The Carpets They Are a-Changing’


Hawthorne Terrace’s top-to-bottom redecorating, updating, refurbishing project, stopped during the pandemic, has restarted as of July 1.   And not only are the carpets being changed but every wall is being painted, rooms emptied of all furniture, making way for the new. The culture of the building is quickly going from old and run down to new and sparkly.

This old school has been turned from a senior apartment into simply an apartment; its hallways are filled with young, fot workmen with special skills. It’s exciting to take a daily walk to see the latest transformation. But dark clouds hover.

Residents who’ve been here a long time and others who’ve obviously never seen a construction project up close are full of negative comments, complaints and questions. Again, I’m honoring the privacy of residents and in order to still tell the story, naming all these personalities Maxine, of greeting card fame.

Many Maxine’s are complaining: why did they paint around our doors in that blue color; will they be painting the hallways that same color; I don’t like that dark trim in the hallways; I think the wood flooring in the lobby will be slippery in the winter.

Then the big deal made by legions of Maxine’s about the new carpeting. Blue and grey with the same pattern, down each hallway. In front of each door was a square in the contrasting color. One of the workers explained to me they laid the carpeting quickly so residents would be able to walk the hallway in safety.

Then they went back and changed the square to a triangle. Huge discussion by Maxine’s about the what, where and why of the triangle. Mostly the why. Not liking the pattern, not liking the triangle. Here’s my thought. Clean and fresh carpeting. Who can complain about that?

One of the Maxine’s in particular hasn’t had one positive thing to say about anything. When she complains to me about color or light fixture, I always respond whatever they’re doing, it’s an improvement.  In her usual crotchety cackle, she replies I knew you were going to say something like that. Funny, she and I have only exchanged pleasantries lately. How refreshing.

Another Maxine expected a flurry of workers everywhere so the entire project would be done in a week or two. She seemed perplexed when I explained how a general contractor has to hire and organize sub-contractors to do various parts of the job.

That’s why the women’s room had been closed for over a month in order to install the plumbing for the coffee bar that’s going into the lobby. Then the job was idle until other workers arrived to install the cabinets. Finally, still others will install the coffee dispenser. Let’s stop complaining and just be glad we’re getting a coffee bar!

Still another Maxine wondered why the computer room had to become a construction office. Haven’t you ever seen a construction site where a trailer is set up as a base of operations, I think but don’t say.

I’m bracing myself for a barrage of complaints when the new furniture arrives. That’s right. New furniture in all public areas of the building. I can just hear it. Why did they put that table there? I don’t like that couch. The color of that chair doesn’t go with the room.

Oh, but then, just wait until the new art work arrives. Yes, new art work is planned throughout the building. That replaces the jumble of pieces left by past residents and haphazardly hung everywhere.

I’m waiting breathlessly for the response when the pool table in the card room disappears. And the horror when the bocca ball court is installed in the dining room that’s being turned into a club room.  There are fun times ahead.

I’ve heard about some residents, shall we say, being unfriendly toward the workers. I’ve  heard of one actual yelling incident. They’re only doing their jobs, for heaven’s sake. I’ve found all the workers to be very polite and accommodating. I’ve made it a point to be friendly back.

As my Wednesday night cocktail group was meeting at the lone remaining table in the hallway, a nice young worker approached and apologized with apprehension, saying he had to remove the chairs. I’m sure the afore mentioned yelling incident had warned all workers to beware the wrath of crabby old ladies. We assured him we understood, had a few laughs and made way to the library. His relief was palpable.

I get it that we older residents aren’t the primary customer for this old-made-new building. I get it that change is hard. Uncertainty seems to bring out the worst in some people. The next two or three months will be filled with more changes, improvements, adjustments and surprises. You’ll hear no complaints from me.



The Zen of Not Cooking

I began as most girls of my era, thinking cooking and other domestic activities were the basic principles of being a worthy woman. Mom was my first role model. She toiled away each day putting out hearty meals for her husband and six kids. Twelve-year-old me was impressed by her stamina but decided early on not to follow her lead.

I had two husbands who thought they’d gotten a traditional wife with spatula at the ready; I really disappointed them. When I left, I didn’t take any pots and pans or spices. I only took my clothes. In one case, my dog. And of course, my books (no cookbooks, by the way).

The rocky road meandering through the many kitchens of my life verifies my deficiencies. Cooking is an innate talent. Either you’ve got it or you don’t. And I don’t.

In later years, a friend gave me a card showing a Betty Crocker type woman in the kitchen. The caption read: I have a kitchen because it came with the house. She knew me so well.

