Throwback Thursday: Forcing a Fixer Upper on an 88 Year Old

We’re going back about 8 years. My mom had wanted my grandmother to downsize for about as long as I can remember, but come hell or high water, Nana was staying put. In fact, she complained constantly that it was too small.

Nana's House.jpg

She was 40 minutes away (without traffic), had to carry her laundry up 2 flights of steps (only up, as she put it in trash bags and threw it down), and of course there was the lawn care. She stopped driving, but since my mom was taking good care of her that wasn’t enough either. It was only when, at 87, she fell off the porch that she agreed it was time to move.

I can remember that my mom took her to look at townhouses and age segregated developments years ago. High on Nana’s list of must haves was a formal dining room. Any arrangement combining it with the living room was a deal breaker. And since she was coming to a more expensive area, that brought her search to an end about as close as it began.

But by this time she was ready to move into something sensible. A sturdy high rise just a mile and a half from my parents, and in a nerdy college town. (Image courtesy Carrie Piccard) A fun coincidence – back when they lived in West Philly, she and her siblings would hike out here. There was an inn on the site and they could rent canoes.


We took on condensing her stuff to what would fit into half the living space she was used to – and you might remember that we just finished getting rid of the rest last summer.

And we arm twisted her into buying the most run-down unit in the building. To her, it was a dump! She couldn’t use that word enough. To us, it was a great bargain and the work it needed was hardly anything at all. Plus, the renovated units were mediocre and this one had one of the best views in the building.


She saw: a slightly rusty avocado kitchen and a note taped to the cabinets that the association shut the gas off because it was leaking.


We saw: a dreadfully low ceiling. My dad said, “Here lemme lift you up” and he whisked me up. We communicate semi-verbally like that. There was also nothing up here except lights. They installed a 7 foot drop ceiling basically just to have a room size light box.


Elsewhere, she saw dingy paint and nasty carpets. We saw: things that she’d want to change no matter where she went.


She saw dingy bathrooms. We saw that there were 2, they both at least worked, and the tile was inoffensive. (The joint compound was my doing.)


And so, with her place on the market and this place bought, we had 6 months to get it finished. And by we I mean mostly my parents – I was finishing up in school. A couple times we brought her with us. She’d just sit looking in horror and then shout, “It’s a dump!”





13 thoughts on “Throwback Thursday: Forcing a Fixer Upper on an 88 Year Old

  1. francetaste

    Cliffhanger Chad. What a tease. Don’t make us wait forever for the after!
    After going through moving my grandma out of her house when she was 88 and later my parents when they were 84 and 89, I have learned the lesson that as soon as my nest is empty I want to downsize. Part of the difficulty/resistance to moving is starting in an unfamiliar place, learning the ropes at a point in life when it’s a big effort. Doing it much earlier can only make it easier.


  2. Mary Elizabeth

    Francetaste, what you are suggesting is exactly what my husband and I did! Everyone thought we were crazy–just barely retired (him fully, me partly), and we bought a one-story ranch with about 2/3 the square footage of our townhouse. It needed a lot of things, such as an addition, many built-ins and some flooring changes, but we have been so happy here for six years, and the renovations entertain us. We would never be able to do all this work in our mid eighties. And we are getting involved with our new community while we are still young enough. So follow your instincts on this and do it now.



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