Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Stay or Go?

Hi Bill

A few months ago Pat and I watched the movie ‘Five Flights Up’ starring Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman. IMDb describes the plot of this quirky movie as: “A long-time married couple who've spent their lives together in the same New York apartment become overwhelmed by personal and real estate-related issues when they plan to move away.” After decades of life in this “walk-up” (no elevator) fifth-floor apartment, they and their aging dog struggle getting up (and down) the stairs and they begin looking to move. It’s a storyline that I think resonates in people around our age.

Pat and I liked this movie very much.

You may remember that, nearly 15 years ago Pat and I moved from the Brookings area to a small town about a half hour from Sioux Falls. Pat had been working for the College of Nursing at South Dakota State University and she had accepted a new SDSU position on the Sioux Falls campus. We sold the large house that we had built near Brookings and bought a smaller house on a cul-de-sac in our idyllic little town. I continued working on the main campus in Brookings and made the 40-minute commute to campus and 40-minute commute back home. We landed in “Our Little Town” because I didn’t want to add another 30 minutes or more each way to my daily commute.

I know you have never visited us since we moved here, but you have heard us talk about our house and we have sent you photos. Our house has three-bedrooms and provides a walkout from our family room to the backyard. The family room is large enough to accommodate my pool table and a comfortable TV/entertainment area. We have had extensive work done on the house over the years, including seamless steel siding, a kitchen remodel, beautiful landscaping by our son-in-law, two new roofs (thanks to hail storms) and a fenced area in our backyard where our three little dogs can run, play and bark.

Our house sits on a large lot adjacent to Rocky Run Golf Course. Our back yard leads directly to the tee for the fourth fairway, which extends straight away from our property. Therefore we don’t need to worry about inept golfers who might accidently ding our house with their pathetic golf swings. I think you know that I am not a golfer, but we walk our dogs on the golf course and we think of it as our own park. Of course we stay away from the golfers and clean up after the dogs when we walk.

When we first moved to South Dakota, back in 1983, we explored the area including our town and we were very impressed with it. We thought it was very charming with the Big Sioux River running through it and a very nice city park along the river.  Back then, we thought it would be a great place to live. However, at that time I did not want to commute to work, especially during SD winters, so we settled in the Brookings area.

However in 2001, Pat’s new job in Sioux Falls precipitated our move to “Our Little Town” – the one that we had thought would be a nice place to live when we first moved to SD. Pat and I both became commuters and it was mostly okay, except during South Dakota winter snow/ice/blizzard events and highway construction projects, etc.

Soon after we moved here, we began thinking of our life as a “Life in Paradise.” Our town has pretty much everything we need including a small hospital, a medical clinic, stores that provide the necessities, a great vintage movie theatre, and some decent restaurants, fast food, etc.

However, lately we are questioning whether we should move to Sioux Falls. Our daughter lives in the city and she would like us to move there, where it would be easier for us to get together with her. She would also be more available to help us during times of need. The half-hour drive to the big city is really not a big deal, but there are times when making that drive is not easy and/or possible due to weather. In addition, we aren’t getting any younger and keeping our property under control and in good condition is not going to get easier as we get older. Also at some point in time, health problems may necessitate that we move to the city.

In addition, while we have many friendly acquaintances, we really don’t have any close friends in “Our Little Town,” which is probably typical for outsiders who move to small towns. However, that may not change even if we moved to the city. Pat and I like people, but we are not the most social people around and that would probably not change much if we moved.  

Perhaps the most compelling factor that makes us think about moving to the city is the upkeep on our house and especially the property. Yes I have a John Deere lawn tractor and a snowblower. Yes we have maintained the house and property in good condition. However, when something goes wrong we often need to seek help from experts in the city who often add travel costs to their work invoices.

In addition, it would be much easier for us to attend events, such as movies and concerts, if we lived in the city. As we have aged, driving 30+ minutes to an event and then back home late at night on the vacant plains is not always fun, especially in the winter. Retail therapy would also be much easier if we lived in the city, although that may not be such a good thing.

Anyway, we frequently debate whether to move to the city or stay here.

However, one major factor in our dilemma is that we love our house! It is not opulent or a palace, but it is the perfect house for us, and thinking about leaving it makes us sad. A year or so ago we looked at a few houses and condos in the city. When we talked with a couple of realtors, they both said pretty much the same thing: “Why would you want to move from a house on the golf course that you love, in a beautiful little town, to a house here in the city?” We don’t quite know the answer to that question yet, but it is something that we discuss quite often.

The movie, ‘5 Flights Up’ made us realize that this dilemma is one that many aging people struggle with, but it did not help us decide what to do.  

For now we believe we will stay here in our beloved little house in paradise. However, there is little doubt that the “Stay or Go” discussion will continue.

Bill, I hope everything is good in your home in paradise.



