In the mountains of western North Carolina sits an old, antebellum home called Kelly House. Here, retired CIA operative and octogenarian Ben Zangwell has decided to open an experimental writing commune for the elderly. Eight elderly men and women answer the call, and soon the house teems with artistic energy.
But each person has his or her personal demons to combat. There's Sadie, who struggles with her love for her children while rejecting their religious fundamentalism; widower Gerald, who hopes to end his loneliness by being part of the group; retired social worker David, who needs to lose at least fifty pounds to keep his diabetes under control; and free-spirited Britt, who is looking for a new adventure.
The community isn't without its adventures. Cody, a chronically homeless elder, wanders into their lives telling stories of making moonshine, while the group's nurse, Stephen, exposes them to his world as a Cherokee Indian. But it is perhaps the love affair between Ben and Britt that consumes the group most as they try to search out the leaning of life in their twilight years.
Funny, sincere, and entertaining, Kelly House delivers an intriguing glimpse into the unique experiences of the elderly.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.73(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By John K. Spitzberg
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 John K. Spitzberg
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA flood of sunlight embraced the sky on the day that Gerald Janokoski and Lee Lansing were due to be released from Greentree Rehabilitation and Nursing Home in Plantation, Florida. It was exactly the kind of weather that snow birds died for. Mancini music soothed the halls of Greentree as it made its way along the corridors and into the patients' rooms. A mellow seventy-seven degrees with a cool breeze, lazy billowing clouds clear of the heaviness of impending precipitation greeted Lee and Gerald as they walked out of the facility on their own without the support of walkers or any other device to keep them from losing their balance and falling.
Gerald walked with the shuffle and slowness expected of a gentleman who had fractured his hip and was exceedingly cautious as a result of that mishap, while Lee suffering from Parkinson's disease walked with the gait and awkwardness associated with her malady. On this day though the duo forgot their ageing and infirmities and walked with purpose and determination. As they saw it, this was the beginning of a new lease on life.
Their departure was not typical because they were members of Greentree's famed writer's group which by now was highly touted at the rehabilitation center and throughout South Florida within the nursing home industry as a means of helping the elderly cope and even exceed their rehabilitation goals. Staff members, tears in their eyes, other patients and even administrative personnel lined the hallways to say goodbye and wish the two of them good luck as they embarked on their new adventure. They would be leaving soon for Asheville, North Carolina and their new home, the writer's collective for disabled elderly, Kelly House.
Still to leave Greentree forever and join the pair were David Greenberg, Sadie Goldenblum and Britt Manning, the remaining patients in the writers' group. They, too, were scheduled to make the exodus from Florida to the "promise land" of Western North Carolina and the beckoning Appalachians.
Unbeknown to the group was a reporter from the Sunshine Journal notified by his editor to find out about the commune and to do a story- if one even existed. The editor received a telephone call from a friend of a friend who worked at Greentree. She talked at length about the newly formed writer's commune made up of patients and volunteers adding with delight that there was a fresh buzz of excitement which seemed to surround the entire facility.
No one was ever able to figure out who called the press. It was only a matter of time anyway before the secret was out. Ben Zangwell, the founder of Kelly House, knew that eventually the press would become interested and want to know more the project. For many years Ben led a clandestine existence out of necessity and now things would change. He winced. It was no surprise that on the Friday that Lee and Gerald left, a reporter and photographer were present to take pictures and interview them about their future plans.
The reporter had several pictures taken and asked for a group shot of the writers with Pauline Baldwin and Ben, once fellow volunteers who had assisted them in their writing. Pauline was there to become a charter member of the new commune and would be leaving for the mountain antebellum home as a member of the commune. The reporter wanted to talk to the social worker, Jane Fine stein, who started the writer's therapy group and to get the full story. As far as the reporter knew, no commune had ever been born at a nursing and rehabilitation facility in Florida or anywhere else and no commune had ever been founded for such old people. That had to be newsworthy.
Gerald agreed to speak to the reporter about his part in the whole affair and readily gave his phone number to the reporter. He would call Gerald on Monday and pay him a visit in Coral Springs. As for Lee, he arranged to have a colleague pay her a visit in her room in Ft. Lauderdale. The reporter thought it would be a good idea to meet Lee and Pauline together since Pauline had assisted Lee in her writing. Pauline suggested that they might be a little more comfortable were they to meet in her condo in Oakland Park on A1A.
Pauline lived in opulence on the fourteenth floor of her rounded skyscraper condo with a magnificent view of the ocean and the comforts of never having to leave her building full of magnificent shopping opportunities and a mini mall on the first floor with a full gym, Versace clothing boutiques and high quality antique and collectible shops. A four star French restaurant, fine Italian dining, gourmet dining for any palate and a smorgasbord of international wine cellars provided the residence with ample reason never to leave the confines of the building. There were two such buildings connected together with a subterranean walkway and tram. For Pauline it was exactly due to this lifestyle that she felt smothered, useless and had to escape to become constructive and feel a sense of worthiness.