I’ve become accustomed to bringing deli or bakery treats to pot lucks and other gatherings.  I veered a bit when I mastered deviled eggs. But I was quick to squelch anyone’s hopes of improved gastronomic prowess; I joked this was the only thing I knew how to make. And I intended to keep it that way.

Being retired and living alone I only have me to please and I’m quite proud of the creative ways I’m meeting my culinary needs. Perhaps some of my activities could qualify as real cooking but experts in haute cuisine may disagree. I’ll let you be the judge.

I haunt only certain sections of the grocery store; envelopes and boxes are the mainstay of my list. The frozen pancakes microwaved, three on a plate, for 1:15 are one favorite. Oatmeal from an individual envelope is microwaved just two minutes with 2/3 cup of water.

Pre-cooked brats go freezer, to microwave to bun in just ninety seconds, complete with my nicely applied mustard and onion slices. Oh but, onion slices; that means I have to visit the spooky aisles of the fresh food section. A harrowing experience indeed.

Perhaps my chili could be considered real cooking but I doubt it since the ingredients come from an envelope. Can browning meat and boiling noodles to add to the envelope’s ingredients be considered real cooking? You decide.  Each batch yields six plastic containers lodged in my freezer to be thawed as needed.

The apartment building where I live has a monthly potluck. I never miss it for food prepared by someone else along with my bakery or deli contribution; an enjoyable social time and little clean-up afterwards.

Best thing ever. In the last year, I discovered a private meal delivery service. On Monday and Wednesday, a fully cooked dinner arrives at my door. Each week, I have two or three choices that include an entrée along with a vegetable and a starch. Three minutes in the microwave. Voila.’ Salads and desserts can be ordered a la carte.

Not sure what I’d do if it wasn’t for lunch with friends. Sometimes I have three in one week. Jane and I plan our trip to the museum around lunch. Poetry breakfast includes food. Pat and I never miss lunch after yoga, a just reward for our hard work. My menu picks often include thoughts of left overs for the evening.

I’ve also transcended the challenge of eating out alone. All I have to do is look around the restaurant to see many others doing the same. I’m in good company. And my Kindle provides more than satisfactory companionship.

All in all, I’m managing quite well and fully accept what I do can’t be considered real cooking. With a refrigerator filled with take-out boxes and lunch dates on my schedule, the Zen of not cooking gives me peace and serenity. Namaste.

Camp Hammock


I’ve lived at Hawthorne Terrace for over six years. It’s been one of my joys, enjoying the view of the soccer field across the street. I’ve often spent an entire afternoon taking in the many games happening throughout weekend days. Watching the families and antics of the kids is so fun.

When there is no soccer activity, the field is used by families playing ball, walking the dog, picnics and any number of other gatherings. The late night-parties are another thing.

One unique use to the field I got a particular kick out of was that one person who’d set up a hammock by tying the ends between two trees. They’d often spend the entire afternoon quietly swaying, enjoying the summer day. Then they’d unhook, pack up and leave.

With the virus disrupting the schedule of soccer games, I’m noticing a new phenomenon. Today there are four hammocks in the area of trees just west of the playing field. They are like two separate camps about twenty feet apart. Each camp has two hammocks strung on separate pairs of trees.

Surrounding the hammocks in both camps are bikes and chairs. Someone is sitting in a chair in the sun. Another is doing yoga. Those in the hammocks are swaying in the shade. Sacks that could be for food or books rest against a tree along with a cooler. They are clearly here for the day.

I recall once seeing two people trying to get into one hammock all together. It was pretty funny watching them swing, lose their balance, crawl in, fall out. After a while they gave up and took turns. Another day, two children sat upright in the hammock and swayed as though it’s a rocking chair.

Another day, one hammock dweller had five or six kids hanging around on their bikes. For a while they moved near the field to play catch. Then they got on their bikes and left.  Just one person remained swaying in the hammock.  A family with small children come by, stop and chat before moving on.

So, who are these people, I wonder? What brings them here? Possibly apartment dwellers who don’t have a back yard. Or maybe it’s just for a change of scenery. The way they come and go, they appear to know each other.

Perhaps they are nearby neighbors. I seldom see a car parked on the street so they either walk or ride bikes to the field. Are they here because public parks are still closed due to the pandemic? Whatever is going on, it’s an interesting sight and helps me feel less isolated as I pass the time trying to figure it all out.



The Queen of Entitlement


I really like living at Hawthorne Terrace. I have the privacy I want but also a sense of community; when I walk down for my mail several people say hello as they pass. And call me by name.

