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Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Seventies Madness

By Brenton "Sandy" Dickson

Bent over like an angular question mark with my hands on my knees supporting the weight of my upper body, I gingerly moved from room to room. This was insane. I was in excruciating pain. At 73, I should have been reducing my carbon footprint and seeking shelter in a retirement facility, not moving into a large historic home in Salem, Massachusetts.

Several weeks of preparing to move, lifting stuff and consolidating 40 years of accumulated junk in a dumpster had caused a disc in my lower back to clamp down on the sciatic nerve sending sharp pains down my right leg.

Dickson stairs

I inched my way through the front hall marveling at the grand staircase, with its intricately detailed Federalist era balustrades supporting a wide cherry banister. On either side of me were high-ceilinged living rooms, each containing fireplace mantels and moldings carved by Samuel McIntire who built the house for Captain Benjamin Carpenter in 1802. However, stacks of unopened moving cartons detracted from the majesty of the place.

Carpenter had made his fortune transporting cargoes between Salem and the Far East faster than his competitors. A few years following the completion of his residence, he mysteriously lost his wealth. In the 1830’s a new owner gussied up this traditional Federalist into a flashy “Italian revival” with fewer but longer windows, adding a stately dining room on the west side next to a formal garden with adjoining croquet lawn.

To the east lay a graceful driveway leading to a brick, three-stall carriage house. All of this nestled in the midst of what has become one of the better-known antique house districts in America.

Dickson  House

“How could you leave Manchester-by-the-sea and move to the City of Salem?” inquired one of several new neighbors named Betsy (the same name as my wife). I responded that while our old house was smaller, the yard wasn’t and that brush, weeds, and catbrier were encroaching at a pace greater than my ability to stop them.

Furthermore, we had lived there since 1970, and now that we were in our 70s, it was time for a new adventure. We looked forward to not having to drive each time we wanted to do anything, since the house was within easy walking distance of numerous restaurants, museums, historical sites, as well as the railroad station which was 25 minutes from downtown Boston.

I may have failed to mention to her that we sold Manchester for much more than what we paid for Salem. (No doubt the resulting capital gains tax will help to contribute to another Congressional “bridge to nowhere” or perhaps further foreign mischief.)

I had thought that the hard part of moving was packing up and getting out by the predetermined closing deadline, but it suddenly occurred to me that was far from the end of the process. Living out of boxes and trying to find needed items was frustrating to say the least. The movers had done their best to put furniture, etc. in designated locations, but things didn’t always fit the way we thought they would.

My sciatic nerve pain peaked (wouldn’t you know it) during the weekend just before we had to vacate our old house. Laughing uncontrollably, Betsy amused those around us with quips like, “How can I move to Salem with a three foot dwarf?”

As she was about to take me to the emergency room, an acquaintance suggested his chiropractor who, shockingly, was willing to see me on a Sunday morning. He had me partially upright after a half-hour treatment and standing erect at the end of the second day, although I still winced with any sudden movement.

As I am writing this, I am much improved but not completely recovered, and the number of unopened boxes has diminished, but are not completely gone. However, both of us have completely adjusted to Salem.

We just returned from walking downtown, taking in a movie and having a wonderful meal at a recently opened restaurant. Tomorrow, we will attend a cocktail party four blocks away and next week we will stroll to an evening function at the Peabody Essex Museum.

The only thing we are asking ourselves is why didn’t we do this years ago?

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


How exciting! A new home in a different kind of place. I applaud your enthusiasm for life.

Your house is beautiful and I can see why you wanted it. Downsizing a yard is important unless you can afford a good gardener (If you can even find one).

I was in Salem 41 years ago and I remember my husband asking some teenagers where the Witch House was located. They told him to go left at the Cop Box. Having never heard of a cop box, we finally figured out that they were referring to the small structure in the middle of the intersection.

Good for you to undertake this new adventure! It is a lovely house.

LOL! I was expecting some escapade circa 1972. Good for you for putting on a new spin on "Seventies Madness"! Best wishes in your new home; enjoy it thoroughly. Six years after my own move, I still haven't unpacked everything.

What an adventure! I can identify with it because my wife and I moved into our house here in Derby, CT eight years ago when I was a young whippersnapper of 68. We didn't have family nearby on either side of our merged families, so we did it by ourselves. I read somewhere that the three most stressful experiences in life are losing a parent, getting divorced and moving. I can't remember the order they were in but I've experienced all three. When we were moving I was sure it was #1.

Love your writing style, and glad to see you back, Sandy. You are brave, indeed. I am facing a move (last, I hope)in a few years, and will have to rely on my grandson and his husky buddies. Not one of my friends nor I NOR my children have a healthy back anymore.

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