Talking to old men

Kathryn Crawford Saxer Career Transition

I went skiing the other day and talked to old men.

The first was lying in the snow. The way he was lying there, struggling to get up, didn’t seem right so I skied over to see if I could help.

“This is so embarrassing,” he said as he fell back into the icy snow. He was maybe late-70s, maybe a great skier when he was younger. Something didn’t seem right.

“Let me get ski patrol for you,” I suggested. “They’ll be happy to come — it’ll give them something to do.”

He reluctantly agreed and I skied down the mountain as quickly as I could. (Can you hear my kids rolling their eyes?)

The lift operator was happy for the excitement and called up to ski patrol. “Keep her there, we’ll want to talk to her,” I heard through the radio. The lift operator asked me to take off my skis and join him in his special lift-operator hut.

“So,” I said, standing a bit awkwardly with the young man. “Is this your first season working here?”

He told me he had just gotten out of the Navy. “I was an electrical technician on submarines,” he said.

I looked at him again, impressed and a bit starstruck.

“What’s your plan at the end of the season?” I asked. He told me he had too many ideas and wasn’t sure what to do next.

“That’s a good problem to have,” I said. “What are you thinking about?” He told me was considering either using the GI Bill to go to college or getting a job.

“I used to be responsible for maintaining multi-million dollar machines,” he said. “I should be able to get a job.”

I agreed that was certainly possible. “What would you study if you went to college?” I asked. “No wait, let me guess: You’re thinking about electrical engineering.”

He agreed and added, “And a minor in physics.”

I decided to mess with his day. “If all goes well, you’ll be an old man someday. What does that old man want you to do?” I asked.

He looked at me. “That old man wants me to go to college,” he said definitively.

And, finally, ski patrol arrived.

As I headed back up the mountain, I could see the red jackets of ski patrol caring for the old man. And I imagined the old man in the lift operator hut giving me a wave.

First published in The Seattle Times. Read my archive of Seattle Times Explore columns.