Palm Beach. Palm Springs. Scottsdale. Santa Fe. Anywhere in California. Or, to be honest, anywhere but here. This is a game I’ve been playing with my husband for years.
Each year, magazines rank cities based on their appeal as potential retirement communities. Some have mountains. Some overlook oceans. All promise sun, golf, warmth and miles of trails into the abyss of future indeterminate happiness.
But until a major family event this week, I hadn’t realized that I have been overlooking the most obvious retirement location option. I’ll call it the Dorothy Gale backyard epiphany. That’s right. I think my perfect spot is in my own backyard.
Those of you who know me well are shaking your heads, yelling at your computer screens, and calling me names I refuse to type. True, I am happiest on a beach where the temperature fluctuates somewhere between 82 and 82.5, a soft breeze blows and the taste of salt water is in the air… but… and this is hard for me to admit… I can fly there and get my fix when I need it. This week, I realized that what is more important than those moments on the beach is the community that surrounds you the other 99 percent of the time.
My father-in-law, Aaron Brint, died this week at the age of 88. Aaron lived in Philadelphia for 78 years. For most of his adult life, he had the same group of friends and ate at the same restaurants and played the same card games. He was married to his wife, Annabelle, for 50 years. Aaron practiced law in his own law office without a secretary or even an assistant. He was an uncomplicated man who was content with his life and proud of his wife and two sons. He never daydreamed about life in the Sunbelt or a condo on the 18th hole.
Ten years ago, after Annabelle died, Aaron made the decision to move to be closer to his children and grandchildren. He left his home, his business and his friends in Philly, and moved to Highland Park. He started over at the age of 78. This took a kind of courage I cannot imagine.
As a resident of Sunset Woods Condominiums, Aaron found not only a home that was built on a beautiful park where he could watch ballgames and take walks, but more importantly, he found a community of welcoming new friends. At Sunset Woods, Aaron took part in the Men’s Club, movie nights, barbecues and with a bit of nudging, some condo meetings. He delivered the newspapers every morning and developed many friendships.
If Sunset Woods was the right arm of the Highland Park’s welcome embrace, the was the left arm. My daughter Karly calculated that during the past ten years that Aaron lived in Highland Park, he had most likely been to the Senior Center 1,040 times. It truly became his home away from home away from home. It was there that Aaron found worthy bridge partners and opponents. And it was there that he also found an even broader circle of friends. These friends called our home when he was ill. They came to the house to pick him up when Aaron could no longer drive. And they all wept with us, the Sunset Woods friends included, when he died.
We can ask no more of a retirement community than this. Our community embraced a newcomer at the age of 78. Our community provided an affordable place to live and a place for our seniors to find friends and to recreate. We are grateful to all of Aaron’s friends for being so kind and caring. And we are so very thankful to everyone at the Highland Park Senior Center.
I confess I still look at all the “Top Retirement Spots” like they’re some form of addiction. I’ve been known to drool a little bit over the photos of easy living in Charleston, or coastal castles in Montecito. I’d be lying if I said that, come next February, I didn’t feel the need bordering on the psychotic for a beach and a suntan.
But I stand resolved. The next time Forbes lists the top ten retirement cities in the United States, Highland Park should be right next to Jackson Hole and Santa Barbara as retirement havens.
Dorothy was right. There’s no place like home.