Below is an excerpt from the book Experiences: Life in a Continuing Care Retirement Community, which is a compilation of essays and poetry written and published by residents of Kendal at Longwood.
By Douglas Spencer
The barn will be the last stop on our goodbye visit. Just an hour ago we signed the papers to complete the sale of our house in the country. We go to the barn for the last time. It has no residents now. No whinnies are heard as we approach the stalls. Ever since Janet was a little girl she had wanted to have a horse. Ten years ago we got our first ones, and she said that she had just made her goal of getting a horse by the time she was sixty-five. Now, in preparation for our move to a retirement community 100 miles away, we had found other accommodations for our two horses. But there is still the smell of hay in the hay room and of fresh wood shavings in the stalls. We savor the view across the paddock and the fields, the memories of watching the barn being built, of having our first horses brought to us from “Lost and Found Horse Rescue” in York, of taking care of those beautiful, powerful but kind animals…it is all there, and we will miss it.
“I sure hope we’re doing the right thing,” Janet says.
“I know,” I say. “I get those same doubts too. But we can’t stay here in the country forever.”
We have had this cliché-laced conversation many times in the last six months. This time we are having it as we pack up the last of our belongings before getting in our two cars and heading for that retirement community we now will call home.
The two-hour trip from Carlisle to Kennett Square goes uneventfully.
We park our vehicles as close to the apartment as we can, lead our patient dog Kerri on a leash and carry in her dog bed. This time when we enter our apartment it is no longer “that place we are moving to,” but “our new home.”
We put Kerri’s bed in a nice corner where she can see everything that is going on and we tell her this is where we are going to live now. She seems to know, even as we go in and out, that we will be here. Kitty Boy and Kitty Girl are glad to see their kitty litter box after a two hour trip in their cages.
We look around at our empty rooms.
“Wow,” Janet says. “They did a wonderful job of painting the walls. That one darker wall really does look nice.”
“Well, of course,” I say with a smile, “You chose the colors.”
That was the deal. We had our choice of colors. If we wanted anything other than Kendal’s standard colors, we would buy the paint and the Kendal staff would do the painting.
We look out the back window at the view across the field to the woods. That view was what had really sold us on this apartment, and we are not disappointed today. The “office” that had been a walk-in closet has the window that we had asked for, and a built-in counter where we will put our computer. I can see that I will need to make a few shelves for this nook.
On one of our trips to unload the Honda, we are greeted by Peggy Brick. She reminds us (although we didn’t need reminding) that we had met her four months ago when we were here for our day of interviews. We remember that encounter well. We were in the coffee shop taking a lunch break between out late morning and early afternoon appointments, when a person came up, introduced herself and said, “You look like you are new here. How is it going?”
We had chatted and she told us about her program of discussions called “Transitions” which help newcomers adjust to the newness of living in this community, and she assured us that in spite of the effort involved in moving, we would like it here. Now here we are, truly new people and here is Peggy again, welcoming us.
The movers arrive, and we dig into unpacking. Soon we have filled an empty box with packing materials and Janet goes out to put it in the trash and recycling bins which we understand are near our parking lot. She returns a few minutes later.
“Well,” she says, “I just met one of our neighbors. His name is Cooey, and he helped me find the trash and recycling room. He says we are a little late to enjoy the tomatoes from his garden, but I found out how we can have a garden next year. The gardens are down by the tennis court.”
We had a garden in Carlisle, in fact two…a vegetable garden and a flower garden, and her gardens are one of the things Janet is particularly sad about leaving.
We get back to work, and by six o’clock we have enough unpacked so that we feel we can take a break and have dinner.
At the entrance to the dining room, we are greeted by a hostess who recognizes us as new, and asks if we would like to start a table, eat by ourselves, or join the Smiths, who just came in.
“We don’t know the Smiths,” we reply, “But that would be fine if it is ok with them.”
“I’m sure it is,” the hostess says, “And I’m Millie. I know you are the Spencers because of your meal card, and I’ll introduce you to them.”
Millie leads us to a table for 6 and does the introductions. We discover that George and Marjorie Smith live just around the corner from us, and have been here for 5 years. We are barely into our conversation when Millie arrives with another couple.
