I arrive early for the barbecue at Twelve Oaks Retirement Home, which is nestled in a grove of 100-year-old oaks in La Crescenta. My intention was to walk the grounds and meander between the quaint cottages and gardens searching for the zen of the story that I would write. With every breath and step taken, I was filled with peace and serenity. At Twelve Oaks peace was present, right here and now.
I was drawn to the sound of running water emanating from an old stone fountain. I thought of the words of Chang Tzu: “You will always find an answer in the sound of water.” Since I came to Twelve Oaks searching for answers, I would rely on his wisdom.
Why would be.group, formerly known as Southern California Presbyterian Homes, sell this property to a developer for private development? Why would they displace the residents, allowing them only 60 days to leave a place where they thought they would live out their last years? How does be.group separate friends, thus adding to the isolation of seniors suffering from dementia and distorted realities?
But what I sought mostly was the answer to the question, how can any society allow this to happen for no apparent reason other than to make money for be.group? What does this say about who we are? Something will leave us as a people when Twelve Oaks is sold and bulldozed over. We need such havens for our elderly. The way we treat our senior citizens ultimately defines who we are.
Twelve Oaks, an 80-year-old property, has been the favored philanthropy of the mothers and daughters of the National Charity League, Glendale Chapter, dating back to the 1950s. The property and its residents provide a laboratory where young girls and their mothers serve meals, plan parties, care for the grounds, stuff goodie bags, make blankets, prune roses, cook dinners and, of course, interact with the elderly.
The impact of displacing the residents seemed to weigh heavily upon the children of the NCL. They appeared bewildered by the upcoming demise of Twelve Oaks. Tenth-grader Samantha Loui explained, “The residents are fascinating souls who have struggled through life and survived to pass on their wisdom. Many of them have taunted death, then walked away with courage I have yet to find.”
She continued: “I am losing the people who taught me the importance of reading, who told me about the world before technology, who showed me what actually matters in life, and told stories about fighting in wars.”
Eighth-grader Katherine Lazier said, “There is fear and helplessness in the voices of the residents.”
I spoke at length to the facility's residents, old soldiers who fought in Europe and Korea. Merle Baer, 90, flew C-46 Commandos in World War II. Eugene Eyraud flew B-50s in Korea. But now the soldiers, veterans of American wars, sit around and wait to die. These boys are my soldiers. They are veterans. It is unspeakable how be.group would expel people from the greatest generation from the only homes they currently know. So little is known about the feelings of old people, maybe that's why it's easy to bulldoze Twelve Oaks.
I observed the forlorn faces of Rose Chen Loui, Paris Cohen, Janet Lazier and Gabriella Chuck, mothers of daughters in the NLC. We sat at the same table listening to the old soldiers. During a quiet moment I heard the trickling water of the fountain but the answers Tzu promised remained unfindable.
I realized though, the demise of old people eventually comes full circle. It comes right back to us. And my best analysis is there is no moral rationale to close Twelve Oaks.
We watched the elderly amble back to their cottages and a sadness lingered. In disbelief I turned to Paris Cohen; she whispered, “Is this what awaits us?”