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A Moving Experience

No Guarantee You Will Land in the Right Place

Psychologists list it among the most traumatic things we do as human beings, and I can believe it. I also believe that it gets harder as we grow older. Whether you call it pulling up stakes, relocating, moving on, or as my teenaged daughter used to say, "being uprooted," it can be painful.

Of course it's hard on kids, moving to a new community, a new town, and a new school. It means giving up friends they may have known for years and making new ones in a different place. It can be both sad and terrifying. I know. I spent the eighth grade in three different schools in three different states. Even so, my experience pales in comparison to football legend Frank Gifford, the son of an oilfield worker, whose 47 moves before entering high school has to be something of a record. Not surprisingly, the young Frank rarely made friends and didn't do well in any one school. He says in his autobiography that he "even failed wood shop."

Time was, people lived and died in the same house where they were born. Does anybody do that today? Up until my latest move, I had never lived anywhere more than seven years, and usually less. It wasn't always my choice. A wife, in my day, went wherever her husband and his job took them. In some ways it was easier back then. Someone else made the decisions about where we went, and where we lived. Now I have to make my own decisions, and there is no guarantee that I will land in the right place.

Case in point: I recently moved to one of those Over-55 gated communities like those I once swore to avoid at all costs in the twilight of my years. It's a fairly recent concept, developed sometime in the middle of the last century. Before that the choice for aged parents when they could no longer live on their own was either an Old Folks' Home or moving in with married sons and daughters. In those days it was not uncommon for families to consist of two or three generations living under the same roof. In the house where I grew up there were four generations of us from time to time.

But I have strayed from my original point, which is that moving––at any stage of life, but perhaps more so for the young and the old––is traumatic. The young are not usually given a choice. As in the case of Frank Gifford, they go where their parents can make a living. On the other hand, and at the other end of the age spectrum, why do older folks choose to relocate? It often means a painful parting from old friends and neighbors, not to mention disposing of decades of accumulated treasures, which we now call "downsizing," to fit a smaller place. There are many reasons for braving the trauma of moving before we get any older, but generally it's because we feel vulnerable, less able physically or mentally to live as independent adults. Above all, we want to feel secure. We don't want to be a burden on our children (and some of us couldn't, even if we wanted to), so we band together in Over-55 communities, where help is instantly available and private security guards patrol the gates.

To be sure, it's a far cry from the Old Folks' Home of yesterday. There are clubs and social activities, as well as sports, and newcomers are encouraged to make friends with their neighbors by participating. Pool has always been my game, so I've joined the Billiards Club. Maybe not as intellectually stimulating as the Book Club or the Writers' Group, but fun and challenging, all the same.

Is it my imagination, or are the twilight years beginning to glow a little brighter?