Some questions cannot be avoided
Late-life Second Chances are bound to include decisions about where the newlyweds will live…especially if each of them presently lives with a child or sibling.
Those “Where will we live?” questions become even more complicated when one of them is prepared to offer an new, very different option……one that is bound to test his new mate’s trust.
Such an important choice to make so early in the game.
Today’s October Years serialization, Chapter 3 of Long Way Home, continues our excursion into the sometimes daunting world of late-life relationships.
Sarah Cummins had left and the Harris home was quiet again. While Gary napped in his recliner, Claudia was stretched out on the couch with her eyes closed. Yet, try as she might to relax, her mind was churning with replays of Sarah’s blunt warning. How could she, as his new wife, help protect Gary from his particular vulnerability? In a matter of minutes those disturbing questions were enough to trigger other concerns.
Gary would be seventy in just a few days. She was nearly sixty-nine. Inevitably there would come a time, maybe sooner than later, when one or both of them would come face to face with a serious health problem. Perhaps it would be the effects of his concussions, or maybe her own high blood pressure. Whatever the reason, whatever the test, there would be no hiding from the medical setbacks that everyone dreaded.
“You’re having a hard time getting some rest, aren’t you?”
Gary’s unexpected question startled her. She had supposed he was asleep. Instead he rocked forward in his recliner and pushed himself to his feet. “Maybe it would help if I sat with you.” On the sofa she raised up enough for him to sit down, then rested her head in his lap.
“What has you so wound up?”
“I was thinking of what Sarah said about your concussions.” In fact Claudia’s concerns had taken her beyond that. But how to say it? “I guess that’s part of being married, isn’t it. I just hadn’t thought about it before. I suppose I didn’t want to.”
“What are you talking about?”
“About one of us, either one of us, getting hurt or sick. Those things happen all the time, especially to old folks like us.”
“Of course they do. But what does that have to do with being married? All that is part of life---whether you’re young or old, married or single. You can’t hide from those things.”
“I know. But for years I’ve only had to think about keeping myself healthy---hoping nothing like that happened to me. Now there are two of us to be looking after. That’s different.”
A troubled little smile came to Claudia's lips. “When I was young I never thought about that. It seemed so far away. I guess I thought I’d live forever.”
Gary laughed at that. “I can remember those days---thinking that nothing could stop me. Like I was invulnerable. Heck, after a few beers, I was probably working on immortal. That’s just a part of being young and feisty, isn’t it?”
“But now you’re old, just like me. And neither of us is quite so feisty.”
“Not so fast,” he protested. “I’m as feisty as ever. At least I am once I get going. It just takes me a little longer to get up to speed. That’s all. Though on second thought, it probably takes a lot longer.”
Finally they were quiet, each of them tracking off to where those new questions led them---mulling. ideas and possibilities they had never faced together. After a few minutes Gary looked down into her face, brushing his fingertips lightly over her lips.
Opening her eyes, Claudia asked, “Does it bother you at all? Knowing that getting old, I mean really old, is getting closer all the time?”
“It does feel like it’s gaining on us, doesn’t it? Some days more than others. But don’t be giving up just yet. Seventy’s not really so old these days. We’ve got a lot of good years left. I just have to work at not getting banged around anymore.”
“I hope you’re right. Still, it will catch up with us sometime, no matter how careful we are.” Her voice trailed off before she could finish her thought.
Gary nodded his understanding. “Yeah, it’s out there. That’s the way it is. But think about it for a minute. We agree that we’re bound to hit a rough patch some day---no matter what we do.
“So the question is, would you rather deal with that all by yourself? Or would it be better to have someone there with you---a special someone who cares about you, who can make it easier? Seems to me that’s the question. And if you decide that you want to have someone along for the ride, I'd like to be that someone?
“Once we've sorted that out,” he added, “It's on to the next question. We can sit back and wait for something bad to happen, or we can concentrate on finding better ways to spend that time. If that’s the choice, I’ll be voting for us to get out and live a little---together.” He was smiling at the thought of that. Five minutes later they were both asleep.
The wedding plans were taking shape. They had set a date---Saturday, November 12th. Claudia’s church in Lawrence had been reserved and her pastor had agreed to perform the ceremony. A modest list of two dozen family and friends would be invited.
Clint was having dinner at Elly’s and Gary had already convinced Claudia that he was ready for a restaurant meal. In truth, he was feeling housebound, ready for a slow-paced return to the real world. Besides Claudia deserved a break from cooking.
But first it was time to address an important topic they had talked all around, but never faced head on. By then there was no dodging something so central to the merging of their two lives into one. The proposition had been on Gary’s mind for days---as he shaped it into a finished, hopefully convincing form. Now it was time for her to hear what he had in mind.
The television travelogue had ended. Gary clicked off the TV and pushed himself out of his recliner. Claudia looked over from the sofa, wondering what he was about. It was too early for dinner. What was he up to? A moment later he sat down beside her and reached for her hand.
“I need some advice,” he began with as much seriousness as he could muster. “Some logistical help.”