The weekend was a lonely and disconcerting one for David Greenberg who for the last six months or more had spent most of his waking hours with Gerald. Although he realized that they would soon be back together talking and writing, he sorely missed his pal. He spent the weekend writing notes to himself about the areas of his life that he had not covered thoroughly enough or not at all while in the writer's therapy group with Jane. These would be the first areas that he wished to examine in writing as soon as he got to the commune.
The other things that he wanted to attend to while remaining in the center were related to his rehabilitation. Stan Darling, his physical therapist and one of the occupational therapists had fashioned a splint of sorts for David to use on his right hand. He still had no feeling on his right side including the hand, but the splint did allow him to use the right hand for gross motor activities by using the left hand to maneuver the right.
David wanted to do as much as he could so that when he moved he'd be able to use the right side a little more effectively. Everyone in rehab was amazed at his determination to make it work. They could remember the days when Mr. Greenberg had all but given up and preferred death to life. Now, when they encountered him, there was camaraderie and joined purpose which made them feel worthwhile and him grateful for their hard work. Now when staff encountered him, he was a new person in their eyes as well as his own.
David was scheduled to leave the center in a week and return to Whispering Pines Village. He, too, would keep his one bedroom apartment for a year as agreed upon by the others and Ben. The agreement was that for the first year Ben would handle all costs in North Carolina and David would take care of the condo bills in Florida, a win-win plan.
Each member would have a year to decide whether communal living was right for them or not. Each writer would have a place to return to if it didn't work for them. In actuality it would be no different than what they had now when they were first hospitalized and then sent to the rehabilitation program. David saw it as an agreement in which no one would lose the security of knowing that they had a home. David reflected on Jane's words. "There are no losers, only winners." He thought back on how he used to envy her youth and cheerfulness, albeit naivety with more than a little anger and caustic cynicism. Now he, too, had reason for a new spirit of joy and hopefulness. Former President Obama's book, The Audacity of Hope seemed so apropos now.
David wanted to talk to Ethan and Diana, his son and daughter-in-law. He wanted to ask them whether they would be willing to look in on the apartment and take care of anything that came up. David believed that once the mail system caught up he could probably handle most of his bills, taxes and important matters. He didn't consider his stroke and its aftermath to be a deterrent any longer, but rather a challenge.
Britt Manning and Sadie Goldenblum spent more time together now that Lee and Gerald were gone. Britt thought back to the time when she had made fun of Sadie and almost scorned her for her simple and child like love of everyone. Sadie reminded Britt of Betty White who used to play Rose in the Golden Girls long ago. Britt mused to herself how from such a hateful and angry woman she had found love for her friends and a spark of something she couldn't put her finger on for Ben Zangwell.
For Britt there would be little to do. She had a room in Deerfield Beach in one of the small motels that lined AIA. Since she was willing to sign a yearly lease, she was given a room, bath and small kitchenette for $450 a month with a first and last month paid in advance. The owner, a retired steam fitter and his wife who also suffered from emphysema like Britt took pity on the little old lady. Had Britt known that was his image of her, she would never have stayed there. He reduced the price significantly. It also meant that the room was paid for even on the off season, so everyone was happy.
Britt received $575 in social security and twenty to twenty-five dollars a month from some royalties on some of her pictures taken in Siberia when she taught English with the Peace Corps years ago and pictures taken in Alaska when she tried without success to become a teacher in the Bush, what Australians referred to as the Outback. She maintained a PO Box and held it for some twenty years or more. That's how she was able to get her checks. Whenever she moved she'd send a forwarding address to the post office which would then send her mail to her.
It wasn't much to be sure, but it would have to do. The question which Britt posed to herself and discussed with Sadie was whether she should hold on to the apartment or let it go. That meant that she could pocket the social security and royalty checks for a year. That would give her over $6,000 if she decided that North Carolina or the commune was not for her.
"So what do you think, Sadie?"
"My husband, Morris used to say that a bird in the hand is worth more than-I've forgotten the rest. Why don't you talk to Ben and see what he thinks. Men have a better mind for money than women, I think." She smiled benignly.
"Oh God, Sadie. There you go again with that 'men know more than women' stuff. I don't think so at all. Women have been taking care of money and families all by themselves without men to help for a long time now. And they didn't have men telling them what to do!" There was a time when Britt would have exploded at this simple woman, but now all she could feel was great love and caring for her. Things had really changed.
"I know you're right, but Morris, may he rest in peace, use to say that women are best when they don't have to trouble themselves about money matters. Of course when he was gone for all those years as a merchant marine, I did take care of a house full of people and children."
