We're buying a house and moving to Pennsylvania in a couple of months. But meanwhile, we're living in a condominium in Connecticut. The complex has a pool and a gym, and we can walk to town. It is not an age-restricted complex. But the woman in the building next to me is a widow well into her 80s. She walks slowly, with a cane, but lives independently (although her son comes to visit her regularly), and she clearly has a strong backbone.
Still, I'm glad that not everyone here is a senior citizen. Sure, more than a few of us are collecting Social Security. But there are middle-age couples and even a few kids around -- not many, but enough so the school bus stops at the entrance to the main road. The majority of the population consists of single men and women. My building has four units. The two upstairs are inhabited by single men who are hardly ever here. Ben lives next door. He's a little older than I am. He works a couple of hours a day at the deli and also volunteers for the town's fire and rescue operation.
One aspect of living in a condo is that there are a lot of rules. When B and I moved in last summer we noticed there was a window box full of flowers on the front of the building next door. This inspired B to put a hanging flower basket outside our door. But a few days later we got a notice informing us we were prohibited from placing any personal items outside our unit. It had to go, or there would be a fine.
A few days later we saw Ben outside our building and we started talking to him. He was telling us that the old woman in the next building -- the one with the window box -- likes to take care of the rosebush out front. She wasn't supposed to. We have groundskeepers who take care of that. But this woman has adopted the plant, and nobody seems to have confronted her about it, and so she fertilizes the plant and trims it back on her own schedule.
As we were talking the woman came outside, walking slowly and using her cane. She evidently knew Ben and so she came up and started talking. Ben introduced us as the woman fussed over a couple of flowers. After a little while I felt comfortable enough to tell her we'd tried to put a hanging basket outside our unit, but we were told to take it away. How was she able to keep her window box?
She looked at me. "Oh, those people in the management office. They keep telling me to take it down, but I just ignore them."
I don't know if the woman gets away with it because she's feisty and determined, or if management leaves her alone because she's old and alone and they feel sorry for her. Or maybe they just don't want to confront a sympathetic older woman (unlike United Airlines that belatedly regrets confronting its passenger).
Anyway, the other day B sent me out to the laundry room in the basement of the building next door to switch the clothes from the washer to the dryer. On the way I saw Ben and the woman standing there and studying the rosebush. "Do you know anything about roses?" the woman asked me.
"No, not at all," I confessed.
She was fingering the tips of the branches, which looked to me like they had old buds on them. She was wondering if the late cold snap had done any damage, and she and Ben were discussing what should be done. Then she poked her cane at some lower branches. "These are dead. They should be cut off." She paused. "I don't know if I can bend over far enough to get at them."
I continued inside, changed the laundry, and when I came back out Ben had disappeared. The old woman was walking in. She stepped up the one step to the little front porch and faltered. She reached out her hand, and I held it to support her. She struggled up the step and turned to go in the doorway. I held the door for her and she negotiated one more step into the hallway.
Then she turned. She looked at me and smiled a knowing smile. "Never get old," she said.
I didn't know how to respond; just made some innocuous comment. But as I walked back to my unit, I realized ... I admired her.