“What are you talking about?”
“It’s about space---living space. Could you give me some idea how big your room is at Barbara’s?”
“My room? Heavens, I don’t know.” She had never considered its size. It was big enough. What else mattered? “I suppose it’s not quite as big as your room down the hall.”
“You think my room is bigger than yours?”
Claudia nodded, trying to imagine where his strange questions were leading.
“I’ve never been in your room.” Gary appeared lost in thought, deep in his mental calculations. “So I’ll take your word for that.”
He paused, as if preparing to make a major pronouncement. “I suppose that means we’ll want to live in my room---since it’s the biggest.”
If Claudia had been only half listening to that point he suddenly had her full attention. “We’ll live in your room? Is that what you’re saying?”
“Yeah. That's what I’m talking about, where we’re going to live. The two of us. We’ll be married. We need a place where we can live together.”
“In your room? That’s silly. How could we do that?”
“Look, my dear. Between the two of us, we own how many homes?” he asked through his quiet grin. “Absolutely none. Right? You live with your daughter. I live with my brother. But now, as a caring husband, I’d like us to have the roomiest accommodations possible. And it sounds as though my room comes closer to that than yours.”
“Gary Harris,” she laughed. “Your room’s not big enough. Besides, there’s only one bathroom in the whole house. How could that ever work?”
“Are you saying I haven’t found the best answer?”
“I was hoping we could do better than a dinky room and a shared bathroom.”
“Oh my. Does that mean you’d be willing to entertain other possibilities?” Had he found a way to make his idea sound like a step up, an improvement on their other options?
By then Claudia could tell that he was up to something. Her raised eyebrow grin was confirming that much. “Tell me, just what ‘other possibilities’ do you have in mind? Or do I dare ask?”
“That’s a fine way to talk," Gary replied. "Here I am, prepared to increase our living space, not to mention our privacy---to improve our lifestyle in every way. All that and you’re making fun of it before you’ve even heard what I'm talking about.”
“Come on, tell me more.” She drew her legs under her. Leaning against his shoulder she seemed to be enjoying his playful game. “What is this great idea of yours?”
“What is it? What it is, first of all, is something very selfish. Something I’ve thought about for a long time. But I never could convince Christy it was a good idea.” He tensed at the mention of his first wife’s name, hoping it would not put Claudia off.
“So, what is it?” she asked ignoring the reference to Christy.
“It’s a motor home. You know, a house on wheels. The kind you see all over the place.”
“You mean a vacation trailer?”
“It’s not a trailer, not something you pull along behind you. It’s more like a truck with a house on the back.”
Claudia made no effort to hide her skepticism. “That would be our home? We would live in it, on the back of a truck?”
“Not exactly on the back of a truck. But yes we would live in it. Wherever we stopped would be home.”
Pushing herself off the couch, she walked to the front window. The rain had stopped, though the sky was still gray and threatening. “I guess I’d never thought of that,” she admitted. “I wonder if it would really feel like home.”
“Where is ‘home’ now?” Gary asked. Could he make his point without sounding too pushy? “It’s one room in someone else’s house. Is that your idea of home?”
“It’s not the room that makes it home, silly. It’s the people. It’s the family---it’s Barbara and Connie.”
“Are they moving in with us?” he teased. “Is that what it would take to make our new place feel like home?”
Her frustration was showing. Was he listening at all? “I’m just saying that it’s the people who live there that make anyplace a home. Family makes a house a home. It’s not about the room or the house.”
He joined her at the window with an arm around her shoulder. “You're exactly right. We agree on that. It’s the people who make it a home. And those people will be you and me.”
Pulling back the thin curtain he watched a squirrel scamper across the lawn. “Look, I’ll be the first to admit that my motor home idea is kind of far out. It’s just something that’s always intrigued me.”
Claudia jabbed her elbow in his side. “Well, it’s not the first ‘far out’ notion you’ve ever had. Who knows, maybe it’s even a good one.”
“Would you be willing to go exploring with me. Maybe look at a motor home or two to see what a home on wheels feels like?”
On tip toes she reached up to kiss him. “You are so persuasive when you turn on the charm,” she joked. “How could I say no?”
It was a tired and shaky Gary Harris who climbed the back steps of the Harris home the next afternoon. His first extended outing since coming home from the hospital had included stops at three recreational vehicle dealerships. With Claudia he had spent a couple hours climbing into and out of a dozen or more motor homes, while gathering an impressive stack of colorful brochures. Now she was at his elbow, guiding him through the utility room into the kitchen.
At the counter Clint and Elly set aside their birthday-dinner preparations to hear a report on the couple’s afternoon. “Looks like you must have seen everything in town,” Clint observed as he leafed through the pile of sales literature. “What do you think, Claudia? Is motor home life apt to be your cup of tea?”
“It’s all so confusing.” At the kitchen table Claudia was sitting beside Gary, feeling the effects of their long afternoon. “They talked about so many things I’ve never heard of.”
