Two months ago, my wife and I traveled to St. Andrews for the bittersweet purpose of closing on the sale of our home there, a home and a town we’d been fortunate to enjoy for 30 years, seven of them as full-time residents.
The most painful part of the process was the packing-up of our belongings to be shipped on a cargo freighter back to the States, knowing with each sealing of a cardboard box that we were leaving our beloved home for good.
Then my wife, who a decade earlier had surprised and delighted me by suggesting we pull up stakes from suburban New York and move our primary residence to St. Andrews, surprised and delighted me once again.
“Maybe we should take part of the proceeds from the sale,” she said, “and look for another place in town—nothing fancy, just a bolt hole. We have too many friends, too many ties to St. Andrews, to just blow out of town.”
I took a while to consider that—okay, I took four seconds—then said, “Let me look online to see what’s available.” An hour later, we stopped the packing process and called a realtor. A day later we took a look at a property that had caught our eye, and a week later—less than 24 hours after closing on the sale of our home—we closed on the purchase of an apartment.
It’s perfect—one bedroom (no more room for self-invited guests), no yard to tend or lawn to mow, and plenty of parking spaces. It’s three blocks from the Old Course, one block from the town, and less than one block from the nearest pub. And the building even allows dogs—well, one dog per apartment, but since our two West Highland white terriers look exactly alike, I figure that won’t be a problem, we’ll just walk one dog at a time.
Best of all, it’s quiet—very quiet—and for good reason. We now live in what I would characterize charitably as a retirement community.
I figured I’d be a part of one of these sooner or later, but never did I think it would be in Scotland, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it, despite the brutal truth that I more than meet the 55-and-over standard for entrance. You see, Scotland is already sort of an oldish place—everything here has an ancient aspect—and in St. Andrews if it weren’t for the youth infusion provided by the university (itself 600 years old), the average age of the citizenry would be, shall we say, rather advanced. They don’t call this the Auld Grey Toon for nothing.
Libby and I realized we wouldn’t be joining a group of Olympic sprinters but the truth is that many if not most of our new neighbors ambulate only with the aid of “zimmers” (Scottish for walkers).
“Look out,” said one of them as she passed me in the hall on our first day, “I’m taking this little honey out for my first test drive and we’re not quite used to each other.” At least they haven’t lost their sense of humor.
The place has three floors—51 apartments total—and there is of course an elevator, a spacious one at that, complete with a seat in it for those who have trouble standing for more than a few seconds. When I commented to one of my co-residents on the size of the lift, he said, “Ah yes, there’s a reason for that, you know. It needs to be deep enough to accommodate a coffin.” I’m still not sure whether he was making a joke.
Still, the place is empathically not an old folks home—everyone takes care of their own meals, there are no nurses or orderlies wandering the halls, in fact no supervision at all except for a “warden” in the person of a young lady who drops by weekday mornings for an hour or two to check on things. Otherwise, we’re on our own—or so I thought until the first night.
We’d completed our unpacking, had dinner, and I’d decided to take a shower before turning in. Our bathroom had an electric water heater, so when I spied a red cord just inside the door, I assumed it was used to crank up the heat and I gave it a brisk yank. A few seconds later, out of nowhere blared the loudspeaker voice of a middle-aged British woman….”ARE YOU ALL RIGHT IN THERE???”
What I’d in fact pulled was the panic cord, sending an emergency message to who knows where and prompting a concerned reply from who knows whom.
Instinctively grasping a towel to cover up, I stammered, “Y-yes, I’m fine, thank you, just pulled the wrong switch… sorry,” then shouted an explanation through the door to my wondering wife, who had managed to hear Dame Whoknowswho.
Suffice it to say, our future in St. Andrews stands to be almost as rich and interesting as our past. Meanwhile, we’re awaiting delivery of our medic-alert pendants, checking out the latest model zimmers, and making lots of old friends in the greatest little town in the world.
Downsizing has its advantages, especially in the greatest little town in the world
By: George Peper