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My View: Empty house highlights void in neighborhood

By Linda Jenkin Costanzo

For 34 years, a tiny electric candle glowed in each window of the little white house on the hill directly across the street. The partially opened curtains indicated my neighbor, Marge, was often in her chair watching her TV.

If I wanted to know the latest in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the World Series or news events, Marge knew about them. Things changed 10 years ago. Her multiple health issues necessitated a stair chair. Occasionally I brought a meal or dessert over to supplement her microwave choices.

Disabled as she was, she was still sharp as a tack, and stubbornly refused to consider assisted living. Her daughter arranged for around-the-clock care and did everything possible to let Marge remain at home, but it was too much for everyone. Assisted living won out.

On the inevitable day of her departure, I walked over an hour before the transportation van arrived. I savored our last visit in her home. Her daughter busily gathered her belongings. Silence hung in the air. I tried to be optimistic as she faced leaving, and promised to visit. We hugged and I told her I loved her. I silently walked back to my house. Shortly after, I glanced out. The white van from her new home had arrived.

I couldn’t watch. I turned away and spent the remainder of the day gardening in my backyard. That night, I glanced out my window with a heavy heart as the moon rose over my friend’s home, vacant for the first time in nearly 70 years. Only one electric candle fended off the darkness behind closed drapes.

Thirty-four years brought back so many memories. The day I had moved in, she brought a coffee cake over with a pot of coffee. Marge introduced herself and I liked her instantly. She had grown children of her own, yet always introduced me as her “other daughter.”

If we felt like walking at 11 p.m., we’d power-walk for a mile or two. It was there that I had a history lesson books couldn’t give. She spoke of being widowed with a 6-month-old daughter when her first husband was killed on maneuvers during World War II. When she met her second husband, together they built their post-World War II house across the street.

After her husband’s retirement they began to spend winters in their Florida home until she found herself suddenly widowed again. She moved forward with her dream house and returned to Florida alone each winter. On dark, freezing mornings as I drove to work, I envied her on her snowbird migration. Her return every Easter symbolized spring and more neighborly visits.

Five days after she moved to assisted living, I shook off the empty feeling and ventured to call her. She cheerfully answered and was watching her favorite team, the Mets, on TV. I asked how she liked the assisted living facility. She replied “Oh, it’s beautiful!”

Imagine my surprise when she said, “The dining hall meals are as delicious as if you or I had prepared them.” She exclaimed, “Do you know what my neighbor next door has? A cat! A real live cat! They allow residents to bring their pets!” My heart swelled.

I’ve always told my sons, “If I get to Marge’s stage in life, don’t even consider putting me in a nursing home, or I’ll head for the Rockies. Good luck locating me up on a ridge somewhere.” Yet, if they allow cats, the food’s delicious and the view’s awesome …

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