Wednesday, October 7, 2015


Hi Bill

Today I have been thinking about a time during my junior year at Pitt when I was living in a large two-bedroom apartment on North Craig Street with three roommates. Everything was going great for me at that time. I had everything under control and was ready to take on a bright future.

My parents (James & Marie) and me
Unfortunately, a phone call from Mom on an October evening hit me like a punch in the gut. She told me that Dad had died that afternoon. As you know, he had struggled with many medical problems in the past including a heart condition. However, he had always survived and had been doing well. That day, he had walked down the long driveway on our acreage to get our mail and Aunt Helen’s mail (she lived next door to us as you know). Then he walked back up the driveway and took Helen’s mail to her house. He walked inside the back door of her house and collapsed on the floor. She called an ambulance, but when they arrived there was nothing they could do. He was gone.

When Mom told me on the phone that he died, I could not process those words, “Dad died this afternoon.” As you know, he was a tough guy, who could do almost anything and he would never give up on anything he thought should be done. He was also a wonderful person who loved Mom, the two of us and our extended family, and we all loved him very much. We could always count on him being there to provide whatever support he could for us. However, suddenly he was gone at the age of 54.

I hung up the phone after a very brief and surreal conversation with Mom, who was of course devastated. Then I just walked out of the apartment without saying anything to my roommates. I walked around the sidewalks of Oakland and around the Pitt campus for a long time just trying to process his loss. I finally realized that I was exhausted from walking, so I sat on a bench inside the Cathedral of Learning for hours still processing. The Cathedral was not a church, but the “Commons” area felt very much like a house of worship. Eventually I realized that I should go back to the apartment.

Of course I told my roommates about my father’s death and that I would be leaving for home the next day. They expressed their sympathies and they agreed to let my professors know what happened and give them some assignments that I had worked on. At that time, I didn’t really care what the professors did about my assignments or what I would miss in their classrooms or lecture halls. I just wanted to get home and discover that the whole story was some kind of wicked mistake.

The next day I caught a train from downtown Pittsburgh to my home town. I had a free railroad pass because Dad had retired on disability from the railroad. Anyway, that was a long and sullen train ride to a home that I knew would never be the same. I don’t remember how I got from the railroad station to my house, but I think you may have met me at the station.

The next few days were very difficult and strange. Dad should have been there with us but he was gone. I had been home for a weekend a few weeks earlier and I had talked with him (strangely) about the Theory of Relativity. I was taking a beginning physics class that semester and I found Relativity to be fascinating. Dad was very interested, but I couldn’t really explain it very well to him. However, I looked forward to talking about it more with him after I finished that course.

Enduring the funeral and burial was another difficult challenge for me. Of course Mom was heartbroken and our attempts to help her were ineffective. We did help her make arrangements for the funeral and burial. I know I was not much help but I was there with the two of you when you were making some of the arrangements. I’m sure you remember the viewing at the funeral home. Lots of people, including family and friends, came to pay their respects. One of the hardest times during that viewing was when Grandpap walked up to the open casket. As you know, Grandpap was a very tall and very strong man, even at his advanced age. However, you and I had to accompany him to the casket and he almost collapsed when he looked down at Dad’s body. We had to grab him and hold him up, and I will never forget how much sadness I saw in him. Of course you know the burial was at Alto Reste Cemetery very close to our house. It was extremely hard for me to visit that grave for many years. When I was young, my neighborhood friends and I played in that cemetery, including sledding on the icy roads in the hilly sections during winters and riding our bikes in warmer seasons. We often got chased out of that cemetery. Dad’s (and Mother’s) grave is on one of those sledding hills that we enjoyed back in the day.

I returned to my apartment in Pittsburgh far too soon because I was in the middle of a busy semester and I couldn’t miss too many lectures and assignments. However, I struggled to finish that semester, especially that physics class that didn’t seem to matter anymore. I eventually took advantage of some counseling on campus and I was introduced to some very interesting, pleasing, and legal (imagine that) drugs that helped keep me under control. However, I got the best help from the pastor at the Lutheran University Center. Charles (Chuck) C. was a wonderful compassionate man who was fascinated (or maybe he pretended to be fascinated) with my life and my relationships with my family and friends. I remained good friends with him through college and for a while after. He eventually conducted the marriage ceremony for Pat and me at LUC.

Obviously I still struggle with the realities of Dad’s death. His loss was tragic for us, but he lost more than we did. He didn’t get to grow old with Mom and they loved each other dearly. He never met Pat or Rayna or Zeb. He never attended my graduations from Pitt. (I didn’t attend those ceremonies either. They just didn’t seem important to me). Mom was never the same after his death, although she struggled on for 30 years.

Well, I’m sorry to bring up these sad memories. However, we need to realize that he loved us and would be very happy and proud of us for the lives we have had.

James E. Hallman - R.I.P.

HS Graduation Photo

James and Marie

I promise to be more upbeat in my next letter.