As I approach what usually are considered “The Twilight Years” ( a term having the purpose of avoiding the obvious —- one may not have too much time left!), fleeting thoughts abandon their comfortable cover and begin to surge forward to the uppermost reaches of Ponder.

In my case, I spend much of my waking time trying to decide whether I should be considering leaving my comfortable surroundings for new vistas, or be satisfied with the present. In fact, I’ve made this into a Quest only a bit less showy than the one for the Holy Grail, perhaps only because it lacks some of the spiritual overtones. I’ve always been somewhat of a worrier, and if I’ve been assured that “There’s nothing to worry about”, I’ll make up something. I worry about what I would do if something major breaks down in my house, will I be able to afford to fix it? What is the status of my health issues, as they relate to non-Medicare or Medicare supplemental coverage issues?

And then of course there’s the ever-popular dental concerns: imagine my surprise when, after attaining the long-sought age of 65, when Medicare kicks in, I discovered that it doesn’t cover dental issues. Now I had been nursing along a relatively small mutual fund, which had grown to the princely amount of around $70,000. Soon after reaching 65, $25,000 of that went rather quickly for several implants and crown replacements; that was followed by the Great Recession, which lowered it down to $26,000. And this year, more implants and another $6000. You see my worry, there are still a few teeth left. And the original intent for the money was to fund world travel in my retirement. There’s enough left to get to a few places on this continent, maybe. (Did I just feel a small twinge in my lower jaw?)

Every few weeks in the summer, I question the wisdom of mowing the lawn, which has become an arduous task of 40 minutes followed by a couple of days of sore muscles. Yes, I can hire it done, but there’s something about caring as much as possible for one’s own stuff. That includes the lawn. When I visit my wife in her North Carolina townhouse, I’m jealous of her not having to do the lawn, but that jealousy doesn’t extend to wanting to have to endure the horrors of a Home Owner’s Association. I recognize that I’m thankful that there is no HOA to intrude upon my happy life. I do recall though that last winter, I realized that even though 15 minutes is not much time and energy spent in shoveling snow, it sometimes is a frequent unappreciated visitor to interrupt more important activities — like meeting my friends for coffee.

And so, I began to look around for a lifestyle that would take care of those things, and provide me more time to —- do what? I started reflecting on what actually I do during the day, and if I were to live elsewhere, how would my daily life be different? Are there things I would miss (not the lawn or snow).

First, I needed to catalog why I would want to leave this small town that has been my home base for 45 years, and which has, in general, served most of my needs quite well. For instance, its relative isolation (32 miles to the next real town) makes a trip to the nearest Walmart a special occasion, 55 miles away. On the other hand, having to drive 120 miles to the nearest decent airline terminal, accompanied by the higher fares just to reach a major hub, is disconcerting. I sometimes drive 7 hours to the Denver airport to save a few hundred dollars, and help their local economy be paying for airport parking.

Over the years, we have experienced increasing access to most of the major medical specialties, with doctors coming from major centers in Casper, Billings, and Cody on a regular basis. Occasionally there’s a need to go to one of those locations rather than wait a week or two for a provider’s next local appearance, but on those occasions one can “get in” right away. This is something one doesn’t find regularly in large urban areas; patients probably discover that the name “patient” was derived from the long waiting periods before getting an appointment. And of course, if there’s a need, the local doctors can refer you to one of the Nirvana’s like the Mayo Clinic, which was done for me five years ago, or the Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, as was done for several local folks having major problems.

I’ve visited a number of different levels of retirement living facilities and locations, and although most of them offer lots of amenities, they don’t fit with my personal comfort. I like South Carolina just across the border from Charlotte, NC, low cost of living, availability of things I like to do like inexpensive golf, nearness to my wife and son’s family. But I don’t like the climate, the lack of openness in the landscape, and the Eastern Time Zone. When I visit, I find that I don’t get to bed until midnight or later, and don’t get up and dressed until 10 a.m. the next day. Although South Carolina has a state income tax, they don’t tax the first $50,000 of retirement income, which means I wouldn’t be paying much if anything. The kind of apartment I would be wanting to rent, a two-bedroom, would be about $1200, affordable when compared with my present house payment plus utilities.

More recently, I visited several places in and around Frisco, Texas, a Dallas northern suburb where my other son and his family live. The best place I’ve found was an apartment complex which provides lots of amenities included in the rent, is located adjacent to a large “medical mall” of about 30 medical specialties, and across the street from extensive shopping including two grocery stores and a Macy’s-Nordstrom mall. It has a lake with fish, on the property, and one can garden if you choose. Rent for a two-bedroom apartment was around $1200. But it’s in Texas, a terrible climate fraught with tornadoes, ice storms, humidity; and then there’s all the traffic. I’m just not comfortable with all that. At least there’s no state income tax, but I think they make up for it with high sales taxes and personal property taxes. I would be happy in this complex, if it was in Wyoming.

