My husband Jim and I were born in 1946, the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation. Since we are both oldest children in our families, we tend to have one foot in the staid, private '50's generation and the other in the anti-establishment, in-your-face '60's. At 56, we are starting to think about retirement but know we may not be able to afford to actually make that move for another ten years.
Our older friends have made their choices about whether to continue living in the same place or move to a retirement home or community. As we visit them, we get to see the options available and the advantages and disadvantages of each. Some have moved into a smaller home and travel to warmer climates in the winters in travel trailers. Others who have been divorced or widowed have asked a friend to live with them or have gone to live with a friend. Some have bought homes surrounding a golf course and clubhouse.
One friend that I frequently visit lives in an apartment in a retirement home. A three-story wing of the facility has one-bedroom apartments with kitchenettes for retirees; the other wing is a nursing home with single rooms and doors open to the hallways with supervision by the nursing staff. Both wings share the central lobby, sitting rooms, dining room, library and large-screen TV. The wing for independent retirees has laundry rooms and an exercise room. Group activities are arranged, and small buses that accomodate wheel chairs and walkers arrive frequently to pick people up for their doctor appointments and other travel needs. Pets are allowed in the apartments, and the facility is set along a creek in the middle of town with large evergreen and deciduous trees shading a well-maintained lawn bordered by colorful flowers.
There is much to recommend each of these arrangements, and the '50's part of us would be satisfied to make a choice among them when we are finally able to retire. But the '60's Baby Boom part of ourselves says, "Is that all there is?" Do we really want to spend the last 20-30 years of our lives sitting in front of the TV watching CNN and reruns, or learning how to play golf or bridge, or taking trips to sun ourselves in exotic places? Where is the alternative culture option for retirement?
I've imagined a possible retirement home for folks who have spent many years in Twelve-Step recovery groups (see Idea #13 below), but I have yet to see or hear of a hippie-generation retirement home or community. Some aging hippies are buying homes in co-housing communities with others of all ages, but this presumes having plenty of savings and a love for the noise and activity that comes with living with the young at close quarters.
Imagining a counter-culture retirement home or community is certainly relevant at this point in our history and life span. So what might such a facility include? Well, my fantasy would include organic gardens and orchards, bushes and vines to grow the food for the residents, and a large commercial kitchen for meal preparation as well as for canning, drying and freezing produce. Residents would work as much as they liked in the gardens and kitchen, but there would also be professional gardeners and chefs to take up the slack. There would be a large, common dining area with lots of windows to bring the outdoors in.
There would be a large, bright art studio where easels and canvasses could be left in place to be returned to and worked on another day. There would be potters wheels and a kiln for making pottery, and large tables, a loom and sewing machines for fabric art or making clothing. There would be a large dance hall with wood floors where there would be folk dancing and round dancing in the afternoons and early evenings. There would also be yoga and tai chi classes and a multi-faith (Western and Eastern) chapel for prayer and meditation.
There would be a regular schedule of classes and outside speakers on all sorts of topics. Activists would come to give updates on current affairs and would find many helping hands ready to volunteer. Buses would come to take residents to folk and rock concerts and protest marches and rallies.
The residents would live in individual cob cottages, each with a unique design and utilizing recycled wood and doors and windows. I imagine it looking kind of like a hobbit village, but with handicapped-access necessities like wide doorways and sturdy grips near the toilet and tub. Cottages might incude a hot tub or jacuzzi bath or a deep Japanese-style tub. There might be common mineral baths, a steam room and sauna. A place for a masseuse to come in to give massages would be welcome, too.
Both policies and decisions about practical day-to-day administration would be decided by consensus of the residents. Vendors and service providers would be admitted by invitation of the residents only.
Just imagining such a place makes me feel better about the prospect of aging. All our lives the designers and marketers have raced ahead of the Baby Boom generation trying to provide us with whatever we want or need before we even knew we wanted or needed it. However, they may be dropping the ball on the retirement home or community thing. I hope they'll somehow get ahold of this idea and run with it so all of us Baby Boomers can look forward to retiring to a community that makes that '60's part of us feel at home and still able to contribute to the world.
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