“I just think it was divine intervention because when I moved in here everybody said, “Well, you look good, why are you going to the ‘old folks’ home’? You know, you’re not sick.” I said, “No, but I can’t wait until I get sick, then I can’t do it.” I mean, you don’t want to move and have to tell somebody else keep this or save that or throw this away, you want to do it yourself.”
Carmen Callen Interview, August 2014
Interview starts at 8:40
C: Hello, this is Carmen.
J: Hello there, hi, this is Jill Hofer, how are you?
C: What is your name, Jill?
C: Oh, hi.
J: Hi Carmen, thank you so much. What’s that?
C: I’m sorry to keep you waiting.
J: Oh that’s fine, it wasn’t but a minute and it’s quite alright.
C: I had a little problem. So you live in Arizona?
J: I do, I’m here in Tucson, Arizona that’s where Watermark is located.
C: That’s right, yeah.
J: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today, I really appreciate it.
C: Well, it’s quite a challenge, I’m all ears.
J: Great, well, I do have a few questions that I always ask, but it seems that we really tend to cover things when people just tell me the story, if you could, about your decision to move to the community and really how that experience unfolded for you, if you don’t mind.
C: Well, you know that magazine The Source?
C: Well, they did a story on me.
J: They did?
C: Yeah, a couple issues ago, my picture is on the front cover and inside is a bigger picture and it tells all about how I happened to move here and the truth is, I didn’t think I was ready. I wasn’t thinking about it but my friend, my gentleman friend, kept falling a lot. His friends and I decided he needed to live in a place where he could get help so I started looking around and in the back of my mind all I knew about these places was that you needed two hundred or three hundred thousand to move in, so that was out of the question for me. So anyway, I started looking around and then I found out that they only want a monthly rental fee! You don’t have to have this huge upfront amount of money. So I thought, “Well, that’s good.” So I started looking and I eliminated one across the street because they said you couldn’t have a stove unless you had a two bedroom, not that he cooks a lot but I just didn’t think that was right. And anyway, I just got this warm feeling when I walked in and I just started thinking, “Well, you know, it sounds pretty good to me. I wouldn’t have to cook, I wouldn’t have to clean anymore”, I’ve been doing all that since I was fourteen years old. I was living in a condo and when I told my neighbors, they said, “Well you look good, why are you going to the old folks’ home? You’re energetic” and I said, “Well, you have to do it while you’re well. You can’t wait until you have a stroke or after you get sick. They don’t want you then, besides you can’t get the work done.” And I have two grown children. Of course, I never even told them about it. So I came back a second time and looked at it with myself in mind. He was in a nursing home, oh no wait a minute, he had moved to an assisted living place in Arlington, Virginia but he wasn’t happy there at all, it was terrible. So I really didn’t know when he was going to get out of there or what the situation was. He didn’t have a long term contract or anything so I started looking with myself in mind and I came back a third time with the measuring tape and they told me if I moved in before April 30th I would get $3000 off.
J: Oh, wow.
C: Well that kind of made me move faster so I got myself going. I arranged for the realtor and the moving company, got it all done.
J: No kidding.
C: And then I told my kids. They were pleased but they were shocked too. So I moved here in April and then I arranged to get Ainsley in. You’ll have to read that article, it’s all in there. I got Ainsley in and believe it or not the place next door was supposed to be occupied by a lady but it fell through. She changed her mind or something. And Christine said, “Well, do you want him to live next door or is that too close?” I said, “Well, it would be convenient because I don’t want to live with him but having him next door would be great!” And it’s very convenient. I mean we’re back and forth all the time and little things like I can buy a loaf of bread and we can share it. What can one person do with the whole loaf of bread? I never had luck freezing bread. We share the newspaper.
C: We can share a dozen eggs; it’s just great having him next door. He’s ninety-one years old so he’s a little forgetful… so anyway, that’s how I happened to move in. So he came in June. The first year I was here I gained fifteen pounds. I was kind of skinny. The food is so good.
J: Oh really, what do you like about it?
