Although I don’t think our decision to move to Washington was a mistake that we could have predicted, I might have missed some early warning signs that it wasn’t working out.
For one thing, we never opened a bank account here. We loved the personal service at our Cambridge bank, and we do our transactions online anyhow. So we stayed with it.
We never subscribed to The Washington Post and my computer’s home page remained The Boston Globe. (We do watch the local news sometimes, but like local news everywhere, it’s mostly weather, sports and murders.)
Our apartment’s balcony overlooks a lovely courtyard, but we didn’t buy any outdoor furniture for it in spite of Washington’s beautiful spring.
Although we developed a roster of Washington physicians, we still kept in touch with our Boston doctors, and we stayed in our Boston healthcare system.
I think part of me knew that I wouldn’t be happy here from the day we arrived. I just refused to see it.
I am grateful that we had the opportunity to be near our kids. And I am grateful that we were welcomed so warmly to our retirement community. But, most of all, I am grateful to be able to go home.
Recently, medicine has made great strides in predicting who will suffer from some of the diseases we fear.
Studies of people with mild cognitive impairment using machine-learning techniques and beta-amyloid imaging may be able to predict the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease up to two years before the first symptoms appear.
And studies of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations allow us to know if we face an increased risk of breast and/or ovarian cancer. These are just two examples of scientific advances that might complicate (or save) our lives.
And now, there is news from the “Medical Brain” team at GOOGLE. According to Bloomberg News, using artificial intelligence software and thousands of data points, it is possible to predict, with reasonable accuracy, the outcome of a hospitalization, how long it will last, and if the patient will die.
It’s been thirteen years since Peter stopped teaching computer science at Boston College. For ten years, he continued to teach at the Harvard Institute for Learning in Retirement, often choosing a subject he knew little or nothing about because that way he would learn something new.
At his BC retirement party in 2005, I heard some things I didn’t know about how beloved he was as a professor. Seth and Jeremy were also mightily impressed by what they heard about their father.
Jim Gips, one of Peter’s (significantly younger) colleagues who had spoken at Peter’s retirement event, passed away quite suddenly two weeks ago. Since Jim and his family had bought our summer vacation home in 1980, we had a special tie to him and were sad to learn of his death.
A few days later Peter received the following email from a former student:
I don’t know if you remember me. I was your student at BC in the late 1970’s. I still think of you as my favorite professor. I wanted to tell you that in light of Jim Gip’s passing. These things should be said before it’s too late. I hope you’re well!
Exactly one year ago, Peter and I flew to Washington, DC to look at an apartment in a retirement community. We liked it and it was near our kids and grandchildren. So we took it.
I remember how excited our family was at the thought of our living nearby. I also remember that I couldn’t eat anything at our “celebratory” dinner that night. Sometimes I wonder if my body was telling me something my head didn’t want to hear.
It didn’t take long for my head to “hear” it. We missed everything about our life at “home". Six months later, we decided to return to Massachusetts.
Was it a mistake to come? Maybe. If we hadn’t moved, would we have regretted not trying it? Maybe. Have we loved seeing more of the kids? Of course.
Admitting our “mistake” on this blog—knowing that readers have gone through this with us—was hard.
But something amazing has happened. I have received dozens of emails from you saying that we are courageous, that my writing “spoke” to you, that you are so happy for us, that you understand, that it took “self-knowledge,” that we are making “the best decision for ourselves”.
Usually I press “post” on a blog entry I’ve written and that’s it. But when your emails of support came pouring in, I had to tell you how much they mean to me. We’re all on this journey together. We make hard decisions. And sometimes we make mistakes. When people care, it means a lot.
Uprooting our lives of more than fifty years in Massachusetts has been a bigger challenge than we imagined. We were sure that moving south to live near our grandchildren was right for us at this stage in our lives. We knew that the Washington days are longer, that the winters are milder, and that there are wonderful cultural institutions and great natural beauty nearby.
What we didn’t know was how much we would miss our friends, our activities, our familiarity with the geography of Boston and the driving habits of Bostonians. We miss our grocery stories with their easy parking lots. We particularly miss our doctors. We miss Symphony Hall and the Red Sox. It’s not possible to create new friendships in months that come close to old friendships of decades.
We know that we are not going back to our house or our neighborhood. And that’s OK. We are aware that at our age, there are good reasons to be near our children. But while we are still able to be on our own, we want to be where we have been most of our lives.
