The last move
Those of us who were lucky enough to go to college may have cozy memories of campus life. Everything we needed was close by.
A short stroll through a tree-lined campus led us to the dining hall, library, gym and classrooms. On the way, we’d recognize fellow students and wave or stop to chat.
It was hard to be lonely in college. Just outside our dorm rooms, there were conversations to be had in the hallways, TV shows to watch together in the common room, a lawn to flop down on a blanket to study, play guitar or shoot the breeze with friends.
Part of me would love to go back to college — to live near my friends again, to have every meal prepared for me, to learn new things every day.
From my vantage point, at age 52, the closest thing to a college campus is a retirement community. Every time I stop by one, either for work or a visit, I think, “Now this is living.”
The staff smile at people and call the residents by their names. The hallways are immaculate. There’s always something to do. The food smells better than college grub, too.
So why do so many of us vow to live and die at home? An AARP poll found that almost 90 percent of people over age 65 want to stay in their homes permanently.
My parents seem to be in that bucket. They are reluctant to move because they want to maintain their lifestyle: lunches with friends, tai chi classes, walks in the woods. As my father put it recently, “Women love retirement homes. Men die within a few months.”
He suspects that men don’t make social connections as quickly as some women, so, without enough to do, they decline. (His own father, who made friends wherever he went, adored his weekly “Chatterbox Club” with other men at his retirement community.) So my parents are staying put.
My in-laws were also determined to stay in the house they’ve lived in for 50 years — a beautiful 100-year-old bungalow that feels warm and welcoming when you walk in the door.
The house where they raised three children has a thousand stories. As John Cheever put it, our lives are “chronicled in scuffed baseboards.”
So many memories there, so many great parties. Their Fourth of July parties were epic: Everyone wore holiday-appropriate costumes (Thomas Jefferson, the Washington Monument, the Statue of Liberty, even Interstate 95) and whooped it up all day and night.
Even now, although my in-laws are hovering around 80, they host us every week for dinner, drinks and laughter.
“We love our house,” my mother-in-law said recently, “and we couldn’t imagine leaving.”
But she and her husband recently put their names on the waitlist of a popular retirement community in Silver Spring, and they’re excited about the upcoming move. What happened?
Well, first their health wobbled; him with mobility issues and her with arthritis. Then it became difficult to keep up with all the work, from laundry to cooking to home repairs.
“Yes, I love the house, but after a while, it becomes a burden,” my mother-in-law said.
They didn’t come to a decision overnight, she said; it was a process that took months, even years. They needed to psychologically accept that the house was too much to handle, she explained, that maybe life would be easier elsewhere.
Besides, the retirement community they chose looks rather fun. Folks were hanging out at the bar, reading the paper. Others chatted on a bench outside. To me, it sounds ideal, just like a university campus.
And yes, their children and grandchildren will still visit every Sunday. And as for their longtime home, it will make a perfect party venue for a new generation.