But as in any communal living situation, it’s a clash of cultures. I come from a working, middle class background, have worked hard all my life; nothing was given to me and I’ve never been taken care of. I’m not entitled. And now I’m surrounded by the entitled.

Entitlement is defined as an attitude, demeanor, or air of ungraciousness, especially when making excessive demands for service. Generally unrealistic expectations of others. One particular resident, who I’ll call Maxine (my pseudonym for all residents), has to be the most entitled person I’ve ever met.

I knew her casually from the in-house book group. So, I was a bit surprised when she called to ask me out to lunch. She’d like to get to know me better, she said. Though Maxine had said that, when our lunch was finished, I knew everything about her: her two daughters, their divorces and children. Everything about Maxine’s world travels with her husband due to his work. And she knew nothing about me.

She hadn’t asked me one question. In fact, I’d said five words throughout the entire lunch. Of course, she insisted on paying the bill. And there it is. The entitled are hard to relate to or get close to. They don’t seem like real people. But they do objectify others. What can you do for me? What will I get out of this interaction? Obviously, she was bored or lonely and wanted to go out to lunch. I was convenient to her needs. That was it.

My minor frustration faded until an in-house book group issue revived old feelings. Since most members no longer drove, we used a public library program that provided a bag with ten books we could pick up at the library. Another resident who did drive, facilitated ordering, picking up and returning the books. I led the group discussion each month. The only thing members had to do was show up.

Maxine brought up her failing eyesight, several times, but rebuffed all group member’s kind attempts to provide her with magnifiers. Just not good enough for her. She wanted the group facilitator to get her a large print book. Later, I had a private talk with the facilitator; I said this request felt like an order. After talking down her guilt feelings, we finally both agreed this was asking too much. We knew she had daughters who could help her and relayed that message to a very put-out Maxine.

But other members were solving eyesight issues on their own. Each month, Marge made a special trip to the library to get a large print book for her friend, Joyce. Next thing we knew, Maxine had found out what Marge was doing and weaseled her way in to get the book. Of course, Maxine got the book first and then it went to Joyce. Taking advantage of the kindness of others, I’d say.

When Hawthorne had an in-house beauty salon, first Mylene then Melissa provided services two days a week. I heard from each of them, their frustrations with Maxine. Mylene related how Maxine demanded she come in to the shop on her day off. Seems Maxine had an important family function and could not imagine showing up with her hair not done to a tee.

Then Melissa told me how, when she’d had a cancellation, she saw this as a way to get to her other part time job earlier; she called Maxine to ask her to come in one hour sooner. Maxine refused, became irate that this would interfere with her lunch. Maxine was so enraged she complained to building management. Not just about the time issue but about the quality of Melissa’s work.

Mellissa felt bad, explained she took pride in her work and knew she’d done nothing wrong. And that’s the thing about entitlement. Those who feel entitled make others feel guilty who fail to meet their needs. Shortly after that, Melissa gave notice and the salon was closed. Thanks, Maxine.

Maxine had a gentleman friend, a dapper, well-dressed man who took her out to dinner, to plays and the symphony. When he had a stroke, I was told Maxine (pardon the cliché) dropped him like a hot potato. She was heard saying, quite matter-of-factly, (I don’t have a quote) since he could no longer take her places, that was the end of that.

Though dealing with such entitled types can be annoying, I can’t help but feel sympathy for them. Or sorry for them. While they are polite and cordial people, becoming friends, real friends with the entitled is hard if not impossible. They must be very lonely.

There’s simply no comparison to others I’ve found in the building who are as equally unentitled as me. I’ve also resolved my dilemma of how to manage future invitations from the entitled. I’m conveniently busy or tired or any other acceptable excuse so commonly used in polite company.

Maxine no longer lives here. She had a fall and moved to an assisted living facility. I’m sure she is happy as can be at her new location, ordering people around, vying for the center of attention award and continuing her reign as the queen of entitlement.




Grace, Beverly amd Me


During my search for a new apartment in Wauwatosa, I came for a tour of Hawthorne Terrace. What I liked was there were people everywhere. In the library, the in-house store and in the hallways. This was just what I was looking for. I’d have my own private apartment but also company when I wanted it.

And that’s where I first met Grace. In fact, in each of my three visits before signing the lease, there was Grace. A tall, thin, quiet and regal woman walking the hallways with the help of her cane. I’d find out later, this was part of her daily exercise regimen.

She was friendly but not intrusive. Just plain welcoming. I remember thinking, if these are the type of people who live here, count me in. And I wasn’t disappointed. Soon after my move and settle-in time, I ventured out, and of course, ran into Grace.

