Monday, September 29, 2014

Of a certain age

I bought my first house in 1968, in Los Angeles, when I was 33 years old. My parents had to cosign for it because, as hard as it is to believe, at that time banks would not give home loans to single men. Up until that point, I had either lived with my parents (until and for two years after I joined the Navy) or lived in an apartment. 

There is something…well, proprietary…about owning a home. The sense of saying “this is mine” has a definite appeal, as does the knowledge that since it is yours, you can do whatever you want to do with it, short of violating city codes. I have owned a total of five homes…one inherited from my mother upon her death, two more of my own in Los Angeles and two in Pence, Wisconsin.

But with home ownership comes a lot of responsibility and work. Both Los Angeles homes were relatively maintenance-free. The first had a swimming pool which was a bit bothersome to keep clean, but with only a small area of grass and some bushes to care for at the front of the house. The back yard had largely self-sufficient plants around a central cemented area surrounding the pool. Likewise, my second L.A. house required not too much work. It backed up to the Angelus National Forest, and the entire back of the property was a steep hill upon which very little grew. The front yard was a grassed area only about 20 feet deep, leading to a steep slope covered with native-to-the-area low plantings, the sidewalk, and the street. 

I was 50 when I moved to northern Wisconsin and took on the physical challenges of literally gutting and rebuilding a large, very old and in very poor condition house. While I did have professional help with the plumbing and electrical work, I did a large percentage of the “grunt work” myself. Part of the work involved tearing down a shed-like addition at the back of the house, and I used a lot of the materials from it to build a garden shed at the back of the property totally by myself. Later, when I sold the house, I bought a much smaller house about six blocks away and, again mostly by myself, converted the unfinished attic into a bedroom.

I really enjoyed owning my own home, even with the constant maintenance it entailed. Mowing the lawn in spring, summer, and fall; shoveling snow—and my area of Northern Wisconsin gets in excess of 300 inches—that’s 25 feet—of snow a year—began, after 20 years, to get just a little “old.” So in 2006, two years after the end of my successful battle with tongue cancer, I realized that I had reached that “certain age” where one seeks less physical labor rather than more, and began to toy with the idea of leaving the beautiful-but-monotonous isolation of the Great North Woods to return to Chicago (after 40+ years) and civilization.

With my only income being social security and sporadic book royalties, I knew I could never afford a “regular” Chicago apartment, so I looked into senior subsidized housing, applied, and was approved. I moved back to Chicago in September of 2006, and never looked back. 

Everything is a trade-off, and being in a subsidized apartment building is no exception. My one-bedroom apartment is perfect for my needs, is in an ideal location, and I pay probably less than one-third of the cost of normal Chicago housing. As in most apartment buildings, I have very little direct daily contact, and even less in common, with others who live in my building; not that they are not nice people, it’s just that our lives are so totally different, and while I match or exceed them in physical age, I consider myself much, much younger than them.

And I no longer have to mow lawns and shovel snow and clean gutters and patch and paint and….

So I guess being “of a certain age” has its advantages…not that I have any choice in the matter.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday and Thursday. Please take a moment to visit his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (, which is also available as an audiobook (

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

I was in an apartment for years after I moved away from home. It wasn't until the hubs's father passed away last year that we found ourselves moving into the house. Fortunately, the man kept it up extremely well. Still, what was there had been there since the family moved in back in 1978.

I learned the fine art of packing everything up, putting it on different floors so I could hire someone to put new carpet in and someone else to paint. I also learned I was mortal while moving things back to the finished floor so the aforementioned carpet person and painter could paint the unfinished one.

It's been a learning curve and we're still not done unpacking, yet the hubby comes home semi-regularly, looks around, and informs me "the garage door needs to be painted, the cracks in the driveway have to be filled, the bricks along the bottom of the house need to have some filler added and blah blah blah..."

One might say he has the Captain Picard (from Star Trek: The Next Generation) syndrome of saying "Make it so" and expecting it shall be made so. I've wanted to mutiny more than once.