A home is not a house

David says the thing that depressed him at the seminar on downsizing yesterday was when he looked across the auditorium and counted only 14 men.  Later, when we visited several apartment homes in the complex, we found all but one occupied by a widow. Widows of field grade officers, widows of diplomats, widows of judges. In the one apartment where a husband sat reading the P.D. James novel A Certain Justice, David sat down to chat with him. 

The place had changed from when we visited a few years back and the apartments homes were single rooms sometimes with a small den, and occupied by single women. However, many of the former residents were women who had never married and were retired government girls or teachers. Middling sort of folks. 

The current crop of residents at the retirement house was ‘advantaged’ as they say today. Thanks to husbands with successful careers, or their own inheritances, they had lived lives of relative abundance in upper middle class environs. Where the norm at the retirement community had been single room apartments for working girls, a goodly number of smaller units had been collapsed to make way for larger more spacious apartments with multiple bathrooms, kitchens with all the mod cons and collections of mementos from lives spent visiting Mexico, Paris, Indonesia, China or some other exotic location.  So much for unburdening ourselves of “stuff.” 

One woman, a photo of her General husband in full dress uniform resting on an end table, had a lovely collection of Delft hanging on a kitchen wall. Pointing to one of the newer pieces, I said “I have that one.” Either she didn’t hear me, or resented what I said, because she sniffed and said, “We lived in Paris and traveled.” (Competitive people don’t like it if you tell them you bought the same souvenir in a distant place or traveled yourself.  Besides, I bought mine in a hotel gift shop, so I knew its provenance as a cheap knockoff.)

Visiting this enclave of landed gentry, I had the same feeling I had experienced when my friend Amara and I attended a professional meeting, and took a tour of homes in Charleston, SC. A “preserved” slave market sat down the street where wealthy retirees had holed up in a virtual gated community at the end of a peninsula, sitting on their treasures like a colony of Midases. Something very disconcerting about that.

I only went out exploring one evening.  I was so sickened by what I saw I couldn’t go the next. The place reeks from the blood of millions and probably should have been burned to the ground by Sherman.  Amara was annoyed with me. She came from a wealthy caste in India and was used to seeing extreme wealth juxtaposed with poverty.

While David and I were visiting the retirement community yesterday (a supposed religious-based non-profit), we heard much talk about stock brokers, accountants, “security” and why your Hummel isn’t worth 50 cents. The only stock broker David and I know has been in prison for embezzlement and is on his way back again. I met Andy through David who was his counselor for a while. David has known many of the formerly wealthy and/or famous, some now dead or living under bridges or in vacant buildings. For a long time he tried to help them. They are the lost although many of them came from advantaged backgrounds. 


I let two of my parrots out of their cages this morning.  Dorry and Sweetpea (bathing in the cereal bowl) were friends in the past, but no more it seems.  I was fixing myself some French toast and the two of them decided to fight.  They fell off the playpen suspended above the kitchen counter and into my toast where a great flapping of wings and spattering of syrup occurred. Tuffs of downy fluff soaked in syrup flew everywhere. I broke them up, but Sweetpea weighted down by the syrup on her wings and tail flew on the floor and landed under the pie safe where two small dogs tried to get her. After buffing Johnny on his nose, I finally retrieved Sweetpea and put her in the sink to wash her feathers.  She is now resting on a perch in her cage eating the piece of bacon she stole from my plate. I will smell like syrup all day.  I found Dorry cowering on the coffee maker electric socket. I gave them both bits of tomato to balance their stolen treat, but Dorry tossed hers on the floor of her cage. She wanted bacon. 

The moral of this story is jealousy and envy make you sick and life with parrots is far more interesting than life in a gated community with wealthy women who own piles of “stuff.”    


16 thoughts on “A home is not a house

  1. I haven’t written a specific piece about my retirement community experiences, partly because I am still working in a couple, though only part time. Not sure my experience would be as keen as what residents could share, but perhaps I could provide some overall broad impressions.


  2. I’ve worked in numerous retirement communities, including some church affiliated, for many years. You’ve made some astute observations. All types of varying class levels can have a concentrated social hierarchy plus issues for some associated with the high female to male ratio — sometimes shades of jr. high and high school.

    There is something to be said for having access to all levels of care should the need arise if one buys into a community. There are tradeoffs for that security, but care only as good as individual staff members. Also, can you get your money out if you change your mind and decide you want out? Some are incorporating an additional care level i.e. green house concept.

    That said, I prefer the living in place concept. Hard to say what, if any, care needs I’ll have in the future. My husband died unexpectedly in his sleep at home, but I can plan only so much. Life’s a gamble. There are all sorts of assists here at varying rates for household aid, plus caregivers — but I know from experience with my mother years ago that finding good caregivers can be a challenge. At least, more support systems now in response to boomer numbers than then.


  3. I agree with the above. There are so many services available today that home is the best place.
    Goodness you really had a minor skirmish among the troups that could have been serious. Good thing you were there to mediate.


  4. As a caregiver for seniors ,even though I’m a senior now myself ,for more than 20 years .I’ve seen every kind of “home” and before I would go anywhere ,nursing home, assisted living, God forbid with one of my children I’d be a bag lady . Even care in your own home is not all it’s cracked up to be. Sorry to be such a drag but I’ve seen things that would curl your hair. The best is to go in your sleep before anyone knows you’re gone.


    • You always said you would become a baglady if such and such occurred. I wondered how in the world you would manage the cats. I picutre you walking along with your grocery cart and 50 cats following you. What an image. You could get a big floppy hat to wear too.

      Seriously, getting older is not for the feint of heart, or is that faint of heart? I can never remember.


      • I promise not to blight your neighborhood. I pictured a beach bag lady on a south Pacific island and I’ve downgraded to only two cats doesn’t mean I coulldn’t feed feral cats there were several colonies of them on the beach where I used live in Brevard. I don’t have any real answers I just have mostly the questions. One friend has suggested we have an old ladies home of our own making in Ireland or Scotland. She assumes those married will outlive their husbands or like me never married again.


  5. Hey, you got some great “stuff,” and your stuff and it’s better than their stuff — your MA in history! But aside from the socioeconomics of it all, as a male I can definitely identify with David’s point of view — except I dunno if it’s depressing so much as it’s just plain scary.


  6. Briefly last week the OB parrots descended on the trees outside our windows. Two nights in a row, there they were filling the air with their screeches and calls. Hundreds of them. Shall I mention that I curse who ever let the first couple out? Life with parrots in the neighborhood isn’t boring either.

    Yes, take David to Ross. He will feel economical and look better. You look great.


  7. Oh, Dianne, stay at home and die there. It is the trend now for seniors to receive expert nursing care in their home. Let them come to you, not the other way around. Hubby and I intend to live in our home until we die.


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