I don’t recall the exact sequence of events but after a few introductory conversations, Grace introduced me to Beverly. We hit it off right-away and always had things to talk about. Then they both invited me to the in-house book group.

The book group was quite active. A little too active since there were usually three conversations going on at the same time. Beverly and Grace seemed to know the group needed some order but were, in my mind, too kind to enforce anything. They asked if I’d try to change things.  I did one minor thing, having just one person talk at a time and this made the group even better.

Then Grace and Beverly asked me to join the library committee. We met with Pat who ran the library and did some minor reorganization of books. Between that and the book group it felt good to have scheduled activities.

Soon after I moved in, management scheduled a dinner in the dining room on Tuesday and Thursday. The menu was set; cooking, serving and clean-up was done by the daughter and son-in-law of the building manager.

There seemed to be an unspoken rule about where to sit and some residents were quite adamant about that. First thing in the morning on the day of a dinner, one woman came down and placed printed name tags at one table. Always the same table and always the same people. Instinctively, everyone knew not to intrude.

Beverly, Grace and I didn’t take the exclusion personally.  We always sat together and it became a great way to catch up. By that time, we’d gotten to know each other pretty well.

Beverly called us a triumvirate ((in ancient Rome, a group of three men holding power, a coalition of Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus in 60 BC and by Antony, Lepidus, and Octavian in 43 BC). Though we certainly had no such powers, we had a lot of fun exploring life’s uncertainties.

Beverly was a practicing Catholic. Grace and I were a mix of non-religious, skeptic, humanist, Buddhist, agnostics. We had some very spirited yet respectful conversations about the meaning of life. And many other topics.

It’s because we were such good friends we could tease and challenge each other. No one took exception and this only deepened our connection. It was so sad when the dinners stopped due to low attendance. Perhaps this was the first signal of the many changes to come.

When you see people nearly every day, it’s hard to notice those subtle changes brought about by the passage of time. Grace grew more and more frail until she ended up in the hospital and then to rehab. Beverly and I visited her there and wished her back home quickly.

That happened for a short time until she was hospitalized again. Hospice followed where she had twenty-four-hour home care.  Grace invited us to her apartment for what turned out to be our final good bye.

Grace’s funeral service was quite remarkable. Held at Hawthorne Terrace, it was attended by many of her friends and family. Beverly and I both remarked that there were so many facets of Grace’s life we knew nothing about.

Actually, each of us had many facets of our lives. Grace had been a nun, a wife, a step-mother, a Ph.D. trained psychotherapist. Beverly had been a registered nurse educator, wife and mother of two, now a widow. I’d been a social worker, now divorced and voluntarily childless. Perhaps the basis of our connection was that we’d each worked in the helping professions.

Unbeknownst to me, Beverly had begun to experience memory problems. After trying many combinations of home assistance, her son helped her move to an assisted living facility. I went to see her new place and we had lunch in the facility dining room.  Once we went to a movie and out to lunch.

It was so good to see her and reminisce about old times and especially our time with Grace. Since then we’ve been in and out of touch until, on a whim, I called Beverly. We picked up right where we left off.

Grace and Beverly were unexpected new friends when I started the next phase of my life at Hawthorne Terrace. I’ve made other friends since but Grace and Beverly will always have a special place in my memories and in my heart.

Zooming Without Zoom


Technology helps during the pandemic. Zoom allows an almost unlimited number can be in touch at the same time. Still, nothing can replace real life interaction. We are social creatures. That’s for sure. Which led me and fellow renters to find a creative solution to our isolation.

With all communal areas of Hawthorne Terrace closed, there’s no more kibitzing in the library or in the store. And just before the major remodeling project was brought to a screeching halt, most furniture had been removed.  Only a round wooden table and four chairs still in the sitting area on the first floor. It was calling to us.

Priscilla, Pat, Mary and I planned a coffee get together. We sat far back from the table, more than six feet apart.  After dissecting the missteps of the government, we got onto more productive topics. We collectively decided we were so fortunate to not be among those still working.

From there, we moved on to the challenges of our solitary existences. We joked and laughed as we caught up on the latest non-news of our lives and actually, found we were doing a lot.

Mary is taking an on-lin, we e Spanish course and busy reintroducing herself to her accordion. She even brought it once and played a tune. Priscilla is on a clean-up mission, reorganizing her multitude of pictures and continuing with ikebana classes.

Pat and another friend (Jeri) are writing a Hallmark story. They’re editing on the phone twice a week and are on chapter fourteen already. I’m busy completing a long-forgotten writing project, posting on my blog, catching up on reading.

