Life in a Senior Residence Community is challenging and cherished.

Posts tagged ‘Senior Living’

It’s All Here!

In the art corridor this month is a charming assortment of works contributed by the Sonoma County Hookers…that’s right…hookers…men and women who hook rugs. Their art renewed my yearning to own one.

So, when I saw in a catalog, a 3′ x 4′ hooked rug of a decorated Christmas tree, I picked up the phone. A “me-to-me” seasonal gift. Anyway, I don’t have space on a horizontal surface for a standing Christmas tree. Last year I lifted my dorky little 3′ tree out of its storage basket, plunked it on the dining table and plugged it in. I eat, sort mail, read books, and make lists at that table and the tree crowded me.

The rug arrived three days ago and I needed a tunnel sewed along the top of the back so I could run a rod through. I don’t sew, but Charlotte Down-the-Walk does. She said, “This is too heavy to do on the machine. It’ll have to be done by hand.” I worried that she’d not do it, but I was wrong. I left it with her, and the next morning about 6:30, she arrived at the front door. “All done,” Charlotte announced and declined my offer to pay. Later, I learned that she has a fund for the quilts she makes for residents on special occasions. I didn’t pay her; I contributed to the fund.

Next I needed a rod or a stick. Looking around, I found a long 3/4″ stick that last summer I’d painted green and used to prop up tomatoes. The tomato plants are now black from freezing; they don’t need sticks any more. When Mary, Ruth, and John came over Monday to play bridge, I asked John if he had a saw I could borrow. He not only said yes, he noticed that I have a small collection of old Santas, and said, “Aaaah, you collect Santas! Would you like an antique paper maché Santa that’s been in my family since before I was born?”

“Yes, I’d love it, especially knowing it’s meant so much to you and your family.” When I walked over to get the saw, he reached the Santa from atop his refrigerator and I carried the treasure back to my Hutch to stand it among others.

After I’d sawed the stick, I called son Sam and he came with his handy power screw driver and wife/partner Sandra. The rug was up in ten minutes, and we sat down to admire the effect. A fine Christmas tree that takes no horizontal space.

This evening I took clippers over to a blue spruce in the corner of a Friends House parking lot and cut a few pieces from the back side of the tree, brought them home, shook the rainwater into the sink, arranged them among the Santas, and added small lights. Poured a glass of white to celebrate.

You can understand that this was a very satisfying project….the the help came from fellow residents and attentive family.

Not through yet, I needed a wreath for the door and remembered Marion’s talking about a group, Starcross Community, over on the coast, who sells fresh ones. I called them.

Here at Friends House, help that has nothing to do with Christmas is just a shout away. You’ve read about Joe who can bail anyone out of a computer problem. He has helped me many times. I don’t even have to take the laptop to him. He makes house-calls. His wife Joan says he likes helping others.

Vera no longer sees well enough to drive so asked if I would drive her to Sebastopol to see a friend who was dying. Of course I would. But by the next morning,when she was ready to go, he had already gone, so we missed saying goodbye.

I’ve mentioned Ruth and her love of butterflies. She is giving away milkweed seeds so next year we will plant them and Friends House might become a resting place during migration. A sort of air b-n-b for monarchs.

When we live in community, help is available from every direction. I don’t sew. Charlotte does. Vera doesn’t drive. I do. Charleen next door needed soda crackers; I had some to share. Joanie has a symphony ticket and won’t be going; another will. Dorothy is blind; Nancy brings her to Marie’s, and Bev reads to all eight of us, sighted or not.

A good way to live.

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Gently Go the Days

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.

I Live in The Rabbit Hutch

In April of 2014,  I drove north to Friends House in Santa Rosa and asked myself again, “What are you doing?” and “Why this? Why now?” I thought of the houses I’d lived in during my 86 years. The first farm my father had bought was complete with one horse, one cow, one goat, a flock of dumb sheep, red chickens, black and white cats, a swarm of bees, and our dog, Bootsie. We lived there only the summer after I finished the Eighth Grade, and I think that summer began a love for life in the country.

I grew up and married and as the years rolled by, the houses became larger until my husband, four sons, and I moved into a home spacious enough for all of us and our varied interests. As the boys, one after the other, were going away to universities, their father decided to leave, too, and the houses became smaller again until I lived about 18 years in a 1,100 square foot beach cottage on Monterey Bay.

That house receded in the rear-view mirror as I headed for a 540-square-foot rabbit hutch in a senior living center. WHY? I knew why. I wanted to move of my own volition, not wait until I’d need to be stashed, out of the way, by my families. Difficult for them; probably painful for me. This way, I would be able to enjoy life in a community.

I tried to anticipate what it would feel like to live among old people and recalled my mother’s experience when she was in her early nineties. After our father had died, Mother lived alone in her house, managing helpers, which included a gardener she fought with just once too often. She put the house on the market and moved into a retirement home. After a couple of years, she called a real estate agent and said she wanted to move out and would buy her own house in a gated community that provided managed gardeners. We asked her why she hadn’t liked the retirement home. “Oh, it’s full of old people. Can’t even play bridge. The fourth keeps dying.”

A few years later, when she was 98, she fell and cracked her pelvis bone. Six weeks passed and she healed. She announced that she would like to stay where she was. She liked the help, the large airy room, and the bed was comfortable. We, her grey haired children, stood around the foot of her bed and pointed out, “Mother, this is not a residence. It is a re-hab center. Have you noticed people come in, get well, and leave? We’ll think of something else.”

She waggled her arthritic fore-finger at us and commanded, “Call the manager.” We did, he came, and she told him her preference. “Well, Mrs Rankin,” he answered, “that will cost you some money.” She was not to be deterred. She died there two years later among her windowsill of plants and wall-sized bulletin board of family pictures and greeting cards.

Now, today, after six months, I know what it’s like to live among old people. If anyone wants to see the future, live among old people. I see women no longer able to stand up straight as they push their walkers. I watch Marie, 92, learning to drive her new red electric wheel chair as she narrowly misses running into a wall furnace. I hear Ann’s cane clicking along the sidewalk as she comes to share her New York Times with me. Kaaren explains that she knows she has asked this question before, but “it’s the Alzheimers,” she shrugs. Rosemary, who used to body surf in Hawaii, says, “I’m disintegrating a little  each day.” I notice that in spite of our individual disintegration, we devote virtually no time to complaining about it. I see an acceptance and good humor as well as an extended hand to someone a little unsteady.  I see residents involved in peace and justice issues. They write letters to their representatives, stand on a street corner with Women in Black, bake scones for a fund raiser.

I see Leslee, her hair carrot-colored, smiling brightly when I walk into Assisted Living for another bridge lesson. Leslee likes bridge and since she found no one with whom to play, she teaches bridge lessons on Wednesdays. She is 99. Mother would have liked Leslee.

Friends House has fruit trees and rose bushes as well as small garden plots on these seven acres. Since I moved, I have grown tomatoes, sunflowers, peas, lavender, mint, and basil. Not quite a farm, not a real rabbit hutch, but close enough.

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