From Larry & Arlene – Destination: Oberlin

cottage-113-cropLarry and Arlene will soon move to Kendal at Oberlin. Here they share the story on why they chose a continuing care community and why they chose Kendal. This also appears on their personal blog, Acornometrics.

Think about what it was like to not know which key unlocks that door. Visualize what it feels like to reach into the dark, not knowing where the new light switch is. Try and feel the excitement from not knowing the place where you will eventually live. Let’s open it up. 

    ~ from “This Place the Place” on Where (we) Live by Sō Percussion

Options for our cottage

One day this spring we will drive onto the campus of the Kendal at Oberlin community in Oberlin, Ohio for the last time as non-residents. Our car will be full of precious, fragile things. Our hearts will be full of hope and anticipation. A moving van will arrive with the rest of our scaled-back worldly goods. We will move everything into Cottage #113. And we will call it home.

Our journey to live the rest of our lives in Oberlin began in 2004 when we had to move Arlene’s mother Goldie to assisted living with no advanced planning by her or any of us.  Goldie had suffered a stroke, not devastating, but moderately disabling. She recovered reasonably well, but unfortunately she could no longer live alone in her Florida condo, 1,000 miles and more away from any of her children. The entire process was torture for everyone, most of all Goldie, who never accepted the necessity of the move. After she was reasonably settled in her new home in Boston, Larry remarked “Maybe we should move into assisted living right now, while we are able to do it by choice.” We laughed the idea off as the absurdity it was intended as. But a nugget of that thought remained. It was our first recognition that how we would live the latter stage of our lives was something that merited careful strategizing and planning.

Our home at Acorn Ridge

Before we make that pivotal approach down Kendal Drive, we will have bid a tearful farewell to Acorn Ridge, our home for over 25 years, and turned the keys over to the new owners. It’s a splendid place, which we often lovingly describe as “in the middle of nowhere.” There are 20 rolling acres, about two-thirds in mature oak woods. We have a lovely three bedroom, three bath home, recently renovated, and a charming guest cottage in the back yard. Over the years we have developed extensive landscape gardens and a large organic vegetable garden. We lovingly maintained and nurtured our home and gardens, entertained our frequent guests, and reveled in our remoteness. Isolation. Star-studded night skies. Peace and quiet. Serenity.

As 2010 was turning 2011, we experienced one horrid winter. December 1st buried us in three feet of snow, catching us woefully unprepared. We barely had enough gas for the snowblower to clear a path just big enough for the car to back out so we could go to town for more. Over the New Year’s holiday we went to a family wedding in Florida where nearly everyone was sick. Larry caught a terrible cold which we passed back and forth to each other for weeks before we finally shook it. Our 17-year-old dog Tilly, who had been with us since she was a pup, was failing and we had to put her down. When we set out on our annual February road trip to Florida, Arlene was still suffering the dregs of that cold. We headed south wondering if we should look for a place to buy and spend more of each winter in Florida.

It was not long before reality set in. We could not really afford a second home. Even if we could, it was hard to fathom having to maintain two places. Taking care of the one we had was hard enough. And we were pretty sure Florida was not the right place. So, we began considering just moving somewhere with a more amenable climate and a place that would be easier to maintain. As we contemplated where this might be, it occurred to us that such a move would likely not be our last. As we continue to age, someday we’ll reach the point where we have to move again, when managing our own place is no longer feasible.

So what was the right path forward? We recalled Larry’s wry comment from a few years back, but clearly we weren’t ready for assisted living. But what were we ready for? The gears started churning. Our initial research on the internet (thank goodness for the internet!) led us to the broader concept of Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC), with independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing all on one community campus. We don’t have children we can depend on (or torture) for help with the tricky decisions we will surely face as we age. So that continuity of CCRCs really appealed to us. The notion that we could move to a new, simpler home that will be adaptable to our needs, right up to our final days, was very compelling. We decided we must take a close look at some CCRCs. Kendal at Oberlin was high on our list to investigate for a largely tangential reason.

We have no musical training and no discernible musical talent. Nonetheless, avid music listening has been a long-time avocation for us. Jazz and Classical music are our greatest interests, with particular affinity for the avant garde. For some time we’ve had two parallel forces at work. We had been noticing a small ad in the New Yorker magazine about Kendal at Oberlin, usually including the line “400 free concerts a year.” Well, that sounded pretty intriguing. Concurrently, we were actively following two contemporary music ensembles, eighth blackbird and the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), which, as it happens, were both formed at Oberlin Conservatory. When we realized through our research that Kendal at Oberlin is a CCRC, and it sits on the edge of the Oberlin College and Conservatory campus, we had to check it out.

Kendal across the pond

As we perused the Kendal at Oberlin website, we noticed the “Try it, You’ll Like It” program, so we scheduled a visit in May 2011. We planned a simple one-night stay and got a nice introduction to Kendal from the marketing staff. We met two delightful residents who hosted us at dinner and gave us a whirlwind driving tour of the campus and town. It happened to be exam week at the college, so there was no opportunity to sample any of the music and other cultural riches we anticipated the college would provide. But we were fortunate to be there on an evening when a monthly Kendal lecture series was scheduled. The guest was Ray English, Director of the Oberlin College Library, speaking on “The Future of Libraries in the Digital Age”. We came away very impressed with Ray’s talk and the Oberlin College library. And were amazed at how many people attended, that residents were in charge of the program, and that the questions were very engaging and thought-provoking.

So our first on-site impression of Kendal at Oberlin was very positive. But we felt we needed to really test the presumption that those “400 free concerts” and other cultural attractions of the College would prove to be as satisfying as we imagined them to be.  We planned additional visits to Oberlin with cultural immersion as our main objective. Over the next several months, we attended five Artist Recital Series concerts, a movie and discussion presented by the Latin American Studies Program, a great student production of a very challenging play, a concert by the Oberlin Contemporary Music Ensemble, the Junior recital of a vary talented violin student, and more. We also attended the inaugural Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, which literally changed our lives (see our work on the ICE blog, I CARE IF YOU LISTEN, and Acornometrics). We weren’t just satisfied, we were hooked!

Kendal Friends

In the meantime, as we were exploring the cultural riches of Oberlin, something quite wonderful was happening as we spent time at Kendal. We were meeting many people who were quickly becoming fast friends. And beyond that, we were learning what a welcoming, caring, witty, and charming community of people Kendal is as a whole. A sense of community is something we have sorely missed in our rural isolation. We have visited other CCRCs in Chicago, Washington DC, and North Carolina. They all met the basic criteria to satisfy our needs, but none of them had radiated the open-arms, welcome-home aura we feel at Kendal at Oberlin. We realized that enfolding ourselves into the embrace of this community is where our destiny lies.

Let’s open it up.

Photos by Larry Dunn