Most of us are enjoying a daily walk and learning to relish the highlight of the week: our big outing to the grocery store or the pharmacy. Yippee!  We philosophized a bit about the lessons to be learned from this trying time, decided we will survive.

About two weeks into this non-zoom, coffee klatch get together,  Pricilla  commented as we were heading home: I’d like a drink. That’s all it took. Now we meet at 5:00. And then we added playing Rumikub. From there, we started taking turns bringing a treat.

The group’s evolution has been fun to watch and a pleasant diversion in this time of trouble. From coffee to alcohol, to acohol and games, to alcohol, games and treats. It only makes me wonder. . What unexpected or creative new thing will we add next?


Hollowed Out Hallways


April, 2020: The real world has invaded the quiet serenity of Hawthorne Terrace. Though I’ve felt protected in my isolated oasis, the virus continues its advance. I feel fortunate to live in a relatively safe place with no need to venture out expect for groceries and medications. I’m happy to be retired; the call of the work world can be ignored. And yet, money regularly appears in my bank account.

The building was in the middle of a top to bottom remodeling project. The general contractor had turned the computer room into their construction office. Complete with sign and locked door. Now the room is empty since all work has stopped.

Most of the furniture throughout the building had already been removed. The large dining room has an echo but no place to play cards or have lunch. Sitting areas at the end of each hallway are bare. Some hallways have been painted and others not. The patched walls give off a deserted, unfinished look. It’s kind of eerie.

Instead of people everywhere, the halls are empty. Common areas of the building are closed. Kids can’t play in the playroom. The reading group and the monthly potluck can’t meet in the small dining room. No more kibitzing in the library as we wait for the mail. No shopping and gossiping at the in-house grocery store. Furniture still in the lobby can be a small gathering place but it’s hardly used.

Looking out my window to the soccer field, there are no games. Today a mother, dad and three kids kicked and ran after a ball, then departed after an hour. Couples with a child in a stroller walk the field or on the sidewalk below. Young children often interrupt their walk and climb the hill in front of my window. They laugh and squeal as they roll down then trek back up for another try. Some things can’t be stopped.

But many things have been stopped. I look around in the quietness of my small apartment and know this will pass, as many are saying. Perhaps the shut-down with more spare time and less to do will encourage a life style change, enjoyment of a slower pace.

We have a rough time ahead. I know I will have a new appreciation for lunch with friends and for writing group once it begins again. These and other small pleasures will not be taken for granted. There’s a lesson in everything and I hope we all learn something from this.





Rumor Mill Moans and Groans


The environment at Hawthorne Terrace has always been a quiet bubble of protective serenity. That is, except for the complainers and dissatisfied souls who thrive on gossip and bad news. No matter what was happening, a small cadre of fault finders will fuss. I guess that’s just human nature.

Changes were already afoot when I moved into the building in 2013. That’s when it went from a fifty-plus facility to inter-generational apartments. I liked it and was open to new faces and young blood. I was a minority.

The first year four or five medical students became renters. From the reaction you’d have thought they were skinheads or a Harley bike group. Instead they were type A students who did nothing but work, study and sleep.

The long-time manager had put great effort into keeping everything in the building the same. She continued all the activities such as movie night, lunches, bingo, card parties, as though nothing had changed. Denial had been imbedded.

In April 2019, a new management company purchased Hawthorne Terrace. Our protected community was in for a ride. This also meant the long-time manager was out which caused a tsunami of protest.

Since 2013, the number of fifty-plus residents had slowly diminished until it was a minority. Who were the preferred renters the new company wanted? This was the universal question. Tensions soared.

First thing management did affected money, of course. Rents were readjusted to “meet the market;” that was how it was explained. As leases came due for renewal, rent was raised in all apartments but in different amounts. Long conversations in the library tried to make sense of the situation. My guess was it was done by square footage since there were twenty-seven different floor plans in the building.

Then management began to phase out services. First to go was the van ride to the grocery store. When the in-house beauty salon closed, this launched an avalanche of speculation. What’s next? We could have had a lottery on whether the in-house store would close. Or would it be church services?

In January 2020, it was announced a top to bottom renovation/redecorating project would begin. Everything from light fixtures, hallway artwork, paint, carpet and new furniture was being reconfigured by an interior designer. This, so existing rooms would better serve the needs of residents, management said.

The Fireside Lounge, a large meeting room near the lobby, used only for church services and movie night, was going to become a gym and yoga studio. The existing exercise room would become the movie theater complete with theater seating and a big-screen TV equipped with wi-fi settings to stream movies of choice.