Which brings me to my next stop, Cheyenne, which is a comfortable 85 miles from the Denver airport and those lovable Broncos and Rockies. I looked at two properties, similar in that they provide three meals a day, seven days a week, and have lots of structured activities for the residents. But I was totally uncomfortable in each, after viewing the residents in the dining area. Earlier, in visiting a similar facility in Texas, it had been explained to me that there are in fact a couple of levels of what is described as “Independent Living”, and that in that place as well as in both of these, their interpretation of the term was that the person is mobile and can handle the major life needs such as dressing, eating, keeping track of meds, personal hygiene, etc.  I asked “how active are these folks”; from the looks of them it might be they have races with their walkers to the dining room. Although I was told that the average age is around 78 (my age), they appeared to me to be in some kind of celestial waiting room, awaiting the call “Next” to depart for the next level of existence. I saw a few sitting outside on benches, staring at nothing in particular.

I may be 78, but I don’t think of myself as old other than the myriad of health issues that occasionally limit activity, or the effect on my golf game. I am active, these people aren’t. And although these would be nice places to live under the care and supervision of trained personnel, it’s not yet my need. And they don’t provide anything other than a small refrigerator in the apartments, and you can only have a microwave. I like to cook.

Several of the facilities like this have one or two levels of living beyond the Independent Living. The next rung up the ladder is Assisted Living, and the usual definition is that at least two of the six major living skills need assistance. In our case, my wife and I began purchasing Long Term Care Insurance 15 years ago, and I was told by administrators at several of these places that LTC is an extremely wise choice to make. For us, once certified for Assisted Living most of the costs would be covered by the insurance, up to five years. And as a resident continues to decline, some of the places have nursing home, hospice, or memory units. The ones I looked at in Cheyenne had costs ranging from $1800/month for a studio apartment with all meals provided along with utilities, up to $3500. The Assisted Living costs shoot up from there, and may be $9000 or so a month. Our insurance will cover most, if not all, of that.

Finally, I checked out the Wyoming Pioneer Home, an Assisted Living facility located in Hot Springs State Park, in my home of Thermopolis. Under the State of Wyoming, it provides living accommodations and care for longtime Wyoming residents in a park like setting. However, it would not fit my lifestyle at this stage of my life; in general, the residents live in various sizes of one room units each with its own bathroom. I would be far too restricted, unless I was to the point that I couldn’t be mobile. I need my space!

I guess to summarize, at least in Thermopolis I know my plumber, where to get my car fixed, the butcher in the grocery store to cut me just the right size prime rib, the folks at the hardware/garden store that are an unending source of help, local medical and governmental employees ready immediately to offer assistance when needed, etc, etc, etc. Lots of them are former students of mine, and we often chat about those “remember when” kinds of things from years ago. I’ve even threatened to go back to their files and change their grades, if they don’t treat me right.  Living here is easy, and so far I’ve not found anywhere else as economically inexpensive to live. And there’s my minimal work as a volunteer on the Wyoming Dinosaur Center Board, and temporarily as a member of the local committee getting ready for next month’s total eclipse of the sun. I’m in charge of having a “star party” the night before the eclipse, and have invited two retired professional astronomers to help with that. I finally get to use my Astronomy major!

But times change; we don’t know what will happen with income to the state and its effect on property taxes and other sources of income. That will cause major reductions of services statewide. And certainly as long as the Republican Party controls most legislative and executive branches at all levels, adequate funding for the purposes set forth by the Founding Fathers in the preamble to the U.S. Constitution will suffer. Our current leaders seem to ignore the facts that regulations and laws were created to address perceived problems, and doing away with those that were proving successful will only bring back the issues from which they emerged. Yes, it’s nice to contemplate having more “disposable cash”, but at what cost? I shudder whenever I hear people express thoughts about “the evils of socialism”, when in fact the countries enjoying the highest standards of living in the world, are democratic socialistic governments. Yet they have their million and billionaires, along with health treatment for all, thriving business and industry, and effective systems of education. I lived in a country that had a socialistic government when I was in the Peace Corps, and saw how it benefited the greatest number of folks while still allowing for private enterprise.  We  have a long way to go to get to that point with our fellow citizens, and the way to get there is being made even more difficult by our current President and his cronies who apparently are out to undue everything, from some type of personal animus ,that his predecessor accomplished regardless of  whether it was successful or not. Throw in the spices of intolerance, bigotry, and misogyny, along with isolationism and truculence, and we are faced with some very dangerous waters. Let’s not succumb!

Always Be Happy      To Our Youth


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