Where the Sidewalk Ends

[You may have seen this post on Substack. Explanation at the end.]

I thought of this 150 yr old farmhouse and the land around it as my story for life. Then life says maybe not. That was Fragments One.

I don’t even know where to begin, so I am typing these words on the empty page this early, windy morning and hoping other words would like to join them. Waiting…

So here’s the thing: we have come to the place where the sidewalk ends—not death just yet, but a jumping off place where the next pavers are not becoming visible, just-in-time, as they always have.

We have entered the GRAY ZONE in contemporary American aging and are at a loss for what comes next for us; the where, the when, the why.

The beauty and charm of our sleepy little community far off the beaten path—its isolation; its pace, scale and authenticity, its funkiness—this has all been the just-right Goldilocks fit—a bucolic teacup tribe-sized existence that many long for.

We’ve had that since 1997 and are so blessed and thankful for it. The place has an almost-perfect fit for us. But now our small rural Appalachian hamlet’s lack of housing and healthcare options for our age demographic has brought us to the precipice and the alarming and unfamiliar uncertainty about where a NEXT STEP will take us.

Wife and I don’t have large welcoming families in divers places across the country or the world as some do, with “just the place” out back, next to the pond, under the willows waiting to receive tired, retired and vagrant elder relatives to play out that one final chapter.

There is no national plan in place to provide for the needs of America’s surging boomer Gray Legions whose shelf life has expired while they continue to live with a new set of needs that do not appear in the fine print anywhere. Sorry Charlie, work it out.

This has been the silent middle chapter. It has always seemed “interim” and now we know that for sure. And that is all we know.

Meanwhile, we are both in relative good health. We have managed to get along independently for three years now in an “aging in place” house with two bedrooms and two baths on the ground floor ten minutes from the one traffic light in the throbbing heart of downtown Floyd, Virginia.

Some of you will remember the move from Goose Creek in June 2020, to the house on the hill here, from whence the sky-scapes have come (more often to FB than SubStack.) We loved living in the outback on the creeks before that, since 2000 (where Fragments from Floyd was born) but we moved here, ahead of need. Now, it seems we must take that leap again, but what a leap it will be.

This time when we take the next step off the end of the sidewalk, we need to transition into a “continuum of care” including provisions for both health and housing; and these needs cannot be met from resources within our little village. Maybe this will be possible here in five years. We need to get there now—ahead of actual need.

And so I will just end with the notion that a new chapter looms. Fragments from Floyd was Chapter One where the story “in words and pixels” began. Fragments Two is the current Rock Hill years, 2020 – 20?? Covid kept that story suppressed and mostly private. Fragments 3 will need a new name. It will possible consist of pages filled in our story from some near future date and unknown place until the words run out.

It might be a long chapter. If I live to my mother’s age, I will be telling tales until 2044. So I should be paying attention.

Beyond this, I can’t say. There may be a long line of posts here (or somewhere else if I can figure out where) as this narrative of aging unfolds. But it is also possible any public writing will go dark as I am nibbled to death by mice. So many decisions; so many missing or barely-visible moving parts. I think I need a nap.

We are still moving, but it’s getting late, and we need to come to rest soon.

This long and winding road is easier to walk with companions. If you know anyone who might like to join me, I could use the company.

NOTE: This post was created in Substack and posted there yesterday. Today I wondered if that post could be copied directly into WordPress and retain formatting. And yes! So going forward, I will cross-post OR create posts in Substack and publish here. A work in progress. More than you wanted to know. @ff

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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