Author/comedian David Sedaris has written a new book of essays called Calypso. I haven’t read it, and I probably won’t although it is guaranteed to be a best seller. Nevertheless, I was curious enough to go to his reading from it at Politics and Prose, our favorite bookstore. The program was scheduled to begin at 8:00, but when Peter and I arrived an hour early there were no seats left.
Scrambling to find the best place to stand, we were approached by a lovely young woman who claimed that she and her partner couldn’t bear to see us stand for so long and insisted we take their seats.
David Sedaris is very funny and a very successful author. The audience laughed non-stop as he read from his book. I distinctly remember chuckling twice, smiling occasionally, but mostly thinking that Peter and I are not his audience.
I was amazed and impressed to learn that when he is not traveling, he spends four to eight hours a day picking up trash from the roads near his West Sussex home in Britain while listening to podcasts and books. He told his audience that there is a garbage truck named after him and that he was invited to Buckingham Palace as a result of his single-handed efforts to rid the highways of trash.
Walking in our neighborhood the next day, I saw a metal object in the middle of the street. As I often do when I see something on the road that might cause a flat tire, I picked it up. I thought of David Sedaris and was impressed.
I’m not an expert bookstore clerk yet, but I am learning on my volunteer job, mainly from our customers.
For example, last week a young boy suggest that we shouldn’t be selling our used comic books for a dollar before someone who really knows the value of comic books has had a look. So I checked it out. In 2014, a ten-cent Superman comic book sold for $3.2million. Of course, that’s unusual, but you never know, and since all of our sales go toward helping families in the DC public schools, why not charge a bit more for the more valuable comic books? I passed his suggestions on to my “boss.”
A woman on her lunch hour break, thrilled to find a new bookstore talked with me about what she reads. We ended up recommending authors to each other because our tastes are similar. She plans to come back often.
Another customer asked if we could change a $20 bill. It seems she had just had a haircut and needed change for a tip. Well, she had a gorgeous haircut, praised her hairdresser and gave me his name. I called and made an appointment.
And of course, it can’t all be good news. A couple came in with four cartons of books to donate to the store. As we unloaded them, the wife became angry at her former-professor husband and was in tears. “Why are we giving away so many of my books and so few of yours?” she asked.
Daily dinners with our fellow retirees can be tedious. The elderly (and that includes us) tend to repeat stories of their not always-interesting pasts. But sometimes I am amazed by what I hear.
Last week, we had dinner with a statuesque 89-year-old named Elizabeth. She knew about my long career at Harvard’s Kennedy School so for starters, she told me that she had just given a eulogy there for Francis Bator, an economist who had advised the Kennedy and Johnson administrations and was one of the School’s founding fathers. His office was down the hall from me. The memorial service was held in the School’s Penthouse where I had attended hundreds of events, including my own farewell party!
Elizabeth told us that she had got to know Bator while working for Walter Lippmann, newspaper columnist and winner of two Pulitzer Prizes, but said little about herself.
Curious to learn more about this modest woman, I Googled her. Turns out that she was a producer for CBS News for years and the first newsperson on the scene after the 1972 Watergate break-in.
That evening, I couldn’t persuade her to write her story, but I’ll keep trying.
On Tuesday, November 30, 1999, The Boston Globe published a personal essay under the headline “Wife’s Ailment Brings Out A New Side of Husband.” In it, the author told how the division of labor in her marriage worked well until she was on crutches. Then she found out that her husband had no idea how to do the laundry so she had to stand at the top of the basement stairs and yell down step-by-step instructions for the washing machine. He couldn’t load the dishwasher efficiently either.
The wife went on to say that she’d better learn how to start the lawn mower, and un-jam the garbage disposal to be prepared if he should “step off the curb the wrong way some day”.
That article was written by me.
Nineteen years later, Peter “stepped off the curb the wrong way” and broke his leg. It’s my turn to take on his chores, and although I wish he hadn’t fallen, it’s my pleasure to return the favor.
This is the 1100th post of 70-something.com. When I wrote the first one more than ten years ago, I thought I would stop when I turned eighty. But somehow it’s become part of my DNA and so I keep going, at least for now.
I write to document my life and how it changes over my “bonus years”. I do it for me. Happily, I now have a lot more subscribers than the seventeen I started with.
Which brings me to a recent visit to Sumner Fitness, the gym where Peter sees a physical therapist. Because it is far away, I bring a book and sit in the waiting room during his forty-minute appointment.
Imagine my surprise when a fit, older woman approached me and asked if my name was Judy. An 81-year-old, she has been working out at the gym for years. More important (to me), she has been reading this blog for ten years. She knew that we had moved to Washington, and she recognized me from my photo on the website.
We chatted for a few minutes and she went on her way.