Two weeks ago, my 93-year-old father made what will probably be his last move. After Mom died, he spent nearly two more years in their condo in the Chicago suburb of Skokie, Ill., but wanted something smaller and closer to relatives, friends and shopping.
His new apartment is in a lovely complex, I'm told, and is cheery and just large enough to be comfortable. It's an independent-living unit -- not assisted living -- but the complex has easy access to medical staff, and Dad is on a plan that covers all his meals. I never asked if he has a pullman kitchen or any kitchen at all.
I'm looking forward to seeing the new digs when I go out to Chicago late next week. My trip is to visit Dad, of course, but more important, it is to take a close look at the condo, which Dad is selling. I want to look at pieces of sentimental value. But since my wife and I expect to move soon, too, I won't be looking for large pieces, although Dad wants me to take a 70-plus-year-old breakfront that he and Mom purchased the second year of their marriage.
Talk about sentimental -- and impractical. That piece says it all. While I haven't completely closed the door to the idea, the breakfront isn't at the top of my list. Shipping something like that would be expensive.
My wife would like to find some Judaic pieces that Mom and Dad collected, along with some sculpture like Lladro. Mom loved those pieces, and if they're still around, my wife definitely wants me to lay my hands on them. Of course, packing and shipping the pieces will be a delicate operation but a lot more manageable than a breakfront.
At first, I wasn't going to go out there, but Dad seemed pretty insistent on my at least taking a look. While I've forgotten what else specifically is in the condo, Dad was clear that it wouldn't fit in his new place. He left a lot of sentimental things behind, but when one downsizes so radically, adding to the moving list simply isn't an option.
What's great about Dad's new place is that his sister, my aunt Rita, is just down the hall. As my brother put it in an email announcing the move, "Gaynes Siblings Will be Under One Roof Again." My dad's apartment number is 601, and my aunt's number is 625. They can hang out whenever they like.
Although shedding furnishings, Dad did not give up any of his independence. He can still drive to see his lady friend Bernice, who still has a place of her own. And he usually stays with Bernice on weekends. If he wants his caregiver/housekeeper to come in to his new digs a couple of times a week, he can do that. It's the ideal arrangement for an active senior who doesn't want to pull the plug on his active lifestyle.
While I spent many a night on the sofa bed in the condo den, I really had no allegiance to the place. It was Mom's and Dad's second home after selling the rickety, rambling old house in East Rogers Park, a lovely section of Chicago near Lake Michigan. That house was really home for me. I grew up there and loved being near the beach.
They downsized to a lovely apartment in downtown Chicago, convenient to Dad's office at the time. But when a major fire destroyed Dad's business a few years later, he and Mom decided to buy the condo in Skokie.
Between the condo and their vacation home in North Miami, Fla., Mom and Dad lived a very vibrant life until the turning point three years ago when Mom got sick. Once she began her downhill slide, the condo no longer gave dad much pleasure, and he missed breakfasts around the kitchen table and the little things mom did.
Dad accepted the inevitable and that Mom never would go back to the condo. After she died, he seemed ready to move on. Now he has a place of his own to call home, probably for the last years of his life, which we hope will be many.
I haven't heard him sound this happy in years.
Steven Gaynes is a Fairfield writer, and his "In the Suburbs" appears each Friday. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.