The small dining room, used for gatherings such as book group and the monthly pot-luck, would now also accommodate church services. This was a leap since staunch Catholics insisted the use of the entire Fireside Lounge was required for their service.

Now the alter and the podium would be stored in a nearby closet between services. I thought this would create a storm but so far so good. It seemed strange to me that an apartment building would even have church anyway.

The large dining room would become a club room. Conversation areas, a big-screen TV and a small dining area would be a big change. The attached kitchen would be updated.

Since the building is now pet friendly and a dog park had been constructed outside, no surprise that the jacuzzi therapy pool, closed and unusable for years, would now become a pet spa. I’m told these are quite common in newer apartment complexes. Just a hint of who management sees as their customer base.

As the project began, everything the crew did came under intense scrutiny. When the computer room was cleared out and turned into a   ”construction office,” complete with a sign and locked door, mayhem ensued. Many were perplexed. Asking why a construction office was needed only reveals a lack of experience with a large project.

Paint became a major issue as hallways sported a new motif. This the-world-is-ending mind set will continue and only increase when the new furniture for the entire building arrives. I can’t wait.

But by far the most intense railing against change has occurred about the railings in all the hallways. The day when the wooden railings were removed caused a storm of epic proportions as piles of railings were stacked up in hallways and other storage areas.

This unleashed the gossip machine, wondering would they be put back up when painting was finished.  One renter threatened to report this. To whom is unknown.  It took only one resident to ask a worker to find out the railings would not be returning. The railings, their demise and many residents’ response to that was probably the best example of a reaction to loss of control.

Generally, I’ve sat back and observed. My response, to address change positively, has been met with frustration when I don’t join the clarion call of misery. I know change is hard but complaining is not productive. The building was sorely in need of these improvements and I see the changes as good. We need to remember we are renters, only renters. We can move.



A Volunteer is Fired


On the main floor just off the lobby at Hawthorne Terrace is a library. It’s a lovely, cozy room. A wall of windows faces the hallway where the magazine table sits.  A large library table and comfy chairs are surrounded by book shelves on the other three walls.

When I moved into the building, I offered to help a resident, Ms. C, who’d been taking care of the in-house library for many years. I love to read and this seemed an easy way to be useful. I sorted magazines and also shelved returned books.

Soon after I started, Ms. C. and I went around and around about culling books from this very crowded and cluttered library. We only have so much space, I reasoned. Instead of utilizing a community program happy to take any book, Ms. C’s solution was to keep adding more shelves. Higher the shelves went, even though the elderly residents might be risking life and limb reaching for the latest Danielle Steel.

In one tense interaction during a culling session, I tried to convince Ms. C. to let go of a book published in 1958 written by an author no one had ever heard of. It now was tattered with discolored pages, clearly unread for decades.

Her pained disclosure was her fear residents who had donated to the library might be insulted to discover their books were no longer on our shelves; this made little sense to me. My admonition that a donation is just that, giving something away, made no sense to her. We were clearly on different wave lengths.

Then Ms. C. began putting the ever-growing piles of donated romance books, especially Danielle Steel, in nearby public rooms. She found spots on pianos, tables and any piece of furniture with a flat surface. She was adamant these were our residents’ most desired titles. How will people even find these books, I asked. After our sometimes-heated exchanges, I reminded myself this was her library and decided to stay out of her way.

From then on, I made myself conveniently busy when Ms. C. suggested culling. I continued sorting magazines and shelving the books from the return bin. This worked fine until the day she fired me.

What I thought was a minor infraction sent her over the edge. Many, many, many paperbacks were packed tightly in three narrow shelves along one wall. They were organized alphabetical by author.

I’d begun sticking returned paperbacks in whatever space was available near the corresponding letter of the alphabet. That is, until Ms. C. told me she wanted them in absolute alphabetical order by author.

How else can someone find a book by their favorite author, she reasoned. How can you think readers are so helpless, I silently mused? I gasped, thinking how I’d have to move mountains of books down from one tightly packed shelf to another to put that one new book in just the right place.

But, before I could fully state my case, Ms. C. said quite simply she didn’t want me helping anymore. I was fired!  Interestingly, I felt no shame, only relief. I simply shrugged and walked away.

Months later, I had a conversation with another resident about our growing by the day messy, cluttered library and how I’d been fired. I was comforted when she rolled her eyes; she then proceeded with a litany of past volunteer’s similar irritations. And how they’d quit in frustration.

After some time, Ms. C. was having health issues. When she asked if I’d once again help her in the library, I agreed to sort magazines. I could do that with little face time with this picky librarian. And I’d still be helping.

