Heading Down Lonely Street

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Hobbies tend to become prominent past times when we retire, and especially when we suddenly find ourselves alone. Vegetable gardening, my lifelong hobby, allows me to spend countless hours absorbed in a past time that I particularly enjoy.

Trail- walking with my dog, and a friend, for several hours a day has provided me with exercise and company on a regular basis. I cannot imagine giving up this hobby because it’s my chance to get “out and about” while enjoying the quiet beauty of many forested hiking trails around my community.

Writing did not become a serious hobby of mine until I retired. It now has a prominent place in my life. Writing articles for a magazine, and firing off countless letters to the editor, as a follow-up to my interest in current events, are time-consuming hobbies that bring me much satisfaction, especially when I see the published product. Particularly satisfying was preparing my articles and selected letters for several self-published books, with the expert help of my daughter. Mailing the professional-looking copies to family and friends has been one of the highlights of my amateur writing career.

I have never been a fan of novels, perhaps because I view them largely as a waste of time. However, I am an avid reader of biographies, especially those of famous historical figures. It is seldom that I do not have one or more on my bedside table where I sometimes switch back and forth depending on my mood.

Following up on a life-long desire to play the banjo, I recently arranged for a retired minister to teach me the basic skills. I can now entertain myself by playing the chords to more than 100 songs. My dog ignores me when I play, but my cats usually scramble out of earshot when the banjo appears on my lap.

For an octogenarian, living alone, and often lacking company, the lure of opting for a retirement community, is very tempting. Trading home ownership, household chores and responsibilities for “carefree living” and the company of other people, at first glance, looks positively enticing. Many seniors are attracted to this lifestyle, but thus far I have resisted giving up my independence as it offers me a powerful purpose for living.

One friend, fairly fit, but now a widow, and quite old, has opted for a retirement residence with “assisted living”—her Autumn Winds. She claims that the move from living alone in her large house was timely as she no longer had the desire or energy to maintain it. She is happy with her move. During a recent phone call, another longtime friend said he is selling his house and moving to a similar type of accommodation because his memory was failing. As my generation hits their 80s, needs change, but many strongly resist giving up their homes until they must do so, because they know that it means swapping independent living for dependence on others.

In long term care, the “Fading Embers” facility where nobody wants to be, two of my friends are now permanent residents. One has spent the last two years in a semi-conscious state. The other friend has physical disabilities, and requires professional care, but his mind is still sharp. He hates every moment in his new home. When I occasionally take him out for coffee, he has stated more than once, “Who wants to eat his meals every single day with a bunch of strangers? I have nothing in common with them, except for the fact that we are all old.”

I am still lonely at times, especially after losing my soul mate. She was such a lively, energetic, positive person who kept my life invigorated, and so much fun. My world has become smaller as I interact less with the world around me. Along with nearly one and a half million octogenarians now alive in Canada, I am slowly heading down Lonely Street.

At quiet moments, sitting alone with my pets, and my banjo, happy memories, triggered by the chorus of a famous song, echo softly through my mind;

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

We’d fight and never lose

Those were the days, oh yes those were the days.


Heading Down Lonely Street

Dr. James F. McDonald is a retired elementary school principal who lives in Dundas, ON.
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