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Tales from Rhapsody Home: Or, What They Don't Tell You about Senior Living

Tales from Rhapsody Home: Or, What They Don't Tell You about Senior Living

by John Gould

Down East Yankee John Gould, age ninety-two, has spent most of the last century observing and writing about the human condition. Now he presents a whole new perspective on life as he leads us into the brave new world of the assisted-living facility. Charming, sarcastic, despairing, flip, taciturn, erudite, and altogether wonderful—with a razor sharp wit and a


Down East Yankee John Gould, age ninety-two, has spent most of the last century observing and writing about the human condition. Now he presents a whole new perspective on life as he leads us into the brave new world of the assisted-living facility. Charming, sarcastic, despairing, flip, taciturn, erudite, and altogether wonderful—with a razor sharp wit and a knack for turning a phrase—Mr. Gould is an American original and a perfect tour guide. Whether he's complaining to management about his apartment windows that don't open or socializing with the other "inmates" at happy hour; whether wondering why they put a napkin over the stone-cold bread at dinner or taking comfort in the memories ("making do with the reruns") of his loving and eccentric collection of old friends and colleagues from Maine, Mr. Gould proves that you can write a funny book about a serious subject, namely, how we treat our elderly.

Editorial Reviews

USA Today
...ultimate insider's expose...with humor as sharp and poignant as a late-summer breeze.
Library Journal
...told with wit and affection in a true Down East voice. A pleasant addition to humor and aging collections.
Ron Charles
...a collection of sketches, complaints, tall tales, recollections, and advice written in the annoying quietude of a retirement facility "somewhat in Maine." What thin structure the book has rests upon Gould's battle to open the window in his bedroom. From such adventures, he can spin tales as heroic as Homer and as silly as Twain.
Christian Science Monitor

Product Details

Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
5.22(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.72(d)

Read an Excerpt

In the Beginning

Once upon a long-ago time, I was a fine-looking young man with fire in my eye, zeal in my heart, and a haircut that cost twenty-five cents.

The years passed.

As some can say, I never had a sick day in my life. I spent a good deal of time along the brooks in the contemplative man's recreation, and I did a little shooting, like Venator. I married the perfect woman who mostly fed me things I liked, but other times things that were good for me. Our two youngsters were delivered in Dr. Richardson's front chamber, thirty-five dollars for everything. They grew up without embarrassment to anybody and we are glad and we are pleased. They gave us a full house: queens over kings. The three granddaughters by our daughter, the two grandsons by our boy. All five are good-looking, all are smart, all went through college, all have found work. It seemed to us we had only one thing more to do.

Grow old.

I believe this did not happen all at once, but came gradually over a period of maybe eighty years; and then things sped up.

Edward W. Wheeler, who was counsel for the Maine Central Railroad, moderator for Brunswick Town Meeting, and Grand Master of the Grand Masonic Lodge of Maine, told me once to pay attention to the four signs of advancing age. They are, he said, in this order:

You can't remember a name.

You can't remember a face.

You can't remember to close your pants.

4. You can't remember to open them.

I have not yet experienced any of these. My memory is keen in all respects, and when I had my little shock that began to erode my eyesight, all my friends told me to rejoice that it hadn't affected my able mind and rendered me foolish. I'll leave that for others to debate, but I guess I had begun to totter some, and found a cane useful, at least at times. My wife, Dorothy, still blessed with 20-20, had had a lube job on her hip and got some cleats on a knee, and that slowed her down, so we curtailed our weekly skydiving sessions. And that winter, when I'd gone for my annual flu shot, Dr. David Bradeen had suggested in an offhand way that it might be well for Dorothy and me to consider a place where we could have care if needed. Dr. David was more than just our family quack and I felt disposed to hear him.

Thus the search began for a place to harden our arteries and enjoy the blessings of senility. Dorothy and I left finding shelter to our daughter and her able husband, and they picked the Rhapsody Home we chose. It was an excellent choice, and we moved in just in time to be notified that the rent would increase.


The Window Saga Part I: What I Tell You Three Times Is True

Having made the decision to live in a Rhapsody Home, we moved into this commodious complex, this happy haven for hapless has-beens, this paradise for previously important people, on the fourth day of January 1996. I was eighty-seven and my wife Dorothy was not. We had the blessing of our family, the cheers of some neighbors, the approval of others, and had consulted our postmaster about change of address. We had drained the pipes, terminated our constant bickering with the Central Maine Power Company, and had dealt with a real estate agent about the sale of our lovely little home with fruit trees and a view of the ocean.

This was it. There was no turning back. Henceforth we would be supremely happy in the cozy care of professional cozy career people, those dedicated to loving the old folks and who, in so many artfully chosen words, had promised all our little hearts might desire. Our rent, while steep, was affordable, and it included even a gentleman with the proper tools who would come monthly to shorten our toenails. We never had it so good. Weary from moving, we bade good evening to those who helped us lift and carry, and we retired to our snug bedroom, content.

On the fifth day of January 1996, we entered our first complaint and threw ourselves upon the mercy of the truly fine people who had told us to contact them at once if displeasure irked us in the least. We had slept our first night in the opulence of our new life in a bedroom that could not be ventilated. The only window, I found upon wrenching my back to open it, would not open. It could not be opened. It was not a window made to be opened, but was hung on a slant and fastened to remain so.

