smart.” God bless her.
My second taxpayer was a retired woman with not much income, only a small Social Security benefit and a small pension from her husband. She was struggling a little financially and asked if she knew if she was entitled to any help. I couldn’t offer her any advice. She also worked occasionally at a local Hampton Inn, during catered functions. When her husband retired in 1998, he started working at the Hampton Inn part-time and later encouraged his wife to join him. This is where her story touched me.
In 2008, her husband suffered a heart attack and had to undergo open heart surgery followed by cardiac rehab. But he wanted to go back to the Hampton Inn. Finally, he was able to return to work. He died – at work- the second day back. She told me that after the funeral she started receiving dozens of letters from people she did not know. It turns out they were all travelers who had stayed at the Hampton Inn. They wrote that the reason they always came back to that Hampton Inn when they traveled to Nashville was to see her husband. She told me that her husband was so outgoing and friendly that everyone he met felt like he was their friend. Those letters really brought comfort to her.
One of this lady’s last conversations with her husband also brought comfort to her. She was worried about him going back to work after his heart attack and surgery. He said “Honey, don’t worry about me. If I die on the golf course or while I’m working at the Hampton Inn, I’ll be a happy man.” (I swear I am not making this up.)
My final topic of conversation with this taxpayer was about her plans to travel to Arkansas and watch her grandson compete in a college track meet – as a decathlete. When I heard “decathlete” my ears perked up. It turns out that her grandson and my middle son (also a college decathlete and two-time state high school decathlon champion) know each other because they were coached by the same former Olympic decathlete in town. Small world.
My third taxpayer was an older retired couple with whom I had worked last year. Their big news was the flood. During the disastrous Nashville flood of 2010, they had two feet of water in their house. They had to move out for five months but lived separately. The wife and their disabled adult daughter went to live in another town, in a house they inherited from the wife’s mother. The husband lived in town with their son. They did not have enough insurance but were saved by members of their church, who helped rebuild their house and contributed over $5,000 for the purchase of new appliances and other supplies. You have to respect a church that steps up to the plate like this.
Another interesting tidbit: I asked if they had last year’s tax return to look at. They did, but apologized because it had been damaged by flood waters. They said they would never again store important papers at floor level!
My last taxpayer was a young woman and student. She was not yet a U.S. citizen, as she had immigrated with her family from Iraq two years ago. This was her first time having to file a U.S. income tax return so I had to explain a lot of basics to her. Her income was so low that she did not have to file except that she needed to present a copy of her tax return to apply for college financial aid. When we were done, she seemed very proud that she had completed an important civic responsibility. She asked if she could bring her mother in for her tax return. Her father had died a few months ago and her mother was completely confused about what to do. Of course I agreed.
Gosh I love this job.