“What kind of things.” Elly asked. Clint had told her of Gary’s unorthodox dream. Now, looking through the glossy brochures, she was having a hard time imagining that those confining metal boxes could be anyone’s idea of home.
“Well, let’s see.” Claudia paused to assemble a mental checklist of largely meaningless terms. “I heard about diesel pushers, slide outs, black water, gray water, awnings, and I don’t know what else. It’s hard to believe that anyone could keep it all straight.”
Clint looked over to Gary. “You must have seen a bunch of them. Is there anything interesting out there? Does it look feasible at all?”
Gary’s initial reaction was limited to a soft, nervous laugh.....reminding himself that he must guard against assuming that his decision was their decision.
“Oh yeah.” he nodded. “We saw some nice units. As you’d expect the sales guys were pushing the new models. But the best deals are the used ones. If it’s something we decide to do, we’d be able to afford a decent motor home.”
“If?” Clint was shaking his head. “What’s with the ‘if’?”
Resting his hand on Claudia’s arm Gary explained, “Today was about letting her see what a motor home looks like---how they feel. You know, is it a place she’d be willing to call home?”
“They’re so tiny,” Elly offered as she studied the photos of an upscale brand. “They try to make them look spacious in the pictures. But you can tell they’re really cramped, with so little room. Where would you put everything?”
“That’s true,” Claudia agreed. “They are small. But then Gary and I don’t have a lot of stuff. The space we have now isn’t anything like your big old house.”
Her response had Gary smiling to himself. That must be a good sign, he thought, having her defend his dream. “You’re not used to my strange ideas, Elly,” he explained. “But Clint’s been listening to them for years. And during the last few days Claudia has heard the whole pitch.
“The appeal for me,” he continued, “Isn’t how small they are. There’s nothing especially wonderful about living in a cubbyhole. What I like is the freedom they offer, the flexibility. We could see places and do things we’ve only heard about. I can get pumped about that. Especially when I think about us doing it together.”
Elly was nodding as Gary spoke. “I’ve heard how you enjoy your freedom," she said. "Sounds like you picked that up at an early age. I suppose your new bride knows all about that.” She turned to Claudia, looking as though she might be sympathizing with her. “But what about the cost of being free? I’ve read that motor homes get terrible gas mileage. With what gas costs now it might take a fortune to go traveling.”
“It’s sure something to think about," Gary agreed. "The motor home blogs I read on the web claim that folks just aren’t traveling as much as they used to. That’s how they deal with expensive gas.”
He gave Claudia’s hand a squeeze, wanting her to understand those kinds of concerns. “But no matter how you cut it there’s more freedom than being tied to a home in Tanner, or Lawrence, or any place else.”
“And how about your lovely bride-to-be?” Clint asked. “Is she on board for this project?”
“I’m sure she’ll let me know in her own good time. It’s nothing we have to do. We have other choices. We could buy a house or find an apartment. So when she’s ready for us to decide she’ll let me know.”
With that Clint and Elly returned to the counter--Clint to his salad, Elly to her casserole. “If you’ll excuse us,” Elly said. “It would be a shame to have the birthday boy waiting for his special dinner.”
“Don’t I get to say anything?” Claudia interrupted, unwilling to let their conversation end without her input.
“About what?” Gary asked.
“About a motor home. That’s what we’re talking about, isn’t it? It seems like I should get to say something.”
Gary grimaced, realizing that he had left her out of their discussion. “I thought you’d want some time to think about it.”
“I have been thinking about it. And I know what I want to do.”
As Gary straightened up in his chair, Clint and Elly set their work down and inched their way around the counter.
“And?” Gary asked timidly.
The smug certainty in Claudia’s smile was mirrored in her voice. “If we already had a house I’m not sure how I would feel about it. But we don’t. So I think we should try the motor home.
"Let’s find out if your dream really works. At some point, maybe soon, maybe later, we’ll probably be ready to come home. When that time comes we can decide what to do next.”
Gary was not sure what to say. The silly grin would not leave his face. At that moment he could scarcely find the words to thank his brave and trusting lady.
“There is one other thing though. Something that no one else has mentioned.” Claudia was not smiling when she looked up to ask Clint, “You and Gary have lived in the same place your whole lives. How will you feel if he and I go off traveling?”
“It’s very thoughtful of you to be asking,” Clint replied. A second later he was laughing. “You certainly don’t expect me to say I’d miss the guy.” Then, biting his lip, “But I probably would.”
With an arm around Elly’s waist he coaxed her to him. “But I don’t expect to be lonely. Besides, I’ll bet we could find a way for our paths to cross from time to time.”
Gary stood, winking at Claudia. “If I work this right I believe I have time for a quick nap to dream about my birthday dinner---and the best birthday present I can remember. If you’ll excuse me I’ll just shuffle off to my recliner.”
As always, dear reader, if you have friends or family who might enjoy a dose of Geriatric Adolescence I invite you to share our address (octoberyears.blogspot.com) with them. That is the best way I know to spread the word. The blog's right sidebar lists all the earlier chapters, beginning in October with the Second Chances story, so they can always start at the beginning.