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Harry Tipton and the others wound up catching dozens of sailcats that morning, but the waters of Charlotte Harbor were not otherwise generous. Using live shrimp as bait, they trolled a while, then drifted with the motor turned off. The sun was oven-warm and the sky, empty except for one or two cottony clouds, seemed large and close. An hour quickly passed with only one other catch: a 14-inch trout taken by Jim Tipton.
After a while the fishermen made their way to a hole where, on previous occasions, Harry Tipton and Les Purcell had met up with both tarpon and sharks. Jim Tipton baited his hook with the trout and cast out. Les Purcell, mouselike under a wide-brimmed hat, followed, still using shrimp. At the front of the boat Harry Tipton jigged with spoon and feather, pausing now and then to attack a balky pipe with his Zippo. He caught another sailcat, but instead of reeling it, playfully gave it line.
"I think I'll let this fellow get a little exercise," he said.
"That's right," Purcell chirped. "Bring him around to our way of thinking. Just like we're doing in Vietnam."
Tipton did not turn around. "I'll try not to take quite that long," he said. And he worked at his pipe.
Suddenly Jim Tipton had a strike. His line went taut and he braced for battle. Then the line slackened. He looked up, his face a mixture of embarrassment and disappointment. "Guess he made off with the bait," Purcell said. Harry Tipton added cheerfully, "Well, that's it. May as well go home." From the force of the strike it was agreed that the fish had been a shark, probably around 100 pounds, give or take a pound or two for the trout.
Not 20 minutes later the fishermen were back home, there to be greeted by Nina Tipton and the two children, Jim and Peggy. Young Jim proudly held up for all to admire a small, decaying sand shark he had caught the day before, the sight of which caused his sister to bury her face in her hands: it was as if he were posing for pictures, she hiding from them. The presence of children, so rare in Port Charlotte's households, seemed natural and welcome, a reminder that the young have something basically in common with the retired: one has yet to work, the other has ceased to, and both see the world as a playground.
It is precisely this vision of the world that prompts some older people to resist retirement as empty or, at best, frivolous. Still, for those who are willing to adjust or accept—or surrender, some might say—the pleasures of retirement often have a certain purity about them. Out on the golf course, Ray Walton gives no thought to cultivating business contacts or extracting a raise from the boss. When Jim Haas climbs aboard Lark it makes little difference what the destination is, never mind whether he reaches it. As for Harry Tipton, so what if he fails to catch anything? They share, these men, a realization that the joy of life is in the doing.
The pity is that this realization has to come so late. "You know, I wish I'd retired years earlier," Harry Tipton said as he and Purcell finished tying up the boat. "It's surprising how busy a fellow can stay when he's retired."
The two men walked toward the house, which was vividly landscaped with hibiscus and allamanda. "Of course, we're busy, Harry," Purcell said. "That's because what used to take us two hours takes us all day now."