A Place called Canterbury is a humorous and sometimes touching, meditation on how today's elderly live.
When his mother moved to a Tampa Bay Life Care Retirement Community, Canterbury Tower, Dudley Clendinen got an up close and very personal look at retirement and old age in America.
The average age of the Canterbury Tower resident is 86, The same age as my mother is now. I used to think that 86 was ancient. I could barely imagine anyone living that long. These days, not only can I imagine it, I am watching a whole generation of my family living into their 80s and 90s.
My mother at 86 has barely slowed down. She has a more active social life than I do. My Dad's oldest sister is 90+ and (except for her hearing) is going strong. Based on my heredity I am going to be around for a very long time. It is fair to say that for me A Place Called Canterbury is both an inspiration and a cautionary tale.
Let's face it. Stories about old people have a predictable ending. Too often they are by turns depressing or maudlin. A Place Called Canterbury is anything but. There are poignant stories that made me tear up. There are stories that made me laugh out loud. There are stories that made me think. There were stories that put me to sleep. In the end these tales are not so much a chronicle of old age but a celebration of what it means to be human.
Canterbury Towers, as described by Clendinen, is full of fascinating characters who refuse grow old. They are committed to living life to its fullest; they forget things, they tell funny stories, they snack after sex, they drink martinis and have wonderful social debates. Clendinen reports it all.
He says that in writing this book he "set out to be diarist and chronicler." He did his job well. His Mother, if she could read this book, would be proud.
You probably do not want to read this book on an empty stomach -- all the descriptions of food will send you to the freezer for ice cream. And as I read, I couldn't help but think of my Dad who used to say -- "The best thing about old age is that it beats the alternative. "
This book is certainly not everyone's cup of tea. It is only recommended for anyone who is aging or has an aging Mother.
OK -- here is what the publisher says:
In 1994 New York Times writer Dudley Clendinen's mother-a Southern matron of iron will but creaking bones-sold her house and moved to Canterbury Tower, a geriatric apartment building with full services and a nursing wing in Tampa Bay.
There she landed in a microcosm of the New Old Age. Canterbury was filled not just with old Tampa neighbors but also with strangers from across the country. Wealthy, middle class, or barely afloat; Christian, Jewish, or faithless; proud, widowed, or still married; grumpy or dear-they had all come together, at the average age of eighty-six, in search of a last place to live and die.
A Place Called Canterbury is a beautifully written, often hilarious, deeply moving look at how the oldest Americans are living with the reality of living longer. Peopled by brave, daffy, memorable characters determined to grow old with dignity-and to help one another avoid the dreaded nursing wing-A Place Called Canterbury is a kind of soap opera.
Likewise, it is a poignant chronicle of the last years of the Greatest Generation and their children, the Boomers, as they are drawn into old age with their parents. A Place Called Canterbury is an essential read for anyone with aging parents and anyone wondering what their own old age will look like.