Early tomorrow morning, I will board an airplane headed for Portland, Oregon. My goal, over the next three or four days is to find a new home.
Portland, Oregon is what most people think of as a home town; it is the place where I was born almost exactly 69 years ago although, if I had not filled out hundreds of forms in the intervening years requesting the name of my birthplace, I doubt I would attach undue importance to that fact.
Oh, there was family there, now diminished to one brother, but I was always willing to embrace any of the eight other cities I have lived in as home – until life, and I, moved on.
This latest, in Maine, has not worked out for me – one of the larger of my life's mistakes. This city (population 60,000 or so) is too small, too quiet for a woman whose spiritual sense of place will always be New York City, Greenwich Village in particular. I was priced out of it four years ago and, being nothing if not a practical sort, have found some contentment in the memories collected there over 40 years.
(Sometimes I take a mental walk about my New York neighborhood, taking pleasure in all the details of the buildings, businesses, shops and restaurants along with the historical facts I amassed during my time there.)
I don't regret my four years in Portland, Maine. It's been another kind of adventure, but it is time to make a more suitable life now and I am fortunate that even during the housing crisis, my apartment's location, condition and attractiveness made for a quick sale at a price, with careful budgeting, that allows me to make this move.
When I visited Portland, Oregon in 2007, I loved the liveliness in its downtown on a summer evening. It felt like a version of Manhattan. Walking the length of a city block or two, I passed dozens of people – something that doesn't happen walking for a mile or more here. The people and the laughter and the hubbub of conversation spilling out of restaurants and bars energized me.
In contemplating a move to Portland, Oregon over the past couple of years, I found myself drawn to the grandeur of its natural setting that I recall from childhood. The towering Mt. Hood and Mt. St. Helens visible from the city; the denseness of the forests; and the crashing of the Pacific Ocean surf just 90 miles away. (Maybe there is more to the idea of home as one's childhood place than I am giving credit to.)
As emotionally charged as the word “home” is with the ideas of comfort, settledness, refuge, the core of one's daily life, it is the practicalities that have consumed me as I have combed the real estate listings during recent weeks preparing for this move.
Like many elders, my circumstances - thanks to the banksters - are diminished a great deal from when I moved to Portland, Maine four years ago. There is no money this time for built-in bookshelves and new vinyl windows, should my selection need them. So I have concentrated on properties that will need little, if any, work that I can't do myself.
Portland, Oregon is primarily a city of single family homes and there are, in our distressed housing market, many attractive ones to choose from. Most, however, have humongously large yards touted in the listings as a plus. Puh-leeze. I don't intend to spend my remaining years mowing a lawn.
And, because my income is limited, any large repair job – a new roof or heating system, for example – would nearly impoverish me. So I settled on a condominium where such expenses are shared. This reduces the number of choices a great deal. Another consideration is my age and the health issues I may acquire in time, so I eliminated many two-floor apartments and those with a lot of steps to the front door.
Others had to be dropped from consideration because they are short sales – priced lower than the owner's mortgage balance. These, I am well assured, can take six or eight months to close, time I don't have and if I did, I feel uncomfortable benefiting from someone else's despair.
Further, I want to be able to walk to the store. Driving here in Portland, Maine for no more than a forgotten quart of milk or bulb of garlic irritates me every time it happens. And I must consider nearby public transportation should the day arrive when I need to turn in my car keys. Fortunately, Portland, Oregon's transportation system is, relative to its size, nearly as good as New York City's.
So, after hours that probably mount up to a couple of 24-hour days, I have whittled down my choices for this trip to 14 condominiums (condominia?). My real estate agent did drive-bys over the weekend to remove any that, as The Elder Storytelling Place contributor, Nancy Leitz put it to me in an email, are next door to Joe's Python Farm.
It is odd, today, as I look at the printouts of those 14 properties, to know that one will probably become my new home. None of them feels like a place of comfort and refuge right now but I have no doubt, as I always have in the past, that I will make it so.
At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Dani Ferguson: Survivor Island