By Elizabeth Russell | Bio
I had enormous resistance in moving into what I thought of as “an old folks’ home.” For years I had said to my children, “I’ll never live in one of those places!” When circumstances conspired to make such a move wise, I spent much of the first few months in my new home looking at San Francisco apartment ads, traveling to the city to look at those apartments. As I did, I began to notice the difference it would mean to me living in one of those apartments as compared with living in Woodside Terrace. Increasingly I acknowledged that it no longer made sense for me to live alone and, with that acknowledgment, came the appreciation of having my apartment cleaned and my linen changed weekly, having meals prepared for me and having emergency help as near as the cord next to my bed or by the shower in my bathroom.
I took advantage of, and enjoyed, swimming pool classes and Yoga classes but the first time I realized I was sitting at a table preparing to play Bingo, I thought to myself, “What on earth are you doing?” If someone had told me, the year before, that I would be living in a retirement home and playing Bingo, I’d have told them they were crazy, but it was a hint that my life was changing.
Another hint came when I discovered the importance of making my own dinner arrangements. One of my first evenings, the hostess seated me at a table for four. Across from me was a tiny lady whose chin seemed to be resting on the table and two other two women who gave only guttural responses to my attempts to make conversation. When I gave up trying to communicate and turned my attention to the meal on my plate, I looked across the table and noticed that the tiny lady’s chin was no longer resting on the table but her head was tipped back against the chair and she was asleep. It didn’t seem quite appropriate to laugh but it was difficult to restrain myself. On leaving the dining room, however, I did say to the hostess, “Coming to dinner is the highlight of my day and I’d appreciate it if you’d seat me with people who talk.”
My autobiography had been published just before I moved and the residents of Woodside Terrace provided the audience for my first book presentation and signing. It was then that I started looking at my neighbors to see who was really there in that wheel chair or on that walker. The first person to buy a book was so handicapped that I had usually looked the other way when I saw her coming. That day I was ashamed of myself and made it a point to ask her later about her experience in reading the book. When I heard of her enjoyment, I knew that my purpose in writing had been achieved.
As soon as I got over thinking of myself as an oddity in the environment and began looking around, I discovered some very interesting people.
More next week…
© 2008 Elizabeth Goodell Russell. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with kind permission from The California Woman Magazine. This article first appeared in their July/August 2008 issue.