Extreme youth was still heavy upon me when I first figured out why we slept in a room with open windows. In Maine you begin to understand a great many things when you are big enough to split firewood. Fresh air was promoted as being good for us, and to insure longevity, the child must learn to endure the rigors of nighttime winter. Chimneys were not built into bedrooms, and the Happy-Times Knit & Sew Club was ever ready to show the young girls how to tack a quilt. I grew up with it and so did my darling wife, whose mother was from New Brunswick. Heating a bedroom was both hard on woodpiles and bad for the lungs. As I recall, my bride wore earmuffs on our wedding night, which was well Down East on a normal October 22. Our hotel room was not heated, but still we opened the window onto the sea to hear the breakers and get a breath.

So I naturally applied myself to the young lady at the reception desk in our new retreat for the elderly, and I said merely that we couldn't open the window in our bedroom.

"Yes," she said. "It can't be opened."

Bear in mind, please, that I was new around here, and had not learned to do without the basic simplicity of previous experiences in the outside world. I was, if you will, a victim of that society that believes in fresh air and expects a bedroom window will be obliging. So the young lady's words seemed askew, and I felt were perpendicular to what I was talking about, so I suppose this led me to some small degree of irritation, which I voiced.

Poised and unruffled, the young lady merely said, "There is nothing to be done about it."

Next, I made the rounds of this illustrious institution, where I had been enjoined to speak at once to anybody about any trifle, and soon decided that "There is nothing that can be done about it" was the standard aphorism to be given to anybody who had a problem. Since my bedroom window had been closed forever when the residence was built, I understood that previous tenants in our apartment had been satisfied with this explanation. I could see that all who gave me this answer were well rehearsed, and they all inflected each word in the same way.

My wife said, "Give up; you can't win!"

My only wife is remarkable, and over the years, I've become attached to her and admire her talents and pay good attention to her precepts. Still I persisted.

I repeated to the management and slaves that custom and tradition, habit and the American Medical Society, every schoolmarm and every P.T. authority insisted on fresh air during slumber. What did they think electric blankets are for? I got the same answer over and over: that's the way the place was built and that's the way it has to be. There's nothing we can do about it.

Do you remember in Lewis Carroll's The Hunting of the Snark, "What I tell you three times is true?"

On several occasions I looked up at the window, mostly puzzled as to why that kind of a window should be installed in a bedroom, agreeing with myself that architects must be a silly lot. It didn't take long for an alert, if aged, farm boy to see that there was, indeed, a jolly-good way to do something about that window. It would not be difficult. Unfortunately, I had sold my woodworking tools before we moved; but I was not about to give up yet.


Who Had More Fun?

This business of adjusting, after a scrupulous lifetime of decent living, to the vagaries and double talk of Rhapsody Home, is a matter of degree, of course. About whether man or woman adjusts the sooner, the better, and the more graciously, I have a story.

On sacred Mount Olympus, this story goes, the gods and the goddesses were considering various important matters during their daily preprandial cocktail break, and Father Jupiter offered a subject for discussion. Apparently, as he and the bouncy Juno enjoyed the intimate colloquies of connubial cooperation, they frequently asked each other who was having more fun, he the pusher or she the pushee?

This was the very question he now put to the gods and goddesses at cocktail hour. Were sexual relations more fun for the woman or the man? It was clearly a question without an answer. My wife and I, in our red-hot days, had wondered about that, and discussed it between heats. As close as we ever came to an answer, I said if she liked it better than I, then it was too good for her. We left it in that unsettled situation, and I think we never brought the matter up again.

But the gods and the goddesses are immortal and they had a way to find out! Jupiter merely waved his hand to gain attention, and snapped his fingers. And there before all stood a young man, eager, dependable, vigorous, handsome, fully developed, and incredibly desirable. The gods and goddesses burst into wild applause at Jupiter's creation.

So this young man was set down off Mount Olympus to seek and find a young lady with whom he might dally and so forth. In that vicinity, it wasn't difficult to find cooperation, and later in the afternoon the young man returned to lofty Mount Olympus to say he had enjoyed an interesting experience, and what next?

Then Jupiter snapped his fingers again, and this paragon of manhood was instantly changed into the most voluptuous female ever to grace the countryside. Every vestige of masculinity was erased. But, and this is the important part, this newly made young lady retained all the memories of the previous encounter, and while she was now a female, she knew what it was like to be otherwise. Now she was set down from Mount Olympus and was soon in the arms of some lucky young Grecian chap who happened by, and he fol-de-roled with her in the usual way with abandon and delight, an exercise that took some time but was quickly over, and the young lady was ready to be taken before the gods and goddesses to report.

So you see, there on Mount Olympus, stood the only person ever to experience sex from both points of view. When Jupiter said, "All right, let's hear it," the joint immortal attention was tremendous. For the first time, and to date the only time, this question was answered by somebody who knew. So who had more fun, the boy or the girl?

It's much the same when you ask who adjusts better at Rhapsody Home: the lady or the gentlemen?

Use of this excerpt from TALES FROM RHAPSODY HOME: OR, WHAT THEY DON'T TELL YOU ABOUT SENIOR LIVING may be made only for purposes of promoting the book, with no changes, editing, or additions whatsoever, and must be accompanied by the following copyright notice:

Copyright (c) 2000 by John Gould. All rights reserved.

Meet the Author

John Gould has lived his whole life in Maine. He is the author of twenty-nine books, most of them about the people and character of his home state. Now ninety-two and still an active journalist, turning out his weekly column (which began in 1942) in the Christian Science Monitor, Mr. Gould has lived with his wife in the real Rhapsody Home for five years.

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