Grandpa was a serious saver, but retirement wasn't his concern

Rocking chair on deck overlooking water

I can only imagine how surprised my grandfather would be.

I'm saving like a maniac for retirement.

He would have fully expected the saving part.

But the fact that I've got to save for retirement or face spending my later years in poverty isn't something he would have considered -- or understood.

Now let's be clear about my Grandpa Lemon.

His values were hardened and tested as a young parent raising a couple of kids (including my mom) through the Depression.

He was a no-nonsense guy who expected everyone to take responsibility for themselves and their families and who saved diligently to take care of us.

He detested debt and embraced hard work.

I'll never forget watching him carry two pallets of wood shingles, one on each shoulder, up a ladder to the third-floor roof he was fixing on a 100-degree July day.

He was frugal, too.

Grandpa Lemon spent hours in his basement workshop repairing any and everything that broke, from lamps to lawn mowers.

If something could be fixed, it was fixed. That included the cars that grandpa drove until they literally wouldn't go another mile.

When I was little, my grandmother worried every time we hopped in his old Packard. The passenger-side floorboard had rusted out, and she was afraid I'd slip off the seat, fall through the hole and meet a terrible fate.

(True story. No seat belts, either.)

Of course, Grandpa Lemon totally distrusted Wall Street, so he never bought stocks.

He was a determined saver who understood the importance of having some money in the bank for hard times.

And that's where grandpa put his money.

In the bank.

Government-insured CDs were his investment of choice, and they served him well his entire life.

But grandpa was not saving for retirement.

In fact, his savings continued to grow after he stopped working. He never needed a penny of it to live on.

He had Social Security and a pension for that, and so did all of his friends, as near as I could tell.

So what was he saving for?

He considered his nest egg to be a giant, perpetual rainy day fund that would help his kids, and their kids, and my kids, endure the next financial calamity, whether personal or national.

While I was growing up, I never doubted that Grandpa Lemon was a fierce conservative. If he ever voted for a Democrat, he kept it to himself.

Yet grandpa thought the government and corporate retirement plans that his generation created in response to the suffering of the Depression and sacrifice of World War II were a worthy addition to the economy.

He saw nothing wrong with a system that ensured all hardworking Americans could retire with a few bucks and lot of dignity.

Grandpa Lemon took full advantage of it, and he expected generations of Americans to come would do the same.

He never thought his favorite grandson (OK, his only grandson) would have to worry about keeping a roof over his head and food on the table when his working life was over.

Things change, though.

It seems our leaders -- public and private -- have spent the past few decades dismantling the retirement system that served my grandfather so well.

I have to worry. And save like a maniac.

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