Middlebury, Vt.

Life in the middle of Vermont.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Communal Boomer Retirement

It doesn't seem all that long ago that we were college freshman.

On a Friday night in September of 1970, the four of us trooped down to Mister Up’s for a big dinner out. We were full of excitement about what our new college adventure would bring.

The restaurant had a salad bar -- the first one I’d ever seen -- and I felt very adult and politically aware when I ordered a bottle of Almaden wine. It was a time when 18-year-olds could legally drink, and we were boycotting Gallo in support of striking California grape pickers.

I remember being amazed that Mister Ups was charging the enormous sum of one dollar for a dessert. We all agreed that was way too much.

Forty years later almost to the day, the same four of us were sitting around the dinner table last Saturday night, at the Washington, D.C. residence of one of the four.

But this time instead of talking about the freshman year that had just begun, we were talking about our retirement plans.

When you're a young adult making your way in the world, older people tell you that it all goes by so fast.

You nod your head as if you know just what they mean. But really you don't.

Then one day you wake up, you're pushing 60, and you start thinking about where and how you will live when you get old and retire.

With the same four of us around the dinner table last weekend (plus a fifth in the form of a simpatico spouse), we counted ourselves as being very lucky -- both that we could gather together frequently and in good health, and that, we decided, we would like to live together when we retire.

There seems to be little consensus on what the next 30 or 40 years will look like for Baby Boomers in what the Social Security Administration has called "America's silver tsunami." But there is widespread agreement that as with so many other things, we Boomers will reshape retirement, both where and how we live.

Because our fivesome’s fantasy includes living in Vermont, I’ve begun to look around at the local options.

We are, for example, seeing the emergence of continuing-care retirement communities.

The Lodge at Otter Creek describes itself as “an all-inclusive adult community in a resort like setting. Every amenity awaits you, from the putting green to the swimming pool to the hair salon. There’s exquisite dining, the café, the fitness center, the library, the luxurious community rooms and concierge who will assist you with anything you desire.”

The vision for Eastview at Middlebury goes like this: "Here, in this cherished corner of New England, residents will enjoy a beautiful setting within a vibrant community. With 30 acres of lawns, gardens and woods, Eastview offers charming one-story cottages as well as independent and residential-care apartments within the handsome Inn at Eastview."

Extended Family, newly available in Addison County, offers a different model: "We help people age on their terms by offering premium services that promote independence, good health, and engagement in life."

But it’s not a community like Eastview or the Lodge at Otter Creek that the five of us contemplated as we sat around the dinner table last weekend.

Call us naïve, but our vision is a collection of houses in the country near a college town, with clustered homes balanced by a modicum of privacy. We might draw on a cohousing model with private living quarters and shared common areas. There would be room for visiting kids and grandkids and, as we aged, perhaps free housing for a caretaker and/or nurse to assist us in our dotage.

What we basically want to do is gather those to whom we are closest, and circle the wagons.

There might well be a need for something like the services that Extended Family offers. But there is no room in our vision for retiring to Florida to play golf and bridge with people we don't know.

Perhaps ours is just an unachievable dream. But having made it 40 years together as close friends, we figure we've got a good shot as anybody at achieving our communal vision for retirement and old age.

Besides, we just happen to know of a nice little college town.

And we'd like to think we could go back to Mister Up’s, 70 years after our first year at college, have a bottle of tasty Vermont wine, sample the localvore salad bar -- and shake our heads at the high price of dessert.

Because we remember back when it cost just a buck.

* * *

A couple corrections and a clarification.

Several weeks ago I described those round white rolls of plastic on dairy farms as containing manure. I’m told that in fact they hold silage, also known as balage or round bale silage. So much for my dairy expertise.

In my last column I said that it was the county Democratic Committee that chose Paul Ralston over Amy Sheldon as Middlebury’s new Democratic nominee for the House of Representatives. In fact, as Michael and Judy Olinick noted in a letter to the editor that appeared in last Thursday’s paper, it was the town committee.

To clarify another point: The Olinicks disputed my statement that some observers had suggested Sheldon did not get the nod because she had mounted a write-in campaign against incumbent Harold Giard. My sources for the “observers” comment were two prominent local Democrats. But neither of those knowledgeable observers was in the room when the town committee made its decision. I’m assured by a friend who is a member of the town committee that the committee had nothing but praise for Sheldon’s efforts.

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