When my sister and I were growing up, moms did not, as a rule, work outside the home. My mother was bored silly staying at home by herself, once we began school. She found a job as an educational docent at a local museum, where she worked in the natural history section taking school groups on tours. The only problem with this was that we came home from school for lunch.
There was a family on our street comprised of a woman and her six children. Her husband was in the military and away for long periods of time, and money was an issue for them. My parents arranged for Mrs. G to provide a hot lunch for us each school day, and in so doing provided a little extra money for that family.
Many years later, my parents were the “older couple” on their street. Mom took the family dog out for a walk twice a day. The dog had turned out to be larger than expected, and one day, as 78-year old Mom was walking the youthful and energetic dog, the dog lunged for a squirrel, causing Mom to fall down and be dragged several feet down the street.
A neighbor witnessed this, and the neighbor’s first action was to get both home and get Mom cleaned up. Her second action was to appear at the door every afternoon for as long as the dog lived there, and take the dog for a walk. The neighbor knew how much Mom loved her dog, and how unsafe it would have been for Mom to continue those daily walks.
These two images formed my concept of “neighbor”– people who lived in relationship to each other, on a variety of levels, and who found ways to help each other in ways that made life a little easier and more complete for each other.
My favorite aunt had lived in New York City for fifty years. She loved New York, especially the theater and dance that were available there. In her youth, she’d been incredibly generous, inviting me to spend weekends with her. My first theater experience was a performance of My Fair Lady, with Rex Harrison and Julie Andews on stage, and from age 8 on, I was her frequent guest.
As my aunt reached age 75, she began to have difficulties in her New York apartment: access to groceries meant a trek across a very busy, multi-lane street. Managing her apartment became more of a challenge. So she made the decision to move to a retirement community that offered the full range of care milieus– independent or assisted living, and nursing home care.
At first, independent living worked out well. She made many new friends, and volunteered in the local schools. She took advantage of the community outings for theater and ballet and museums. She hosted afternoon teas in her apartment.