After my father died in 1959, my mother Min, his 46-year-old widow, and I, moved into a tiny garden apartment. At least that’s what the real estate listing had called it. Basement was more like it.
Mom had a knack for decorating and soon transformed the dark and occasionally damp space into what visitors called "a dollhouse." Needlework that she handcrafted hung on walls in the living room and in the one bedroom.
Despite her beautifying, the apartment was more subterranean than floral. The back door opened into the building's laundry room, and in the living room, when I sat on the plastic-covered couch and looked out the window, I could see the feet of other tenants as they walked past.
I recalled those mother-daughter dollhouse-days after I, a 74-year-old widow, moved into my 613-square-foot apartment April 15 of this year. Although I covered the experience in my roman a clef e-book, “She’s Not The Type,” I thought it worthwhile to to revisit that episode and description.
Here’s how my own downsizing began: Following my husband Tommy’s death in November of 2012, I had at first planned to accede to advice offered the bereaved: Don’t make a major move for at least a year.
But this obligatory timetable weighed on me. “I’m so discouraged,” I said to my daughter Faith. She was in town for Tommy’s memorial and I was using her as a sympathetic ear.
She put her hand on my shoulder. Her face had a worried look. This was not a typical mood for her mother. Throughout my husband’s illness, hospitalization, hospice, and death, I stayed strong and confident.
“It’s only natural,” Faith said. “Look at all you’ve been through.”
“No, it’s not that,” I said. “It’s that I see such a dismal future. I’ll have to rent out half the garage and turn our two spare bedrooms into housing for a boarder. That’s the only way I can see handling my bills.”
I went to bed that evening, leaving my daughter uneasy at my dispirited state. But in the middle of the night, I woke with a thought: I don’t have to listen to widow-advice that doesn’t fit me. I don’t have to stay in the house.
In the morning, Faith headed straight to my home office, prepared to console me once again. Instead, she found me searching the web for downtown, luxury high-rise rental apartments.
“Look,” I shouted to her. “Swimming pool, business center, exercise room!”
At first, my daughter was alarmed at this sudden mood swing. “What happened, Mom?” she said. “Last night, you were...”
“I don’t have to stay,” I said. “I can sell the house and move to a smaller place. One that I can handle. No snow shoveling, lawn mowing, worrying about downspouts, sump pumps, furnaces, water heaters. All the stuff I don’t understand in the first place. And, I won’t have to share the garage or bedrooms.”
And that’s what I did. To both of my daughters’ relief, I put the house on the market and found my version of a dollhouse. But unlike the one I lived in with Mom, I am on the 19th floor, so no feet obstruct my view, which to the north overlooks the river and to the east, downtown.
Although I lack my mother’s craftiness, all of the paintings that I love, now grace the walls of my new home and feel just right. And with the help of a painter friend, I have a petite office for my business that sports a Sapphire Blue desk and bench, both cut down to my size.
Best of all, I can walk through my building’s garage to my exercise club, which for an early-morning person like me, is a special treat. Neither rain, nor snow will prevent workouts.
In daily texts to my daughters, I have written, “Worked out, met my friend for breakfast, had a massage.”
And, “I’m living the life you dreamed of for me.”
Although I can’t see their faces in Boston and Los Angeles, nor hear their voices, I interpret their texted responses of “So happy. You deserve it. Can’t wait to see your new place” to mean they’re as satisfied as I am with my swift choice.
Now I wonder, in their afterlife abodes, how does Mom view my digs? And my dear Tommy, how does he feel about my leaving our house?
“Perfect,” I can hear Mom saying, and I see two thumbs up from Tommy. I believe they are both relieved, and at peace, to find me cocooned in my own dollhouse.