Anacortes is a lovely little town on the shores of Puget Sound in Washington State. It looks like the kind of place where, depending on your viewpoint, either nothing ever happens or dark secrets lurk beneath the placid façade. My sister has lived in Anacortes for many years, recently retiring from the Public Library, a perfect perch to hear the old-fashioned kind of tweets of town gossip. She seems to know everyone in town and they know her, at least the ones who frequent the library. She is sometimes greeted by adults who remember her reading stories to them when they were children.
My sister and I have had a bit of a contentious relationship over the years, but recently we’ve found common ground in complaining about our ailments and the various woes of aging. We’ve laughed that we are now little old biddies, for some reason a favorite phrase to describe elderly ladies in our youth. And back then we probably applied it to women barely in their fifties. Now in our mid to late sixties we are not quite ready to enter old biddy-hood ourselves. When it comes to competition between sisters she can certainly outdo me in the medical challenges of aging for she has had multiple joints replaced with bionic parts. Recuperation from these surgeries has taken her into a world we may all end up in one day, the dreaded Senior Living Facility.
Back in England we used to call the elderly Old Aged Pensioners who lived in Old Folk’s Homes. Now no doubt England too has some new-fangled terminology, but I prefer the blunt old language to the modern euphemisms. One particular peeve is a current ad for a Senior Living Facility featuring an elderly man boasting, “I’m not a senior, I’m an adventurer.” But, as my sister discovered, perhaps that is closer to the truth than I imagined. My sister is a widow who lives alone in an isolated house in the woods that, though an architectural gem designed and built by her husband, is not at all disability-friendly. So some years ago after hip replacement surgery she moved into a retirement home in town for the initial several weeks of her recovery. She quite enjoyed herself! Women outnumber men in the Senior Living generation but, at more than a decade younger than the average resident, she was soon surrounded by admiring men. The elderly gents vied to sit with her in the dining room while the old biddies threw jealous looks her way. It was all very chaste and decorous and added some welcome intrigue to what could have been a depressing time.
Will her new senior adventure be as innocent? To recuperate from her latest surgery my sister chose the one other option in town. It turns out that the two Senior Living Facilities have quite different reputations. The first is known to be rather staid, as my sister experienced, while this one has a kind of “swinging seniors” vibe. Not surprising really that such places should exist when you consider that many of today’s seniors are the “Summer of Love” generation, the original “make love not war” hippies. Why should they change in the twilight of their lives? Apparently this facility recognizes that reality for they even hold classes on Safe Sex for Seniors.
As my sister sat in the lobby waiting for her appointment she overheard an extraordinary conversation. A couple of elderly residents asked to speak with the Director. For some reason he came out into the lobby rather than invite them into his office so my sister heard everything. “We want to shack up together,” said the man. “I want to move into her room because we’re a couple now.” The Director made some noncommittal noises probably as aghast at the bluntness of the request as my sister was, but then it got worse. The man launched into an exited discussion of how much money he was going to save in the new arrangement. It is important to note that the woman herself spoke not a word. As my sister recounted this story to me over the phone we both expressed hope that the Director would follow up with a private interview with the woman. Was she really on board with this decision, was she even competent to make the decision, or was she being used by an elderly Lothario only interested in saving a few bucks?
When my sister moves in I expect a full report. I’ve begun to think of her as a kind of Miss Marple, that archetype of the old biddy, a keen observer of the devious goings-on in her world. And who knows? With sex rampant among the seniors can murder be far behind?