73. Starting Over at Eighty

73. Starting Over at Eighty

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Starting Over at Eighty

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind.


I was all alone in Chicago at age seventy-nine, with a son in California and a daughter and granddaughters in New England. One by one, old friends had departed for warmer climes or had simply departed. “Mom, you can’t live there by yourself!” became my children’s almost daily mantra. That was ridiculous. Of course I could. It’s not as if I were some emancipated teenager living in her first apartment in a questionable neighborhood, I reasoned.

Born and bred in suburban Chicago, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. Leave the home that I loved in the town where my children were raised? Nostalgia blurred my reasoning. No more Wrigley Field, cheering on my beloved Cubbies between mouthfuls of Chicago pizza? No more short rides on the Metra to downtown Chicago, Michigan Avenue shopping, world class museums, theater, fine dining, the opera, magnificent architecture, a spectacular lakefront with miles of bike and jogging paths?

An unscheduled stay in the hospital with no advocate caused me to reconsider. I had to admit that catching a movie with a friend had morphed into a solitary time-killer. Shopping at boutiques and patronizing pricey restaurants were no longer doable on a fixed income. They had become instead sharp reminders of the past, where I had increasingly begun to live. Memories of past decisions taunted me with scenarios of a history impossible to rewrite. I was caught up in coulda, shoulda, woulda, seeing more ghosts than blue skies.

It was time to turn the page and begin a new chapter. Would it be the East Coast with the girls or the West Coast with my son? His frequent business trips and upscale location ruled out a move to California. My daughter and granddaughters, on the other hand, lived in a small Massachusetts town where affordable senior living was available. It was a no-brainer.

Selling the house was gut wrenching. Knowing that my new quarters offered a fraction of the space necessitated some drastic decisions. The first casualty was the eight-piece dining room set. In the weeks before the move, I pared down to the essentials. In the days before the movers arrived, my treasures were whittled down to three piles — keep, discard and don’t-know-yet. A lifetime’s worth of possessions changed places like dancers in a Virginia reel, jumping from one pile to another as I wrestled with the decisions. Renouncing earthly goods is difficult!

Finally the day came. Armed with a carefully detailed itinerary and my ten-year-old Malibu, equipped with new belts, hoses and tires, I was on my way. My companion was a caged Parakeet riding shotgun. Forging eastward with the morning sun in my eyes, unaccustomed to reading the overhead signs in high-speed traffic, I prayed: Dear Lord, don’t let me take the wrong off-ramp and end up in Tulsa. An uneventful thousand miles later, my daughter and I exchanged hugs and kisses.

Some time has now passed and I’ve made adjustments. Frequent street name changes and mastering roundabouts instead of driving the familiar grid patterns of my Midwestern past proved challenging at first. More than once I lost my way in forest-like settings on unfamiliar country roads. Instead of meeting stereotypical flinty New Englanders who respond in terse monosyllables, I have found them to be friendly, helpful and responsive to my overtures. Funny how that works. The library’s book of the month club provided introductions to fellow bookworms. I found several kindred spirits who enjoy Scrabble as much as I do. My energy level is higher now, thanks to gym classes with my Silver Sneaker health aficionados. Ask me the names of my favorite restaurants and I can rattle off five. Fenway Park and the Red Sox have claimed my new allegiance. Patriots fever has me in its grip.

Being happy in my new life was never a question. It was a statement. Forsaking the familiar for the unknown has brought many rewards: spontaneous lunch dates with my daughter, granddaughters who have folded me into their lives, and above all, a new great-granddaughter to cuddle, see her first steps, and hear her first words.

One door closed and another opened. All I had to do was take that first step. I’m so glad I did.

~Joan Dayton

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