SI Vault
You can'T PuT ouT THe Fire
Jerry Kirshenbaum
November 12, 1973
Even with time aplenty and money to spare, retirement is often disconcerting. For some, frantic involvement—in sports or in the community—offers solace
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November 12, 1973

You Can't Put Out The Fire

Even with time aplenty and money to spare, retirement is often disconcerting. For some, frantic involvement—in sports or in the community—offers solace

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Soon Etzel was floating in a canoe in a marshy inlet of Annabessacook Lake. His camera was around his neck and he was wearing camouflage fatigues, the sight of which invariably prompts his sons to twit, "There goes the tree." A long-billed marsh wren had just swooped tantalizingly into view only to vanish in some cattails. Etzel had nudged the canoe along the edge of the reeds, hoping the wren would reappear.

It never did. After an hour or so Etzel was ashore again, busily strapping his canoe to the car, when he gave the marsh a backward glance. A plump male gallinule was swimming across an open stretch of water. Etzel ran off and, for the first time all day, the sound of a clicking shutter was heard. When Etzel returned, his face was flushed. "Just when you think you're skunked, you go home happy," he said.

That evening Bing and Elizabeth Etzel dined at home with their sons: Alan, 27, a UCLA-bound former Peace Corpsman just back with his wife Angela (and his expensive camera) from Greece; David, 24, whose new job as a real-estate salesman had inspired him to get his first haircut in recent memory; and Stephen, a bearded, 21-year-old Colby College senior with a summer job as a carpenter. To celebrate the family get-together, wine flowed before dinner and throughout. As soon as the main course was finished, Bing Etzel sprang to his feet and began clearing the table. His sons exchanged knowing smiles. "He can't stop working," one of them said in a there-goes-the-tree tone.

The family collected after dinner in the living room, but not before Dad showed slides of his bird photographs. Soon it was pushing 11 p.m. but neither David nor Stephen, both of whom had to work the next day, gave any sign of calling it a night. Neither did Alan or Angela. Of course, as Bing Etzel says, in an observation worthy of a CIA dossier, "Those two are used to foreign cultures. They can sit in a café for hours."

As the young people talked, the elder Etzel suppressed a yawn. Another came and he surrendered to it. His eyelids drooped. Tomorrow Etzel might photograph that indigo bunting out near Rum-ford or perhaps go after those nesting warblers in Bryant Pond. Being retired on a comfortable income, he could do as he pleased. He would decide in the morning. Now Etzel rose and stretched. "I'm calling it a night," he announced.

It seemed arguable at that moment whether the retired father was any more of a pioneer in leisure than his employed sons. Some such thought might have occurred to Bing Etzel, too. For then he added, rather sheepishly, "I've got things to do tomorrow."

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