Our friends had a wonderful home in the country nearby. Everyone loved to go there. The property dropped gracefully away from a pasture with road frontage down several descending levels until it reached its lowest point, another open pasture. Just where sky-scraping hardwoods grew that divided the property, front from back, their home was nestled. On their screened back porch, we would sit looking out into the treetops.
Each year they had a prolific garden, and we were lucky enough to share in the bounty.
They gathered chanterelle mushrooms in the woods and shared those as well. For several years, they tended a flock of chickens and learned that each one had a personality. The roosters were usually the bad-tempered sort, and one or two ended up in the stew pot. When a possum sneaked into the chicken house once, the lady of the house got mad enough to drag out a little used shotgun and took him out with one blast. Their homestead was a magnet for cats dumped on the country road and a few feral ones who all learned to get along, even if grudgingly. Interestingly, all the cats were orange and white.
They loved their quiet place and tended their property with care. They worked deliberately on decorating their house, adding carefully chosen accessories, applying new paint colors to the walls, rearranging their furniture. The home exuded peace and contentment as did the owners, and visitors basked in the comfortable feel.
Then, just when everything seemed perfectly arranged, they got the wanderlust. They felt a niggling sense of wanting to be somewhere else. But where? They wanted to try something new. But what? The property went on and off the market as they weighed options and possible destinations. They wanted to stay, but they wanted to go. One day, with the property off the market, total strangers made contact, wanting to buy it right then. It didn’t take long to negotiate a contract with motivated buyers; boxes were packed, a yard sale was held, and a moving date was set. It got here quite before we all realized it was happening. The cats were staying, by the way.
As quick as the move seemed, these friends had spent months debating a life they might like, different from a settled country one with chickens to tend, pastures to cut, cats to feed, a garden to grow and possums to be held at bay. They chose a town smaller than Atlanta but still heady with entertainment, restaurant and shopping options, lots of classes and exhibits, and abundant healthy lifestyle activities and recreation.
They made a deliberate decision to downsize their living space and possessions and to live more simply in every way. They’ve settled into a house much smaller than before that needed some renovation, and they’ve gone about it in their thorough and considered way.
All of it seems brave and wise and thoughtful and sustainable. These friends are not quite at the traditional retirement age, but they’ve settled in for the long term, having made a major decision about where and how they will live out the autumn of their lives.
Other friends have done something similar in deciding to move into a planned retirement setting that will accommodate changing needs as they themselves change. Their home also will be simpler and less demanding. They will have new friends, new activities and new opportunities, and their choice will allow them to scale back from long-standing obligations where they now live. For people who are now slightly past the traditional retirement age, they have made a brave decision, forged by taking a hard look backwards and an equally demanding view of the future.
One of my dearest friends of long standing, an attractive and vivacious widow, faced the choice recently of whether to maintain her condo in a busy metro suburb and remain active on the many boards and commissions on which she’s served statewide and locally. Her son and family live comfortably in the mountains, and this no-frills woman decided that family would be more important to her long-term than retaining a profile as one with connections who could get things done with the drop of a dime. She sold her condo and built a guesthouse at her son’s house in the mountains. "I’ve made my contributions. I’ve fulfilled my obligations. It’s all right with me to have this time now to read, watch the birds and enjoy my grandchildren," she says unapologetically. She is happy and content.
It is too often thought that with the onset of age, we simply melt away into the sunset. But these friends have proven to me that we are never too old for bold decisions, never too old to chart new waters, never too old to determine for ourselves a future different from what might otherwise be left to proverbial fate with unknown consequences.
Barbara Morgan is a Covington resident with a background in newspaper journalism, state government and politics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.