Baby Steps


Yesterday, I got a note from a friend about a blog post I had written about six weeks ago, called “Everything was fine – until it wasn’t.” Six weeks is a long time in the life of a blog post. The entries tend to get pancaked under the layers of entries that have followed them. I’m sure some of my favorite columnists would also have a hard time conjuring up the contents of pieces they wrote even a month or two ago.

In any case, my friend’s note drove me back to my website to revisit this piece which was quickly fading from memory. I’ve written before about the strange feeling of encountering long-ago writing which no longer feels like your own product, enabling you to judge it more objectively. My reaction was “Hmm. This reads really well, a treatment of a dark and serious subject — preparing for decline and, ultimately, death – in a respectful but light tone.”

In this entry I noted that Rosellen and I had plans to visit some retirement communities, even though we had no intention of acting immediately on what we learn. So, yesterday was the day. Several blocks from our house sits Montgomery Place, a not-for-profit facility for senior living that serves the Hyde Park community and beyond, including a number of retirees from the faculty and staff of the University of Chicago.

Ironically, decades ago Rosellen took her mother to visit the same facility in the hope that she and her father would consider moving from Florida, where none of their offspring lived, to Chicago where they would be close to both Rosellen and one of her brothers. Blossom, as Bluma – little flower — had re-named herself, was a bright and capable woman whose formal education ended at the 8th grade. When she heard that Montgomery Place housed many retired college professors, her insecurities got the better of her and the idea died right there on that windy street corner by the lake.

But here we were, possessed of the schooling that our parents labored to provide us with, back at the same doors. In fact, this was not our first visit to Montgomery Place. Each of us had been invited to speak at their Friday night lecture series – me to talk about education issues in Chicago schools and Rosellen to discuss something relating to the publication of her novels. Jonathan, our guide, greeted us in the lobby, brought us to a table in the game room, did the shpiel that he had been through dozens and dozens of times before walking us through the sizeable facility which housed, according to him, about 140 people on its 14 or 15 floors. We carried into the visit some mental templates of retirement facilities based on our visits to friends in New Hampshire who had made the transition from their beloved homes to their one- or two-bedroom apartments in places that ranged from modest but adequate to almost luxurious. So, we knew the right questions to ask about fees, facilities, and available activities.

Jonathan had developed, with the help of his social work background, just the right low-key approach, informing but never pressuring, just the appropriate tone for people like us who were interested but wary of the whole idea of abandoning some portion of our autonomy to conform to the needs of institutional living. At every point in the conversation, he emphasized that most decisions about how the place operated were driven by residents themselves – everything from how the meal plans operated to what was hung on the hallway walls. He was familiar enough with his current and potential clientele to know that this democratic message would calm some of the anxieties of people like us.

The facilities in the building are modest, but impressive – the requisite dining hall, the between-meals café, the art studio, the library, the lounge with large screen tv, the greenhouse and outdoor grounds with planting options for residents, the small pool and gym. The two-bedroom apartment on the 14th floor provided a lake view to match the one we have been living with for the last 28 years, which was definitely reassuring. The interior space, though it was considerably more limited than our current apartment, didn’t feel claustrophobic and the refrigerator, sad to report, was considerably larger than our current meagerappliance.

We’re not planning to go anywhere any time soon, unless our physical conditions force a decision on us. We are also planning to visit other facilities around the city now that we have a point of comparison by which to judge them. But the visit helped us over some significant mental hurdles. We could see the possibility of a life in which our dignity was respected, and which allowed for enough pleasures to keep us stimulated and happy. With this first baby step, we’ve put our names on the list Montgomery Place maintains. They will inform us of openings as they arise, but with no pressure to act on that news. In the meantime, life goes on.

About the author

Marv Hoffman

Add comment

Follow Me

Recent Posts