After the cabin inspection, I mailed the sellers a list of what I wanted fixed: the two roofs, the chimneys, some cracked panes on the windows, the plumbing in the bathroom sink, where the water wasn’t draining, and upgrading some of the electrical outlets. While I waited to hear back from them, I flew to Chicago to help my parents move from the suburban home they had lived in for almost 20 years to an apartment in a retirement community.
It wasn’t hard to see the divergent paths our live were taking. They were preparing to get rid of all the stuff they wouldn’t need any more: yard equipment, including ladders, shovels, bottles of lawn fertilizer, rakes, saws. (All things that I could use at my cabin, and I did manage to save two pairs of outdoor/garden gloves, one pair that I use to load wood into the stove at the cabin.) My father had been a photographer all his life and had lots of old camera equipment, including slide and movie projectors, but what would he still want or need at the age of 86? It was a sad process for me, seeing them get rid of parts of their life and sad because they would be moving away from the hometown where I had grown up.
While my parents were constricting their lives, I was expanding, adding another dwelling to my existence. But there was another difference. One of the reasons they wanted to move into a retirement village was because they were feeling lonely. A lot of their friends and family had died, and they lived in a neighborhood full of younger families indifferent to an elderly couple who might occasionally need to have their sidewalks shoveled in winter or other small tasks. My father once asked his neighbor, a young man who jogged every morning, if he could throw his paper onto the front door as he ran by. The man refused. It wasn’t the same neighborhood I had grown up in, where people looked out for each other, especially the elderly. The retirement village would provide them with an instant community of people their age, who they would join for dinner, for movie night, for water aerobics classes.
At the same time, I was getting a cabin where I would spend two days during the week alone. It wasn’t so much that I didn't want or need human contact but more that I needed someplace where I could hear my own thoughts, which most of the time seemed to be drowned out by the world. I wanted someplace where my spirit could relax, and I wouldn’t have to work to keep a calm mind. And I wanted to be closer to nature, in a place that was wild, where bears and mountain lions roamed, where the landscape was natural—no lawns or sidewalks, and a “yard” that consisted of pine trees, grasses, wildflowers—and where I could see the Milky Way at night.
Meanwhile, my parents would be moving to a community where the landscape had been artificially constructed—five or six five-story buildings surrounded by walkways bordered by carefully arranged bushes and a few saplings. Their new apartment looked out over a pond where no trees yet grew. The retirement village itself sat on a busy strip of malls and large office buildings. It was a setting that not only felt unnatural but unreal. I didn’t want their life and I knew for certain they didn’t want mine. But I wished my parents well in their new life while I prepared for my own.