C: Well, it’s just so nice to sit down to a prepared meal and it always tastes better when somebody else cooks, although I always did like to cook and everyone told me I was a good cook so it’s not like I didn’t want to cook but I guess it’s the cleaning up part I don’t like.
J: Right, well now you can cook when you want to, that’s the important part, that you have that choice.
C: Right, Sunday evening is when I cook something.
J: Oh, that’s nice.
C: Because the kitchen is closed Sunday night, we have a brunch and then you’re on your own Sunday night and that’s when I have friends in sometimes. But everyone here is so friendly.
C: You meet a lot of intelligent well-educated people. There’s always a few that don’t speak at all but they’re not well. It’s not that they’re stuck up, it’s just that they’re not well. We have a lovely library here, we have a little movie theater so we can watch a movie on TV on Channel Two every night at seven o’clock, so I have everything I need.
J: Well, it sounds like you have everything you had in the condo minus a lot of the work.
C: That’s right, yeah.
J: When you think back to when you did move, was there anything that made you reluctant to move or were you just 100% looking forward to the changes?
C: No, my mind was made up. I was not reluctant once my mind was made up. I was very eager to get here.
J: Oh that’s terrific and then what did your children have to say?
C: They were quite shocked but I think they were pleased that I would be taken care of and they wouldn’t have to worry about me, yeah I think. I have a son and a daughter, so I think they were quite happy.
J: So really it was about peace of mind for them that they didn’t have to worry and they knew you are probably having a little more fun with your free time.
J: And what do you do there for fun, are you partaking in any of the programs?
C: Well I’m in two dance classes, one is line dancing and one is ballroom dancing.
J: Oh, how fun.
C: I’ve been in three dance recitals. We have fashion shows; I’ve been a model three times.
C: I go to physical therapy right now for my balance, for my neck and shoulder but there’s always something to do. We get a schedule every morning and there’s, you know, yoga, tai chi, aerobics, you name it. They have something every day. They have a group where you discuss current events, so it’s not all physical. And they have, like, quiz things or trivia games, stuff like that.
C: And another nice thing about this building, every floor has something different. When you get off the elevator there’s a parlor. Now on the eighth floor there’s a table and they use that for jigsaw puzzles and it’s the big one and every time somebody goes by they can add a piece, but there’s one lady in particular that really sticks with it. And another floor has a pool table. Another floor has the library. The ninth floor is where you play Bridge and has two card tables.
J: Oh really, well that sounds like fun.
C: Yeah and then the seventh floor is, like, if you were going to have a tea party it’d be little tables for two and it’s very nice. It’s very well decorated, the artwork, the whole building is a lot of George Washington stuff you know, very nice.
J: From the area.
C: Yeah, this was his hometown, Alexandria.
J: That’s a beautiful place and do you play pool or do you go to play at the card tables ever?
C: I play Bridge but I don’t play pool. I never did.
J: Bridge can be pretty challenging, right? I’ve heard that it’s tricky.
C: You don’t learn it in one lesson, in fact you never stop learning; you keep playing and you keep learning. I mean I’m not a serious Bridge player, but there’s a style of Bridge called duplicate and they say it’s fairer because everybody has the same cards, not at the same time but they rotate. But you all have the same challenges because people say, “Well, if you don’t get good cards, you can’t get a good score.” Well, sure if you don’t get good cards you can’t play.
J: So duplicate takes the luck of the draw out of it.
C: Yeah, so in duplicate its fair because everybody has to play the same hand. What’s so interesting is that at the end you can compare what the other people did with that hand, did they make it? Did they go down? Or did they make an overtrick or what? It’s a fascinating game.
J: It sounds interesting.
C: It’s very good exercise for the brain.
J: It must be nice to have that just a few steps from your door instead of having to get in the car.
C: I know when I played with the ladies you had to take turns you know. In fact, that’s how I met my gentleman friend, I played with his wife and they would come to my house and we would go to their house, the other two ladies, we all had a turn and you know the hostess would have dessert and all that. This way you don’t have to go out in the weather. You don’t have to serve dessert, you know. You don’t have to do anything.
C: I had it in my own apartment a couple of times but then I decided why should I, you know, when there’s a place upstairs.
J: Right, just let it be in the common areas, that’s your home too.
