COMFORTABLY UNCOMFORTABLE by Dick Weinman, The Thin Edge of Dignity
“Why do you stay there?” she asked me.
I was winding up a telephone conversation with Martha, a long ago student and long time friend. She was in her condo in Seattle, I was in my room in my assisted living facility in Oregon.
I had been complaining about living in an ALF, and griping about happenings in this one, particularly.
“If it’s uncomfortable living there, why not leave?”
Without thinking, I blurted, “I guess I’m comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Now that I take the time to reflect: what did I mean by that paradox about comfort and discomfort? Do I consider moving more discomforting than the discomfort of living here? After all, there are several ALFs in my community. I could transfer. Friends have even suggested I rent an apartment and hire a private caregiver.
Not me. Not now. I’ve moved a lot.
My graduate schooling and subsequent professorships have resulted in six moves – each with an ever increasing household. After I graduated from Indiana University, my fiancee, Ginny, and I made the first move – alone , unencumbered by kids, animals, or “stuff.” We left Bloomington, Indiana for New York City. We were getting married and I was going to school, to acquire an MFA degree from Columbia University.
A new era in our lives was about to begin – and so were the moves.
When I got my degree, Ginny and I and our in utero child, with no animals and the minimal household “stuff” needed to live in our two room walk-up apartment, squeezed into our car, and moved to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania. I was about to begin my first university teaching job, a one year replacement position at Bucknell University.
We settled into our cottage in “Faculty Court,” a repurposed collection of WW II Naval Officer residences, adjacent to campus. During my year at Bucknell, I decided I would return to Indiana University to obtain my PhD. In 1957, now with our in vivo son (10 months old) we watched as movers transferred our cottage stuff to a moving van (these were the years before wide spread do-it-yourself moving.) We drove to Bloomington, hoping our “stuff” would arrive at the same time we did. We stayed at IU two years.
As I got closer to finishing my course work, our family enlarged. It was time to end school and get a job. So, as a bright and shiny ABD (a PhD without a dissertation,) Ginny and I and our two young children, and a little more “stuff,” took to the road. We left our 2 nd floor, two room apartment at “Hoosier Courts,” the university’s married-student housing, and moved to Athens, Georgia, and my second teaching position: the University of Georgia.
The years between 1959 and 1963, when we left IU, were not placid times in the South. The “Freedom Riders” came to our town, the Ku Klux Klan formed picket lines in Atlanta, and the University was ordered to integrate. The Georgia National Guard roamed the campus. The huge army of the TV networks altered student life.
Our private life, however was a joy. We were living in our first-ever real house, on a former pecan orchard. We now had three bedrooms, triple the number we had in past apartments, and we had a large living room, a dining room, and an enclosed back porch for a washer and dryer. It was also a mudroom. We filled our home with a third child, more “stuff,” and a dog.
But these blessing couldn’t overshadow the tensions caused by endemic racism, and in September, 1963 we moved to Ames, Iowa, and Iowa State University.
During the next four years of blizzards and intense summer heat&humidity (it was good for growing corn) our family of three became a family of six. Naturally, our “stuff “also increased - enough furniture, wall hangings, kitchen ware, and appliances to fill our three bedroom three story house, with an office.
Four years later, Oregon, and we crossed the Great Divide to settle in Corvallis.
Our unsettling resettlement consisted of three moves: for two weeks, we crowded into a motel room. Then, while waiting for our permanent home to be completed, the eight of us moved into a temporary three bedroom, one story house.
Luckily, we were spared moving all our “stuff” – most of it was moved for us by commercial movers, and stored. When the time came to finally move into our permanent home – a rainy Christmas day - we did-it-ourselves, or rather, my new students rented a truck and moved it all. Sometime later, we welcomed all the “stuff” that had been stored, including a piano.
We stayed thirty-eight years. After several remodels, our three story house, held seven bedrooms, three and a half baths, a deck out among the oaks, with gazebo and hot-tub. Most importantly, the house accommodated twelve children, one dog, and oodles and oodles of “stuff.” This was it. We didn’t anticipate any more moves.
Then, the proverbial stuff hit the proverbial fan. Ginny got Alzheimer’s. I became a caregiver. After several years by ourselves in our large house, I moved Ginny, with a few pieces of furniture and hygienic goods, into a memory care facility.
Then the same fecal matter hit the same fan. Six months after Ginny’s move, I was in a horrendous motor vehicle accident. I was moved by ambulance to a local hospital; then moved by helicopter to a distant hospital; then, three months later, moved by ambulance to a skilled nursing facility; then four months after that, moved by family car to a rehabilitation institute - all three without “stuff.” Finally, I made my final move – while I’m alive - into an assisted living facility. I have just enough “stuff,” including voluminous wall hangings of my past life to make a one bedroom apartment livable. I’ve come full circle from that first walk-up apartment .
Enough moves, already!
Yes, I gripe and have serious complaints about living in this ALF. I foresee changes that will ameliorate the current operational processes and structures of ALFs, and improve the quality of life for the elderly in long term care. I can bear it here – a while longer.
That’s why I’m comfortable when I’m uncomfortable.