If you’re one of the group, not an enormous one I assure you, that pays some attention to this occasional diatribe you might have noticed that it has been significantly less than occasional of late. In fact, you probably thought that I had given up on wordsmithing altogether or had finally fallen face first onto my computer and was out of commission for good.
The fact is Karen and I have downsized. Which meant the vast amount of stuff that we somehow came in possession of over several decades had to be sorted through, parceled out, sent off to the Goodwill or Habitat for Humanity stores, or put on the curb for trash collection. It also meant I had to put any writing on the back burner for the duration.
We’d talked about doing this for years; it had definitely been on our agenda. I’ll wager its been on more than a few of yours too. But planning and doing are two different things, and my good wife, who is better at doing than yours truly, came home one day from running some errands and informed me she had stepped into a realty office and met an agent she liked. I nodded, went back to whatever I was doing, and figured if anything came of it the house would be on the market for six months to a year and we would have plenty of time to bring our old downscaling scheme to fruition.
A couple of days later there was a sign in the yard and the next day we had a buyer.
Then the cold realization sunk in that in a very short period of time, a matter of a few weeks, we – and all of our stuff – would have to be out of the home we had been comfortable in for almost thirty years.
Now, after saying goodbye to good neighbors and asking the post office to forward our bills and disconnecting utilities in one town and connecting them in another and watching our possessions that made the cut get loaded into a truck and hauled north and unpacking more boxes than we remembered packing and arranging furniture and hanging pictures … I am back at the computer and hoping the collective response out there will not be “Oh, God, please not that!”
I am writing this on our third story balcony on a nice late afternoon with a splendid view spread out before me like a patient etherized upon a table (apologies to poet T. S. Eliot for the blatant theft of that simile). Out there is a pretty little lake with two fountains and a few geese gliding slowly across it. Beyond the lake, on the far horizon, downtown Houston rises up in silver splendor in the last light of the afternoon not unlike the Emerald City across that field of poppies in Oz. To its right the medical center makes a lesser effort and, further west, the blinking beacon atop the tall Williams Tower is winking at me.
Our search for new digs took us to this four-story, gated community in Pearland for active folks over fifty-five. There’s a restaurant, a workout room that caught Karen’s attention, a big swimming pool that caught mine, an attractive enclosed courtyard, various get-togethers with friendly people (two of who whom used to live not much more than a stone’s throw from our old house who we had never met), Friday afternoon happy hours, and even a cheerful concierge who hands me my Houston Chronicle every morning.
The upside of our difficult and absolutely exhausting transformation is that we finally did the sorting out that we knew we needed to do. And we wanted to rent – at least for a while, maybe from now on – rather than worry about the myriad things that might suddenly need replacing or fixing and a big lawn that demanded to be mowed every week. I can now vow, with the conviction of Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind, that I will never go mowing again!
The downside of the move was leaving the house where we raised our daughters and the town where we have wonderful friends and countless memories. But we’re just a little more than a half hour away, and we’ll make the trip three days a week during the school year so I can teach a few classes at a preparatory academy and Karen can do some specialized testing for the school district we both retired from.
On those three days we’re back in our new home at midday. And late afternoon usually finds both of us sitting here on the patio.
My life has been, like many other people’s lives, a fascinating journey filled with a few sad things but mostly blessings. And this comfortable place, with less square footage than we’re used to but still an abundance of comfort, is a fine place to continue the trip.
The view from my wicker chair looks due north toward Houston. And I sometimes imagine that I can see even further than that, maybe all the way up to Huntsville, where the university is located that changed me completely and still holds part of my heart. And I can see further, in my mind’s eye, to the little East Texas town where I grew up. Novelist Graham Greene once said that a writer’s childhood is the bank account that he most often draws from.
He was right.
Most days, out here on the patio, I can see all the way to Oakwood.