My husband, Jim, and I decided to downsize two years ago from our large suburban home in Blue Bell. He was turning 73 years old and I was only a year younger. We looked at several options. One of them was Tel Hai retirement community in Honey Brook. Our oldest son, Carl, and his family had lived in nearby Downingtown for over 25 years.
Our daughter-in-law, Betsy, had worked as a speech therapist at Tel Hai for several years. She toured Tel Hai with us, and informed us that two of her relatives had lived there earlier. She advised us to move there. Carl was even more excited.
Over the span of the next two years, we had multiple meetings with the staff of the retirement community and attended special events like a merchant fair, a Christmas bazaar and a summer picnic.
Our feelings, of course, were ambivalent. We were scared. It’s very hard to change your life abruptly after 41 years in the same house. We hated to leave our friends — we had sung in a nearby church choir for over 35 years. We soon clung to Carl and Betsy for dear life, calling endlessly about where we could find an eye doctor or dentist. We went with them and their three daughters to tour the Dutch Country, eating at Shady Maple and visiting antique shops along the way.
Gradually, we were increasingly adjusted to the idea of moving to Tel Hai. The countryside looked just like the German farms my husband had grown up on in Wisconsin. I liked the idea of living in a small community where it was easier to make new friends.
Jim and I are both only children with deceased parents, so living near our son and his family answered the need for some relatives nearby. On top of that, the Tel Hai retirement community is tailor made for the care of the elderly — skilled nursing care two restaurants, a medical lab a chapel, two libraries, a small convenience store, a beauty/barber shop, a fitness room, two swimming pools and a closed-circuit TV station. Countless volunteer groups gave the promise of making new friends.
Suddenly our plans were put on hold for a while. The phenomenon of the COVID-19 epidemic sent shock waves through our lives. We were unhappily shut in with stay-at-home orders in our old house for months. Like everyone else, we had no recourse to anything. We learned to cut our own hair, scrounge through three stores to find toilet paper and eat zucchini from our garden, since there was no pasta on the store shelves. Tel Hai was under quarantine. No one went in or out unless it was an emergency. Finally, things got better. The moving coordinator informed us that we had made it to the top of the waiting list and were actually moving to Tel Hai.
We put our house up for sale at a time when prospective buyers were legion: Everyone wanted a suburban house with a big yard for children stuck at home with a closed school, an extra bedroom for a home office and a sensible price. We sold the house in three days.
Of course, the move was not without peril. A deer ate half the garden. Hurricane Isaias hit the day the movers loaded the van with our furniture. The basement flooded. Carl couldn’t drive over to help us because a bridge over the river was closed. Our second son, Ed, was trapped at his condo in Yardley. The third son, Griffin, had planned to fly out from Los Angeles, but all flights were quarantined.
We sat for three hours in the old, empty house, with only a discarded sofa, a cooler with a little food, a half-broken lamp and a radio alarm clock broadcasting emergency information on KYW.
Nevertheless, faith can move mountains. The helpful staff at Tel Hai, with a chart we had left them, arranged all the furniture that the movers had cleverly delivered by detouring through Lancaster to find an open bridge. Carl showed up at the Downingtown end, spending two days unloading the 54 moving boxes we had.
Congratulations cards and emails poured in from old friends. Meals were delivered to the room from the downstairs restaurant. Family showed up with flowers and cake.
It is only now, with the two shots of the Moderna vaccine under our belts from the in-house clinic that we are meeting more of our fellow residents. The ukulele band we joined has just put on a show from the closed-circuit TV station here. The community garden club has Jim planting tomatoes, peppers and onions. We have overcome our fears and bravely moved onto a new life of retirement.
The author lives in Honey Brook.
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