Good question! My father died in December 1987 and my mother in January 1988, leaving to my sister and me a 4-bedroom house in good condition, an acre of yard, and 3 acres of wooded pasture with the 4 goats, Daisy, Buttercup, Ageratum, and Ivy. My sister lived and worked in Tuscaloosa, I in New York. What to do?
(At the end of this post, the goats get a slideshow!)
I asked my sister what she would think if I took early retirement and moved back into the house. She seemed pleased: we really didn’t want to sell the property, and we felt like we couldn’t get much for it anyway. I needed to
think about it more, and I determined that I would decide during the year, after talking it over with Tom. Late summer I made my decision. New York was eating up my money, I had little in the way of savings, and I had little hope for a better house in the future. And I thought that such a place would be advantageous for Tom and me as we aged. In March 1989 I moved back to the house in Sawyerville where I grew up. Tom came down with me for a few weeks, soon joining me full time.
It was a big decision. Having lived in separate small rent-controlled apartments in New York, this would be the first time we had actually lived together, although we had spent most of our time together either in his apartment or mine when we were not out enjoyed the pleasures of the city and friends. Still, living together is different. I had lots of books but little furniture. Tom had more furniture and tons of other material he had saved over the years. The house itself being well-furnished and supplied with the necessaries for daily life, we had a lot of stuff to deal with. Luckily my father’s old country store/post office stood at the corner of the property and would suffice wonderfully for storage of excess stuff.
That store seemed to attract stuff that we couldn’t make
decisions to get rid of. Not only did all of Tom’s manuscripts, letters, photographs, everything of that nature since well before WW2 end up there, but in 1994 also much of his 17-year-older sister Norma’s excess when she moved from Las Cruces, New Mexico to Pine Valley Retirement Community in Tuscaloosa, and after her death in 2000 the contents of that apartment. Then there were the leftovers from the estates of my maternal grandmother and Uncle Fletcher. You wouldn’t think one small country store could hold so much stuff!
A few estate sales, auctions, and yard sales helped clear out my family’s clutter and some of Tom’s, but he couldn’t make the hard decisions that I did. After his death there was a lot to deal with. I’m glad there was, for the process of doing so aided me enormously in moving my attention from the pain of Tom’s last weeks to the greater joy of our 40 years together.
Our worst decision in moving south was in the area of finances. Tom had some savings plus his Social Security. I had started receiving retirement income early at a reduced rate, and there were some savings. Unfortunately, we had assumed that with his writings and mine (still in the future) we would achieve publication and modest supplements to our finances. We had not been paying enough attention to the changes in publishing during recent years and didn’t understanding what the decline in the midlist book might mean to our hopes. We spent more than we should in anticipation of future income. My savings gradually dwindled away. But the wolf stayed away from the door, although occasionally we could hear him howling. A few years after our move, the local postmaster, needing a part-time clerk to cover Saturdays and leave time, prevailed upon me to take the job. The office was directdly across the highway, so I didn't have a very long commute. I didn’t get rich doing it, but it was a nice supplement. Eventually I began clerking in offices in nearby Akron and Boligee as well.
An important byproduct of the post office work was the larger presence it gave me in the predominately black community, putting a more public face to one of the “strange” white men who lived together. Most knew
me, and I knew most of them or their families. Becoming reacquainted with them was invaluable to me, and I believe that relations have progressed from friendly to in many cases friendships.
Tom and I managed fine, with support from our relatives and friends locally, in New York, and in his case, all over the western United States. And we made a difference in their lives as well. We were able to supply care for his sister Norma. I helped care for two elderly aunts in much of their later years. We kept the 4 goats going as long as we could, gradually having to bury each of them as they died. We provided homes for two wonderful dogs, Huckleberry for 10 years and after her death Roscoe, who managed to survive Tom by 2 and a half years.
Coming home was the best decision I ever made, with the possible exception of leaving home in the first place.
And now the goats, with special appearances by Huckleberry, Roscoe, Brownie and Taffy (two other goats from earlier times), among others.