“The Walshes would like to join you,” she says.
Now our table for six is filled. The Walshes moved here form nearby West Chester. Dave had been a physics professor. His wife, Mary, was a stay-at-home mom.
So we have a very friendly and welcoming table, and they all reassure us about how happy they are to be here, and how much we will find here to keep us busy. In fact, they warn, don’t sign up for everything right away.
The next morning, Saturday, our son Tom arrives from his home about an hour away in the northern Philadelphia suburbs. Although he had been with us for one of the pre-moving seminars that Kendal holds for prospective residents, this is the first he has seen of our choice of apartment.
“You really have a wonderful view!” Tom says. “And it looks like everything is going to fit okay. You must have gotten rid of tons of stuff.”
“Yes,” I reply. “We did get rid of those shelves of old jelly glasses. How are you coming with that project?”
It is an in-joke, because it was at the Preparing for Moving seminar we all attended together when that bit of advice was given. Tom had given an exaggerated startle and said that he’d better start now.
The doorbell rings. It is a member of the resident “Welcoming Committee” just stopping in to say hello, and to ask when would be a good time to stop back to answer any questions we might have about such things as where the grocery stores are. She gives us a thick loose-leaf notebook that includes a directory of all Kendal residents, lists of committees, lists of staff, and on and on.
“More than you want to know, I’m sure,” she says, “But look through it at your leisure and call me any time you have a question. And on Monday, we’d love it if you could join several of us for dinner.”
Janet and I exchange sure-why-not looks.
“Thank you very much,” we reply. “We’d love to.”
She writes down her name and phone number and shows us how to find her apartment.
We go back to putting books on shelves and taking the few remaining things in from our car. We have lunch from sandwich makings we had brought from Carlisle, and then all three of us make a trip to the center to see if we have any mail in our new mail box.
“I don’t see how you are ever going to get anything done around here,” Tom says after that trip. “Every time we go somewhere someone stops you and says, ‘You must be the Spencers. Welcome,’ and then there’s all this where are you from, and we are sure you will like it here, and what are you interested in talk.”
He is right, of course. We have met so many people in the barely 24 hours we have been here. After the second “You must be the Spencers” we asked how they knew.
“Your name is on channel 9, our in-house TV Channel,” was the reply.
We hadn’t hooked up our TV yet, so we didn’t realize that Channel 9 has a daily listing of activities, meal menus, and “Please welcome our new residents…” with the names and apartment number of people who just moved here.
We do more unpacking and putting things away, and by midafternoon Tom says he has to go back home, but is delighted with how we are settling in so well.
Over the next few weeks we gradually lose some, but not all, of that feeling of being overwhelmed. We are invited to get involved in many groups and choose a few.
On Thanksgiving, just two months after we moved in, we play host to 14 family members. Millie had said it would be no trouble to set one very long table in the dining room, and we discover how easy it is to have a Thanksgiving gathering when someone else (Kendal dining service) is doing the cooking and cleaning for us. Our two sons and their families express their sincere appreciation that we are taking care of ourselves, and they all go home assured that Mom and Dad are not wilting away in some “old folks home.”
At Christmas time our daughter and her husband come down from New Hampshire for a visit. Sue, her husband Doug, and their two dogs all manage to sleep in our second bedroom, for which Kendal has temporarily supplied a second fold-out cot.
At breakfast after their first night here, Sue says, “We all really appreciate how you guys have planned ahead, and are taking care of yourselves. But you must still miss Carlisle and the horses and all.”
“Yes,” we both admit. “I’m finally beginning to get over it,” Janet says, “I still seem to spend lots of time just sitting and knitting. But we are getting more involved here.”
We tell Sue some of the things we are doing…being on one of the entertainment committees, participating in the Kendal chorus, the political activities leading up to the election last month, the shelves I made in the woodshop, the regular exercise group in the Kendal gym, Tuesday evening bridge.
“Good grief!” Sue says. “I’d say you’d better watch out that you don’t take on too much! It seems to me that you have more than settled in.”
We think about it, and not just for the first time. Yes, we do miss our old home and all it represented. It has been a flurry of activity since that September moving day. We have left a home, but here we have found a community. We will be okay. In fact, we think we will do well.
And indeed we have.