About 250 people live in our continuing care retirement community, in six apartment buildings and two nursing facilities. Now, in pandemic mode, you don’t see many residents in the walkways and corridors, and the restaurants are closed.
Our patio overlooks the pocket park on campus featuring a parcourse that no one is using. The occasional walker passes by the patio, sometimes masked, sometimes not.
Nobody stops to comment about the dog sitting at my feet, as they used to. A far cry from the conviviality we’d enjoyed since moving here last July.
Back then, Tom and I had lived in our new apartment for just a few days when the couple three doors down invited us for dinner.
“Dinner” meant meeting at the host table in the main dining room to be seated together, each ordering separately from the menu and using their own food points to pay. Jim and Carol proved to be pleasant and welcoming.
Ten more get-to-know-you dinners followed in close succession. I initiated a few myself, like with the couple I kept bumping into during my early morning dog walks.
Other dinners were initiated by people curious about the woman who used to run museums and now writes novels. A few times the dining room hostess seated us with residents she thought we should meet.
The get-to-know-you dinners were hard work: everyone gave a biographical sketch, and because we’re all old, those sketches were loooong.
When we would have a second dinner with a couple, the conversation would become more natural, if not yet candid. After a few months of sharing meals, we had learned with whom to sit to have a good time.
Six months in, when we were finally able to retrieve furniture from storage and set up our apartment to our liking, we decided to celebrate by holding an open house for everyone we’d enjoyed eating with.
I left invitations at 50 doorways, expecting 25 people to come, based on my experience with events the past few years.
I was wrong.
Nearly everyone RSVP’d “yes” and two replied, “Can I bring my daughter?” How was I going to fit all those people into our living room? I asked friends for advice.
One weary guy said, “Don’t serve shrimp because they’ll disappear immediately.” A more sympathetic woman said, “Can you ask some people to come later?” I followed her advice and asked half the invitees to come at 3:30 instead of 2:00.
The weather that afternoon couldn’t have been better. Our guests came when requested, ate and drank modestly, wiped up their own spills, overflowed seamlessly into bedrooms and patio, and enjoyed each other’s company.
Three guests brought flowers, three brought wine, two brought daughters, one of whom brought citrus from her backyard. My only task was to keep food platters full and bottles uncorked; the assembled company made their own fun.
Afterwards, I asked some of my favorite neighbors why everybody had showed up. Out of a sense of obligation? Or curiosity about our apartment? Or to fill the time?
They said none of the above; they simply liked Tom and me. “At our age,” they said, “no one cares about social obligations. We just like to get along.”
Getting along is the secret sauce of CCRC living. I am watching my husband wither now that he can’t go to his exercise classes (especially important for Parkinson’s sufferers, like Tom) and have lunch afterward with his pals.
Some people in this community seem to place such a high value on contact that they meet in the gazebo for cocktails and chatter, sitting much closer than six feet apart. Of course, connecting on social media is not an option for most 80-year-old widows.
When this is all over, I’m going to offer to teach everyone here how to Skype or Facetime or Zoom. You shouldn’t have to risk your life in exchange for a good laugh.
How are you connecting and coping in this difficult life situation? What do you miss the most from live before the pandemic? Let’s have a conversation.