I used to come up here to garage sales. I’d park for a while and walk my late dog Ginger. The homes are all manufactured, but tidy and trim with a variety of designs and a plethora of landscaping styles, from clearly professional to downright tacky. There was imagination in the neighborhood, and leisure to work in the gardens. The breezy air was clean, scented with a combination of the forest behind and ocean below.
My mother used to say that the Kancamagus Trail in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in autumn was her idea of what heaven looked like. Mine is here on the Pacific Coast, right where I live. I am fortunate beyond imagination.
The building where I grew up in Queens had 96 apartments. At least two-thirds housed oldsters. I was taught to be respectful and helpful. They liked me; I wasn’t a roughneck like some of the other kids. For my part, I was more comfortable with them than I was with most of the children in the building. Some old people were grouchy around youngsters, but some were kind, generous and inclusive. One couple brought me exotic dolls from their travels. Others simply spoke to this serious, unsmiling little kid without being patronizing.
Now I’m perched on this hill with people in the same age range as my early pals, but I’m one of them. The neighbors west of us, Alaskans, are even younger than me. We look over their pretty garden at the ocean from our living room. They’ve helped with our yard, which ceaselessly sprouts weeds through the plastic sheeting and lava rock our Texan sellers left. The neighbor to the east is a gruff wheeler/dealer who lives elsewhere and calls this house his albatross. It’s hard to get a loan these days on a manufactured home, as we found out, and for sale signs abound.
Many residents walk dogs. I always carry treats in my pocket. It’s pretty easy to meet folks that way. Gretchen, Bijou, Rowdy, Mason and Max — I remember the dogs’ names, but their people? Forget it. Which is okay up here on Old Folks Hill, because my neighbors are even less likely to remember mine. We all joke about it in a comradely self-deprecating way. We’re growing old together, witnessing the pleasures and, well, less pleasant aspects of aging.
At the the Fourth of July indoor picnic, we stood on the food line behind a caravan of walkers. A retired longshoreman and his guide dog shared our table. Another gentleman repeatedly tells us how his sweet miniature dachshund has been taking care of him since his wife died. One evening, we heard all sorts of sirens come up the hill. It turned out that the hermit a couple of streets east had been dead for five days. The responders went in wearing Hazmat suits. There have been a number of estate sales since we moved in — the resident turnover here is kind of high.
On the brighter side, today we met an 88-year-old woman whose grandfather, a pioneer politician, had a main thoroughfare in town named for him. A couple of weeks ago, we met a woman just turning 90, pretty deaf, and full of all sorts of stories. I often see a lively resident, nicknamed Walker, with her customary plastic rain bonnet and pull-along shopping basket, hiking around town and taking our hill at a good pace — she’s in her nineties.
Then there are the young people: a couple in their sixties who started a woo-woo spiritual group at the neighborhood clubhouse; a new resident involved in creating a nearby spiritual retreat; another who was raised by hippies in an early commune. Wow. These are my peers. This is the Sixties generation. They were the Rolling Stones fans and the Vietnam soldiers and the housewives-turned-feminists. So this is what we look like all grown up; this is who we’ve become.
One group plays Mahjong weekly, another does needlework. There’s a computer club, a pool and a pool table. We have our own landfill and recycling bins. Bumper stickers include “Coexist” and “Army.” Those of us who are able, can walk to the beach.
We seem to be the only gay people here so far, but Old Folks Hill is our heaven on earth. And, as far as we can tell, our relatively recent gay wedding hasn’t destroyed any of the venerable marriages around us.