Scientists recently found the skull of an edentulousmillion-year-old man, a man well past hishunting years, who must have been taken careof by other members of his tribe. They toutedthis discovery as evidence that early tribes of humanstook loving care of their old people. My own research,with the collaboration of the paleontology departmentof this magazine, revealed that Carl the Caveman wasmore than just a guy kept alive by the generosity of histribe. Research revealed that he is a genuine historicalfigure, the world's very first retiree.
Carl must have been a genius. Today there arelegions of companies and individuals devoted to theretirement industry, but Carl had to make it up all byhimself, from setting up a savings plan, to preretirementplanning, to actually setting the date. Carl was a legendaryhunter, the envy of his tribe. But one day, whilehe was bringing home his 10,000th mastodon, he unexpectedlyasked himself, "Do I really want to continuedoing this for the rest of my life? Why not let theyounger generation do it?"
Carl had become unhappy with some of the newhunting techniques that required him to learn newskills he was not sure he wanted to learn. Carl wasbecoming tired. Fortuitously, Carl had saved up a collectionof his very finest spear points, known locally as"Carl Points,"and discovered that he could readilytrade them to the younger hunters for food. He keptthe collection, his retirement account, buried undersome pelts in the back of his cave.
A smart guy, Carl had invented several hobbiesthat were taking up more and more of his time. Heliked to smear crushed-up berries on the walls of thetribe's cave. At first, some people had thought he waslosing his mind, but eventually they learned to appreciatehis paintings of the various animals that inhabitedthe area around the cave. In another hobby, hefound if he flattened the end of his hunting club, hecould hit a small round stone into a chipmunk holefrom quite a distance. It was hugely entertaining tohim, and gave him the same satisfaction he got by hittinga piece of game squarely between the eyes with aspear at 100 paces. And he didn't have to clean themess off the spear when he was done.
Caving In to Retirement
Other events helped him to make his decision. Hismate was ailing, and she needed his help. He couldspend an afternoon away from her while painting or hittingthat stone into the chipmunk hole, but he didn'twant to leave her for the traditional 3-to 5-day hunt.
Furthermore, his children were having children. Hehad never learned to bounce his own children on hisknee when they were growing up because he was toobusy hunting. But now that he had grandchildren, hefound it quite a bit of fun.
As Carl struggled with his decision, he had worries.He knew that his skill as a hunter was declining.He could still pull off a successful hunt, but it wasoften not a sure thing. He didn't want the youngerhunters to laugh if he failed. He heard them telling thejoke about Sam the Caveman, the two sabre-toothtigers, and the giant sloth. He didn't want them laughingat him like they did at old Sam.
Still, would he like retirement? Would he be bored?Would he miss the adoration of the tribe when hebrought in the largest hunk of meat? Would he haveenough spear points to last until he died? In the end, Carldecided that he would retire, making a positive statementabout himself. He would do and be what he wantedand not what his tribe wanted him to do and be.
Louis L. Constan, MD,
a family practice physician
in Saginaw, Mich, is the editor of the
Saginaw County Medical Society Bulletin and
Michigan Family Practice. He welcomes questions
or comments at 3350 Shattuck Road,
Saginaw, MI 48603; 989-792-1899; or louis