C: There’s always something to do and a lot of wonderful entertainment. We have this guy named Dennis who finds the best music people – they sing, they dance. We had a Big Band last week and we have a lot. We have concert pianists and all kinds of entertainment. We have Happy Hhour once a month and we celebrate birthdays once a month. Everybody’s name is called out.
J: That’s nice.
C: So there is always something to look forward to. Well, there’s a gentleman here, he’s ninety-two years old and he teaches calligraphy.
J: Oh really?
C: And then we have an art room where people tell me that they never had a brush in their hand, didn’t know they could do it, they came here and started taking lessons and you ought to see the work that’s on the wall.
J: No kidding.
C: I said, “You mean you never painted before?” “Nope, never.” Can you imagine?
J: Isn’t that wonderful?
C: It brings out the best in you. Yeah, it’s wonderful.
J: I love to hear that and that’s just what it’s all about really is to make your life better.
J: And those are some super examples of how life is different from, say with your example, from the condo to moving to The Fountains. Are there any other ways that life is really strikingly different or the same even?
C: Well, I mean, it’s different in many ways because they come in and clean my house, my dinner is all ready every night when I go down to the dining room.
C: So before, I had to do my own cleaning and my own cooking. You know, cooking is not just cooking. You go to the grocery store, come home and put everything away and then you cook and then you clean up the kitchen and then you’re ready for bed!
J: Right and then you start over, turn the clock back and do it all over again three more times every single day.
C: The only thing we had there was a Friday night movie, but we didn’t have all the entertainment that we have here. No way.
J: Nice, nice, not to mention just a lot of nice people to see it with and do it with.
C: I was in the building twenty-five years. I had a big end unit, a beautiful place but after my husband died I kept it for several years and then one day I thought, “Now, why am I keeping this big place?”
C: I don’t need four televisions and three and a half bathrooms and a laundry room. So I decided to sell it and got a smaller place. I got a studio so I went from the biggest to the smallest.
J: So you had a first pass at downsizing then didn’t you? You were an expert already.
C: Well, yes I did have practice. I had to downsize because all of the furniture was too big so I bought a lot of new stuff, most of it. But then when I moved here everything I had fit over here in my one bedroom, in fact it’s bigger here than the studio was.
J: Oh, ok.
C: And the only thing that I have bought extra is an electric recliner which helps me to sleep because I have a hiatal hernia, other than that everything fit in here and everybody loves my apartment. Christine is always bringing people over to see it.
J: Oh great, that’s fun and then you’re helping to welcome other people and help answer their questions and alleviate their fears.
C: I know when they come to my house, I put in a little sales talk myself.Christine doesn’t seem to mind.
J: What advice do you have for people who were looking, you know, just in general not necessarily to move to us but in general.
C: Most of them say, “I hate to give up my home.” That’s what they say, they hate to give it up. I said “I know you hate to give it up, those memories are hard to let go of but once you do it, it’s done, it’s gone, it’s over with and you still have the memories, but you just can’t hold onto furniture forever.”
J: Well, memories won’t keep you young and healthy.
C: Yeah, yeah, so I haven’t been one bit sorry that I moved here.
J: Oh, that’s wonderful. Do you feel like you moved at the right time or you could’ve moved sooner?
C: No, I think the timing was, I just think it was divine intervention because when I moved in here everybody said, “Well, you look good, why are you going to the old folks’ home? You know, you’re not sick.” I said, “No, but I can’t wait until I get sick, then I can’t do it.” I mean you don’t want to move and have to tell somebody else keep this or save that or throw this away, you want to do it yourself.
C: So I think the timing was just right, it really was. I was very lucky.
J: That’s wonderful and you moved in April of this year?
C: No, last year. And it’s done so much for my self-esteem, Jill, because they asked me to speak at the Men’s Breakfast. A woman speaking at the Men’s Breakfast! They always have a man speaker.
J: Good for you, that’s wonderful, what was your topic?
J: No kidding, what did you say? What was your presentation about?
C: Well, I try to make it humorous. Happiness for one is not the same for somebody else. A woman might be very happy that she found a husband, another woman might be very glad she got rid of one.