Things changed, as they always do. Ms. C. finally saw she could no longer keep up. It was sad to see how difficult it was for her to step back. Every now and then she’d come in, look around in dismay, make a comment or two, shake her head and leave.

Another resident took over and I continued sorting the magazines. We have compatible working styles and, with his major clean-up plan, the library is in pretty good shape these days.

One day, the new librarian took a cart of culled books up to a resident who said they could be left outside her door. She would be happy to take them to a new home. Ms. C. found out, marched up to the resident’s door and brought the books back down to the library. New librarian took them back up. All this happened without a word spoken between them.  There have been no other incidents since then.

I’m not sure Ms. C. has noticed Danielle Steel is no longer in our in-house library. The miscellaneous piles of books scattered throughout the building are gone. The new librarian has gotten rid of all the old, tattered westerns and many raggedy paperbacks. With those shelves less crowded, it’s easy to return books to just the right place. Though there is no longer a rule about that.


David Sedaris Would Love This Place


In 2013, I moved to a Hawthorne Terrace, a 55+ apartment community. It didn’t take long for me to see this place as a microcosm of humanity, a gold mine of quirky tales and the struggles of nice people caught in the vortex of time. Aging is, after all, not for the faint hearted.

My writing itch went wild with each new interaction and I was struck by both the sad and funny elements to their stories.  I knew I had to write.

In order to honor the privacy of the residents and still tell the story, I compiled their many personalities into one persona: Maxine, of greeting card fame.  Since no one named Maxine lives in the building, I’m sure no one with take my observations personally.

I was attracted to this type of setting as a way of adjusting to my new retirement status without being completely alone. There are one hundred apartments and the oldest resident is 103. Longest residency is 27 years. A ninety-nine-year-old resident runs the exercise program that meets in the building once a week. I kid that I’ve found a place I can age into. But that’s hardly a joke.

This facility recently was opened to all ages. “Intergenerational” says the sign outside. While I thought this made for a richer environment, it seems catastrophic for many of the long-standing residents. Administration assures them services for seniors won’t be affected. But there’s skepticism.

The young renters are mostly students from a nearby professional school. One Maxine frets that she no longer feels safe doing her daily walk throughout the building. Another Maxine says she no longer feels comfortable coming to the coffee shop.

So, let’s get this straight. These advanced degree students who do nothing but study and work are dangerous riff-raff? Whenever the topic arises, I say I moved here because it was for all ages. Funny how that subject no longer comes up when I’m around.

There was a recent theft from the locked exercise room and certainty the “new people” are to blame. Ignore the fact that many relatives and friends visit and that it’s quite easy to have duplicate keys made. Also, ignore the fact that there’d been a theft before the change. This does little to alter opinions. For sure. it’s those new, young people.

The religious fervor of the residents is quite intense. Catholic guilt reigns supreme and while it’s nice that people are so charitable, this doesn’t lead to close relationships. A different opinion is a sacrilege.  I’m hesitant to talk about my rather unorthodox belief system. Of this I remain mum.

Activities are optional and being new in the building with a relatively empty schedule, I saw a way to meet people and occupy my time; so, I jumped in and attended any and all of them with mixed results.

The weekly “current events” meeting looked interesting. I went to the community room and found five or six other residents there. I also found the line-up of walkers that always occupies the edge of the room during any gathering.

The activity coordinator runs a video that highlights current news stories of the week. She has to loudly repeat everything on the video for the hearing impaired. No discussion encouraged. None attempted. Half the room nodding off. I felt like I was on the memory impaired unit of a nursing home. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.

Bingo was another chance to be with people. The hearing impaired make it necessary to repeat the calls, ever louder. “Was that N 32?” “No, it was G 42.” An eerie echo resonates as the caller’s numbers are repeated in a sing song fashion at each table. “B6.” “B6.” “B6.”

Assigned seating is set in stone. One night, a new resident in a wheel chair approached an empty seat only to be told it belonged to a Maxine, who was clearly absent that night. So, she headed toward another empty spot. Though that Maxine wasn’t present either, she was told the seat was taken.

When she arrived at our table, I commented that it was already past 7:00 and Maxine obviously wasn’t coming. After a whispered discussion, the woman was grudgingly allowed a place at the table. Not one word was spoken to her the entire evening. That seemed a mean thing for these good Christian’s to do. That woman in the wheel chair hasn’t come to bingo again. Neither have I.

Two nights a week there’s a catered dinner in the dining room and I’ve appreciated this chance to socialize at a meal. Added bonus is not having to cook! Again, assigned seating. Over time, I’ve been able to find some like-minded folks and we’ve been seated together.

