Downsizing the Dumps

A Septuagenarian's Perspective


by Nita Wise, Contributing Writer

Nita Wise

I can’t move!” I literally screeched. My husband had gone ahead to unlock the door. “I CAN’T MOVE!” I bellowed this time. I did not jump from the car as usual. I was completely serious. In the 15-minute drive from the university to our home, something had happened. A quick trip to the local hospital emergency room confirmed I had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke.

“I can’t move!” I yelled that answer to my adult daughter 14 years later. She called on Friday to announce: “The moving van will be there at 8 a.m. on Monday. Choose what you want to take to your new house.”

Six months earlier her father had died, victim of two malignant brain tumors. Our three adult, married children were spread from South Carolina to Virginia to Colorado.

Each fretted about mom, living alone, with limited mobility. Plus I was sole caretaker of a big house, a guest house, a swimming pool, and 58 acres of isolated land. Not acceptable!

I was stubborn, self-willed. I needed a period of solitude. To think, grieve, redirect my life. In my heart I knew I was not alone.

Almost overnight a small house a half mile from our oldest son appeared on the market.

Slow to make major decisions, I did an about-face. A rush trip to inspect the property prompted me to fork over earnest money. Within a month, I purchased this house. (We had saved money for a rainy day. I was fortunate.)

In 1963, a cross-country trip of the U.S. revealed the miracle of America to our family. Five of us traveled for about five weeks for around $500. That paid for gas, groceries, camping fees, admission to attractions. (Do you remember gas costing 19˘ a gallon?)

Our tour was made in a 1950 Packard hearse. We converted it into a primitive RV. It housed bunk beds for the boys, 11 and eight, and a Moon Mullins dresser drawer for our four-year-old daughter. A double mattress slept mom and dad.

Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, initiated our jaunt. I had routed daily sites to view. Our daughter claimed the privilege of choosing the campground facility. Her query near the end of each driving day was: “Does it have pit pots or flush toilets?” She always was a prissy pot! She was born too late to grow up with outhouses and Sears catalogue toilet paper.

Each day we live presents challenge, opportunity. We must discover a median that respects each other’s space, ideas, being. As I move closer to 80 years on this earth, I realize how lucky I’ve been. I was able to observe our homeland from a hearse. My first trip in a hearse was great!

I trust, I believe, my last trip in a hearse will open up more glorious experiences we cannot begin to imagine. There will be peace. I am positive of this. “The pioneer in me will not be quelled. I am impelled. Push West.”

Nita Wise is an award-winning poet and the mother of Cooperative Living staff member Becky Potter. 



I must step back

and survey

these fields I’ve cleared.

I’ve cut the brush

I’ve grubbed the stumps

I’ve nurtured the seeds:

A labor of love.

It would be so easy

just to reap

a bumper crop.



I never could accept

a downhill coast.

The pioneer in me

cannot be quelled

because I see new ground

which cries out

to be cleared.

I am impelled

“Push West!”


Nita Wise, 1969



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