"See what I mean! You've been doing by yourself all along."
Sadie smiled innocently with no indication of understanding Britt's point.
"What are you going to do with your condo, Sadie? Come to think of it I don't remember you ever telling us anything about where you live or anything like that." Her eyes danced joyfully.
"Hum-You're right. Britt, I didn't. I guess I forgot. Doing all that writing with Jean's help was mostly about my life before I came to Florida. Well, anyway I have a two bedroom condo in Hollywood off of Sheridan Rd. I'm not far from 441. It's in a senior community, but nothing like David's. That's a huge place. I used to have a girlfriend there, but she died, may she rest in peace. Mine is small, about four buildings. People are allowed to have small pets and for the most part they take care of them pretty good. I'm going to keep the condo. That's for sure. I have a neighbor who takes care of things for me when I'm not there, like now."
"That's good. I never owned anything of my own. In some ways I liked it that way. I could always move around without having to worry about reselling or anything like that. In other ways I always wanted to own something. Never did talk about that in group, but it's not such a big deal now. I was the proverbial rolling stone-never to be caught with my pants down." Britt laughed, "Unless I wanted to take them down- You know what I mean? Don't look at me that way."
Sadie didn't seem to catch the joke. Once again Britt thought of Rose Nyland from St. Olof, Minnesota. She wondered whether Betty White was still alive. Bee Arthur and Estelle Getty were dead. What was the name of the character Blanche? Rue-something.... "I don't think that I could have ever been happy not owning my own house, Britt. It was the center of my world." Her eyes misted with memories and smells of her kitchen.
They sat in silence staring at the floor each with her own thoughts. "How do they say it- 'Different strokes for different folks'," murmured Britt.
"I think I heard someone down in rehabilitation say that. I want to get out of here as soon as I can and move to North Carolina. I need to write letters to my son Sammy and my daughter, Elaine. I'm not sure where Sammy and Pat are now, probably still on that Goyisha island in Georgia, Saint something or another. But Elaine and Josh are still in their house. I wonder how Sammy's going to feel about my writing about Messianic Judaism ."Sadie scrunched her face in deep concern.
"Yes, you talked a lot about that in group. I don't know whether he'll like you knocking what he believes in, especially you being his mother" lamented Britt.
"True, but one think I learned in these six months with Jane and all of you, especially David is that I shut my eyes too much just because he is my son and I love him. I shouldn't have gone along with everything he said. I should have really stopped supporting him the minute he tried to drive the devil out of my poor sick sister, Jennie. May she rest in peace? But, I didn't."
"No use crying over it now, Sadie. It's in the past. Maybe when you get to the commune and start writing, you can expose the group without exposing Sammy. You know, deal with their ideas, not the people who have them. Does that make sense?"
"I guess." Sadie's blank gaze made Britt doubt that she understood. "Well, I'm tired. I'll see you at dinner. I hope that we can eat with David. He must feel terribly lonely without Gerald."
With that the women parted and went to their rooms. They, too, would be leaving Greentree within two weeks for their new venture.
Chapter TwoBenjamin Zachariah Zangwell sat in his apartment reflecting about the many things which would have to be done before anyone could move into Kelly House. His apartment was small with a lazy boy chair which he spent much too much time in watching reruns of Stephen Segal movies and a few comedies. He loved Special Victims Unit out of the New York Police Department and loved the humor from NCIS. Primarily, he loved the characters in both of the shows and in SVU, the horrendous story lines. He also watched his girth grow as he munched on things which were bad for him, particularly with his diabetes.
When Ben first bought the old house in North Carolina, over twenty years ago, he never figured on the elderly angle. Ben's original idea was to bring everyone interested in fighting the World Trade Organization, the multi-amorphous titans of industry who maintained slave labor and women and children in factories, mines and shops throughout the world to bolster unimaginable fortunes for themselves, together to learn how to fight these giants. It didn't come to fruition as he planned.
One mission and then another never permitted the idea to take shape. And then 9-11 disrupted any idea of a school for dissidents. Many Americans bought into the idea that somehow anyone who didn't agree was a terrorist. The White House was entirely too paranoid to tolerate any underground, subversive school. Even under the Democrats with a brilliant enlightened president, Ben couldn't organize the school and then the right wing religious zealots made it impossible to rise up. Mediocre intelligence within congressional ranks, incredibly greedy money interests and a massive grass roots program spearheaded by people who couldn't adjust to the fact that a man of color was duly elected as President disgusted Ben. So he spent a lot of time in foreign countries where there might be turmoil, but he couldn't understand the languages that well and preferred to roam the globe rather than get involved. He saw himself as an ex-patriot until his health brought him home and to Florida.
Excerpted from KELLY HOUSE by John K. Spitzberg Copyright © 2012 by John K. Spitzberg. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.