But occasionally friends aren’t there and I’m seated with a challenging conversationalist. Sometimes, a non-conversationalist. Seated alone with one particular Maxine, a sports enthusiast, was particularly challenging. In my feeble attempt to be sociable, I was ready to talk sports though I’m not a fan.

“So, Maxine, what do you think of the current concern about concussions in football?”
“Oh, I don’t know anything about that. I’m just interested in the score.” Silence. Clanking of silverware. Rustling of napkins.
“Well, Maxine, what are your thoughts on the recent issue of bullying in the locker room?”
“I don’t know about that. I’m only interested in watching the game.” Slience. Clanking of silverware. Rustling of napkins.
“Maxine, would you like me to pour you some coffee?”

This Maxine, with so little to say, is an aberration in the Downton Abbey atmosphere of my new home where dirty laundry is hung out for all to see. A small group meets almost nightly and became known as the “wino’s” since they’ve been known to have a glass of wine. I found out first hand they only gossiped and I didn’t want to be part of that. After all, l’ll be the subject of similar talk when I’m not present.

One Maxine is certain administration is ignoring the wait list, giving the limited indoor parking spots to the new people. I was that new person and she said this while I was present as though I wasn’t even there. I checked with administration and was filled in on this difficult person’s history.

Maxine, the volunteer librarian, doesn’t get rid of old and worn books because donors might be hurt if they see their books are no longer on the shelf. Another Maxine complains bitterly about the prices in the in-house general store. I get it that since she’s on oxygen, hard of hearing and needs a walker, her rant is about much more than the price of cookies. Another Maxine is sure various men in the building are hitting on her. I guess I live on the Love Boat!

It didn’t take me long to figure out that I’d moved from one small town to another. Many residents had lived in Wauwatosa their entire lives, in the one or two houses of their long marriages. When becoming widows, they moved to this facility. Two Maxine’s have been friends since kindergarten. Another Maxine welcomed to this facility the best man in her fifty year ago wedding.

I’m surrounded by the women’s club belonging, choir singing, church going, bridge playing, missionary performing types. So different from the career oriented more secular groups I was accustomed to. There are other more definite ways I don’t fit in.

Many residents have daughters my age and so I’m considered one of the young ones. I rattled a few when I said I was divorced. The good Catholic widows had no idea how to respond to me. I dared not tell them I was actually twice divorced. That might have started an eviction petition.

As administration’s annual resident meeting approached, the Maxine’s revved up for a show down. They’re going to “put them on the spot” and “give them a piece of our mind.” The Maxine’s frantically played phone tag to assign a specific question that each would ask.

At the meeting of course, there’s only stone-faced silence; in the end, the only question asked dealt with caulking the windows.  But at the catered dinner the next evening, the grumbling continued unabated.

The property owners throw an annual Christmas party for the entire building.  Talk on the street, or rather, in the hallway, is that the format has changed this year from a sit-down dinner to a buffet. The Maxine’s are sure this is just another example of how things are changing and a way for the company to cut expenses. Turns out, the buffet was a huge success, was well attended and new friendships began since everyone sat wherever they wanted. Maybe there’s hope.

The students, need a study area and use the community room which is always set up for Saturday afternoon Mass.  The table that’s the altar is their work area and they return everything to its rightful place when finished. Trouble maker that I am, I suggested to administration that if they want the students to feel welcome here, (that’s money in the bank) perhaps they could put a permanent table at the far end of this underutilized room.

While administration thinks this makes sense, it was their eye rolling and worried look that gives me little hope. I can just hear the Maxine’s. How can the altar that’s used for Mass be moved? Isn’t that just another example of how administration says one thing but does another?  Who do those students think they are horning in on our space! All I can say is: what would Jesus do?

Adjustment to my new home continues. I feel I made the best decision in spite of the differences between myself and most of the residents. I’m still getting to know the neighborhood and my comfort grows daily. I enjoy this place and laugh often at the foibles of myself and others as we navigate the changes inherent in life. But I wonder. Can the comedy of this situation shine through amidst the tragedy of aging and loss of control?

I fully accept the “laugh or you’ll cry” dichotomy. Personally, I never want to lose the humorous edge. I accept the reality that in time I’ll be one of those using a walker, enjoying the current events program, looking forward to Bingo and seeing the annual Christmas party as the highlight of the season.

I hope what I’ve written is taken for what it was meant to be. A wry look at humanity with a touch of humor and a David Sedaris edge. Knowing full well I have the same quirks and oddities as the one’s I’ve written about here. Such is life.

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