When I was a child, I lived with my parents and brother in a one-bedroom flat on the second floor of a sturdy brick apartment building in Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. Because our family grocery store was on ground level, I imagine my youthful legs easily skipping steps two at a time throughout the day.
In 1960, I married a tall, English-born medical student and our first apartment was in a walkup building in Rogers Park. A teacher at the time, and a blissful 22-year-old wife, I see my hosiery-wrapped legs and schoolmarm shoes trotting up the winding staircase to the third floor.
When I met Tommy in 1997, my Golden Retriever, Sasha, and I were seated at the top of a long staircase that fronted my townhouse on Henderson St. in Lakeview. Observe my divorced 59-year-old self flirt with this cute, toned neighbor, who would within a year become my second husband. And in 2000, when we moved to a rehabbed worker cottage on Dakin St. in Independence Park, we scrambled up a handful of stairs that led to a wide front porch.
I'm telling you about these walkup experiences because once again, stairs have entered my daily dialogue. You see, at the end of my downtown apartment lease in September (or earlier if I sublet), I'll be moving to a one-bedroom in some Chicago neighborhood. I haven't identified the place or community yet, because my cohort (family and friends) and I are hung up on the subject of stairs.
Before I riff on our theme, you'll likely want to learn my reasons for ditching my adorable studio in a prestigious, wonderfully appointed and maintained high-rise. I have several alibis; some of which you may champion and others you pooh-pooh.
Numero uno: I want to spend $500 less on monthly rent.
Dos: If I one day need an overnight caregiver, I'll have to have room for an extra bed. I'm 78, and although healthy (now the other poo-poo to ward off evil spirits), there could be a time when a fall, parts replacement, or other medical need requires a sleepover sentinel.
The extra room would be open for out-of-town friends and relatives, too. (Because of my ungodly 4 a.m. wake time, I'll take the living room daybed, and you can have the closed-door bedroom.)
Tres: I want the option of housing a dog. Although pets are allowed in my current building, I don't live on a "dog floor," so would have to move to another apartment. And one-bedrooms here are way beyond my budget. In April, I'm attending a volunteer orientation at PAWS and could possibly foster, then adopt a rescue.
So now that we've gone over theme and rationale, let's go back to walkup, stairs, and debates.
"Do not, under any circumstance, move to a building without an elevator," warns Ruth. She cares for me as if I were her offspring, rather than a dear friend of more than 60 years.
"But, what about a first floor?" I say, envisioning an updated Chicago brownstone or bungalow. "I'm in good shape; I could do one floor."
"Absolutely not," she says. "Elevator!"
"Makes sense to me," says my first born, Faith, who after witnessing me trip on a ragged sidewalk, had contracted a constant fear of my falling anew. "You don't want to be carrying groceries up a flight of stairs. And what if you don't have a washer and dryer in your apartment; how are you going to take a hamper down the stairs? If you get an elevator building, you can use your grocery cart on laundry days."
"That's sensible," I say, after picturing little old me possibly pitching from banister to banister with my crumpled clothing dotting each step.
Jill, 18-months younger than her sister, has not been privy to my pratfalls, so is absent of that distress. She wonders, though, if a low-rise elevator building might be a compromise.
But, I see wood floors, a bay window, and a few front steps that double as a stoop. There'd be neighbors -- sans cellphones -- waving to pooch and me as we sit and enjoy a summer breeze.
Perhaps I'm being unrealistic, and wistful for stairs and a past that also included family (Division St.), newly-wed nostalgia (Rogers Park), and serene second marriage (Lakeview and Independence Park).
Or, maybe it's just this: because of my age, income, and desires, I have already given up the idea of owning a car, having a mortgage, and marrying a third; do I have to lose the walkup, too?