Construction of Heritage Village began in the early 1980s and proceeded in stages to the present, with plans for additional condominiums and an acute rehabilitation-slash-fitness center near ground breaking. Prominent display of architectural renderings of the future additions greeted both residents and guests when they entered the main lobby. In the 1980s the concept of a facility offering senior citizens whole life living arrangements, ranging from full independence to full nursing care, had made strides in major retirement regions like Arizona and Florida. Heartland entrepreneurs seized the budding idea and Heritage Village became one of its first blossoms.
Even before the first of the baby boomers turned fifty the notion that Granny and Grandpa would live out their senior years in their rocking chairs on the front porch found challenges lobbed from a whole new brash bunch of old folk. Prominent among these challengers were eighty year olds who ran the Boston Marathon and Harley clubs composed of members all past sixty years old. Top that off with the fact that the citizens of the United States elected Ronald Reagan to the presidency when he was near seventy years in 1980 then reelected him in 1984 when he was seventy-three. Clearly the number of people over the age of sixty was mushrooming and just as unmistakably they were not trundling off to “old age” homes or being pushed aside. The united senior voice demanded an ear that would listen. The nursing home business twitched its ear and responded.
Over the next several years senior residential care facilities transformed into the total retirement whole life campuses that now dotted the landscapes of all fifty states. These changes coaxed more reluctant seniors to chuck the family home opting for condos with amenities that included trips, golf and no yard work. Their children relaxed knowing that when mom or dad’s health declined the whole life plan would provide on going care appropriate to their parent’s needs. The multi-million dollar conglomerates running these campuses exploded as the popularity and the need expanded. Most of them occupied high-rise corporate offices, had holdings in multiple states and a surplus of rising young executives—median age 35—who kept the acquisitions coming and the bottom line in the black.
Heritage Village had at last count 90 sisters in 26 states all owned by Elder World Enterprises, Inc. Corporate offices were located in an enormous glass and steel building in Louisville, Kentucky. The executives at Elder World seldom, if ever, involved themselves with the actual business of their multiple holdings, visiting sites only for ground breakings and other photo opportunities and hiring health care administrators as managers to set up boards of community leaders, professional staff and representatives from the families of the residents, to enact policies and procedures, deal with state and local legal issues, accreditation, manage staff and deal with the endless day to day routine.
At Heritage Village the day to day business rested with Mavis Purcell. Single and forty-five years old Mavis seldom worked an eight hour day or a forty hour work week. So as she escorted Amy Davidson along the circuitous route to the staff wing at nine o’clock in the evening after arriving that morning at seven Mavis did not entertain thoughts of martyrdom, but she did acknowledge, at least to herself, weariness. With her weariness came diminished conversational skills. This did not seem to bother Amy who seemed deep in her own thoughts. Mavis did marvel at how well she navigated the halls with her limited vision. Wyatt Davidson had told Mavis, without elaboration, that an early childhood trauma had caused Amy’s blindness. Her other disabilities began developing in her early thirties with a final diagnosis coming a month before her mother’s death. Amy had multiple sclerosis. He had said little else except to tell Mavis not to underestimate Amy. While blind, she did see shadows and movement. Given time he expected she would need little assistance getting from place to place at Heritage Village, although she might need help out of doors. Her guide dog, Brutus died not long after her mother’s death, but he had requested another in hope that she would accept one.
“We are approaching the corridor that leads to your apartment, Amy. When we get there . . . oops! Right now!” Mavis said, causing Amy to brake suddenly, “you need to make a left turn. Sorry, I didn’t realize how quickly we were moving. I need my running shoes to keep up.”
“No, problem, Mrs. Purcell. I am sure once I get the layout in my head, I’ll be less of a bother.”
“Call me Mavis and call me if you need me.” She added, “Until you get the layout in your head. Here’s your door.” Mavis eased Amy in the right direction with a touch to her shoulder. She noticed waiting for Amy to unlock her door that Helen Marcum’s door was slightly ajar. Spying, Mavis concluded.
Farewells concluded and Amy safe inside her apartment, Mavis turned to walk away. As she did, she heard the distinct click of Helen’s deadbolt. Tired as she was the image of Helen spying on her new neighbor produced an impulse to laugh. Fortunately, she restrained the urge only giving into it thirty minutes later as she soaked her body in a wealth of bubbles. Whether it was the bath or the laughter, Mavis didn’t know, but she dropped to sleep not remembering much after her head hit the pillow.
In her last conscious action, she inhaled and the magic of the night’s music filled her head to toes. Holding both breath and music for a moment she lingered in a state of suspension then exhaled. Her next breath did not register as intentional, but with it came a parade of animals led by turtles, followed by chickens, dogs, cats, a menagerie not unlike artistic renditions of Noah’s Arc, except these animals marched into the multi purpose room at Heritage Village to the strains of “Lead on O King Eternal.” By morning she would have forgotten that vision at least until the real thing happened at two o’clock the next afternoon.
Mavis Purcell’s retreating footsteps prompted not only the closure of Helen Marcum’s clandestine observation but also that of another positioned in the dim light of the wing’s solarium. Having chosen a wing back chair, the man simply sat very still until Mavis had departed and Helen had retreated behind her door. He slipped off his shoes before arising then padded in his socks away from the staff apartments.