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    The Choice to Move

    agingMy spouse and I recently moved to a smaller home after 30 years in our beautiful painted lady on Castro Street. As we downsized, donated, gave away and sold some of our belongings collected over our life together, I reflected on the life of my grandmother, left a widow in 1911 with five children, living in a dugout in New Mexico. Because my current project is writing a fictionalized version of her life and the life of my grandfather, I frequently think about the contrast of my life and my good fortune.

    Let me share a brief excerpt from the story I am writing to give you the context and why it has impacted me. It involves Sarah, who is packing her family’s meager belongings into a wagon to begin the trek with her children back to the Sand Hills of Nebraska where she was raised.

    Now, as she packed up six bowls and six plates, she thought of her neighbors, most of whom she barely knew. When they heard she was leaving, they generously shared their limited supplies, bringing over dried meat, starter for bread, vegetables from their root cellars and a sack of flour. She was grateful for their generosity because these supplies would help stretch their meager resources. She was pleased with herself in the fair price she negotiated with Mr. McNab for their two milk cows. There wasn’t much else to bring in money. Too bad she couldn’t sell their homestead, but they had not lived on it long enough to “prove it up,” to get the deed like they had done in Nebraska and Oklahoma. They would just have to abandon it like so many others had done.

    In contrast to a two-room dugout, typical of the dwellings of homesteaders in New Mexico in my grandparent’s time, dug into the side of a hill, my partner and I moved from a spacious, high ceiling two flat Victorian built in 1892, with lots of stairs and generous storage in the garage. Our challenge was not stretching meager resources to provide food for a family preparing for a long trek, but facing the dilemmas of who should receive family treasures, reluctantly disposing of mementos of minimal worth to anyone else, but with sentimental value in our memories. We made difficult decisions for us, weighing what would really fit in the much smaller condo we had chosen as our next home.

    You might be wondering why we made this move since it was a matter of choice, not a matter of survival or the need for the security of nearby family for the benefit of children who have lost their father. Yes, we would be the first to admit that making this move was emotionally challenging. We left the wonderful close proximity in the first floor flat of our daughter, son-in-law and two grandsons who have daily brought us smiles and special joy since they were born 10 and 12 years ago.

    We left a neighborhood where we shared barbeques and potlucks, celebrated birthdays and holidays and cared about each other’s lives. We left shop owners who knew us by name. We left a community and a beautiful home. We were nostalgic and sad to leave these benefits that brought us daily pleasure. Yet, we reminded ourselves that we have watched relatives who waited too long to move, clinging to the comfort of the familiar, dreading the work of sorting, packing and moving, and fearing the unknown and unfamiliar of a new location. As all of us age and health deteriorates, driving and navigating stairs may no longer be possible, and isolation can set in. The friends, family or someone else has to intervene and make the decisions about moving, disposing of treasures and mementos, and arranging needed care.

    Instead we chose now, while we are still healthy and active to make our own decisions, to move into a smaller space with less “stuff,” no stairs and the time and opportunity to make new friends in our new neighborhood in San Francisco. We hope to “age in place” and avoid institutional settings. We enjoy the modern benefits of life to support our move that my grandmother couldn’t imagine when she moved her family by wagon over the mid-western prairie 100 years ago.

    We are grateful to have the resources to stay connected to family and community by remaining in San Francisco and the options and energy to implement what we planned and chose. Our grandsons will soon be old enough to come on the Muni to see us. We return often to our old neighborhood to visit both friends and family. We are enjoying our new home, meeting new friends and engaging in our new San Francisco neighborhood. And, we are grateful that we continue to have the love and support of so many close friends from our years spent in San Francisco.

    Bev Scott is writing the story of her paternal grandparents, her first novel. She also writes about the issues and challenges of the boomer and traditional generations based on her experience as the founder and creator of The 3rd Act, whose mission is to support positive aging. She also published books and articles during her 35-year career as an organization and management consultant. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of Horizons Foundation.