C: And somebody might be very happy to find a job, somebody else’s happy that he’s going to retire. A woman might be thrilled that she’s pregnant, another woman might not be thrilled because she’s not even married. So happiness just depends on you and your circumstances.
J: Probably a lot about attitude and perspective too.
C: Yeah, yeah. Well, we miss the CEO, Connie, you probably knew Connie.
J: I do, in fact I really like her a lot myself.
C: And of course they did a sneaky thing, they said she was just going to be gone for trial period. And then she never came back, but I think we all knew deep down that she wasn’t going to come back.
J: She’s a really fun, unique person; she’s really a special lady.
C: Yeah, I really liked her, I really miss her.
J: Can I ask you a question, your gentleman friend. did you say his name was Ainsley?
J: Ainsley, that’s a nice name.
C: Ainsley was born in Ceylon, we have different cultures altogether. I’m from Queens, New York.
J: Are you?
C: But he was born in Ceylon and they lived on a plantation. He had a wonderful childhood. You know outdoors, the fresh air, he could swim in the Indian Ocean at his grandmother’s house and he introduced me to mangos. I never ate a mango but I introduced him to peanut butter and jelly, they didn’t have that in Ceylon.
C: But his father had a coconut plantation and all the Storks – his last name is Stork – and all the Stork people, all of his uncles had a plantation of some kind. I forget what they all were but they were different.
J: How interesting.
C: And he was very athletic. He was a four star athlete. He did rugby and of course swimming, horseback riding, later on he got to be a golfer. He was a runner. He was very tall; he was very good in sports. Now the man has trouble walking. He has spinal stenosis.
J: I’m glad that he had all those joys.
C: Yeah, he really had a great time.
J: When did you leave Queens?
C: Oh gosh, my little girl was two years old, 1951, then my son was born here.
J: Was your condo right there in Alexandria?
C: Oh, well, we didn’t move to a condo then. When we lived in Washington DC, we lived in one rat hole after another, we were very poor. My husband got a job with the government but he was a very low grade and every place we lived in either had mice or roaches, even rats.
J: No kidding.
C: Awful, but every time we moved we got a little closer to the Maryland border, you know the Maryland border goes right into DC. And each time we got a little bit nicer and it was years before, when we first got married, it was right after the war and there was a housing shortage and we couldn’t find an apartment. So we had to live with other people and share the kitchen and share the bathroom and I just longed for the day when I could have my own kitchen and my own bathroom.
C: That was my goal in life and so I got married too young, got pregnant right away. I wasn’t ready for marriage. I was living with my married sister and I just married the first boy who asked me to get away from her and I paid a big price. He was an alcoholic.
J: Oh, I’m so sorry.
C: Yeah it was pretty rough but, so anyway little by little we got a more decent place and we finally got over the line into Maryland and we bought our first house and that house cost about as much as a car does now. Yeah, it wasn’t much of a house but…
J: It was yours.
C: And we did have some apartments though, I didn’t have to share the kitchen or bath so that was wonderful.
J: Life is amazing, isn’t it?
J: And now look at you, you’re giving other people advice on how they might make the best choice possible for them with a retirement community. You’ve come this far, that’s wonderful. Well, I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your time today. If you had any other advice for folks out there in the world who are kind of stuck in that old house, rattling around with nothing but their memories, I’d be happy to hear any more advice you have, but this has been wonderful information and I do appreciate every bit of it.
C: Well, I enjoyed talking to you.
J: Oh, likewise thank you so much, I appreciate that.
C: So, I guess we are finished then.
J: Well, if you think of anything else, I hope that you’ll have them get in contact with me and if I think of a question that I failed to ask, or when I look back over my notes if I think of something else, if you don’t mind, I’ll certainly give you another phone call.
C: That’s fine, that’s fine.
J: Oh thank you so much. I really do appreciate it.
C: If you want to call me direct if you just have one question or something I’ll give you my number. J: Thank you so much.
J: I sincerely appreciate it, I hope you have a beautiful rest of your day.
C: Thank you so much, I enjoyed talking to you.
J: Likewise, bye.