About 80 of us live at Friends House, the Quaker-based senior living center, here in Santa Rosa, California. I, at 87, am a bit older than some, our ages ranging from mid-sixties to ninety-nine. Most of us are women, but several couples live here as well as a few single men. I look to see what we have in common, why this particular group shares this address. If a guest wanders along the path and stops to ask if I know her friend, she might say, “Her name is Mary and she has short grey hair.” As I write this, I can think of three Marys and they all have short grey hair. Actually, Mary or not, most of us have short grey hair. Surely there is something more we have in common.
Joanie is a peppy little lady of almost 89 who has lived at Friends house for over three years. Last week, her visiting daughter asked me if I like living here and I told her, “Yes, and even though I miss my friends in Santa Cruz County, I enjoy new friendships here. I’m still trying to figure out what makes this group unique.”
She had an immediate answer. “During my adult life, I have lived in a small town and have participated in civic groups, charity groups, PTAs, and church groups. I have noticed that when volunteers are needed, the same three people raise their hands. I think those people who raised their hands move to Friends House. No wonder you all get so much done!”
She may be right. Unlike other residences for the elderly, our management does not organize the musicians, speakers, and events. We residents do. One Sunday afternoon a month, bright-eyed Betsy introduces a concert in the library. On most Tuesday and Thursday evenings, speakers entertain and inform us. Mostly the speakers are from “outside,” but occasionally one of us speaks. We tell of our lives. I have told of walking across the United States in 1986 and of writing about the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament, especially in Walking for Our Lives. Even though I contributed two to the library, several residents have bought copies for themselves and to give away.
Harriet and her library committee manage the books that are contributed. Phyllis, who moved in last spring, gave 27 boxes of books. Some were added to the library, some contributed to Friends of the (downtown) Library, and some sold on Amazon. Two years ago, the funds from Amazon sales purchased a 12-passenger bus.
Nancy, an artist, moved in about the same time as Joanie. Nancy is responsible for the art exhibits along the one long hallway at Friends House. She and I go to visit local artists and ask if they would hang about 20 of their pieces for two months. We explain that their work probably will not sell because we residents have very limited wall-space in our units, but their paintings will be much admired and appreciated. Every artist we have asked has said yes.
These activities require many meetings and I generally avoid meetings. If I miss something important, someone will tell me, or I can read the minutes posted in the library. Lately I’ve attended meetings to learn how and what people here think.
One of my favorite committees, the ripe-fruit-picking committee, doesn’t have any meetings. I was asked to join because I am tall and can reach up without falling over. As the fruit ripens on our 100 trees, Ruth comes by with a couple of buckets and some clippers. “Want to pick fruit with me?” I most often do. Plums, peaches, pears, apples, pomegranates, persimmons, guavas and more are arranged on outdoor tables scattered about he property and anyone who wishes may take what they need. Joanie has baked apple cake from our apples and offered it to residents at breakfast.
Joanie’s daughter is right, we raise our hands when asked. We are busy. Busy, but not harried. We have time to attend exercise and Chi Gong and Memory Enhancement. We take naps and sit on benches in the sunshine. We have time to care about each other. Our days are gentle and sweet.