Subtitled "Tales of the New Old Age in America," Dudley Clendinen's journalistic approach to his over four hundred days in a "geriatric apartment building" named Canterbury in Tampa, Florida, is a sobering read.
When Clendinen's mother Mary entered the facility in 1994, she walked into a new chapter of her life, one with a clear end. Part soap opera, part life opera, A Place Called Canterbury shares a glimpse of the fourteen years that his mother would live there.
Clendinen also introduces and becomes friends with the other members of the "Tower," the aptly named high rise that Canterbury was, and the many devoted and kind staff members who made sure that many aspects of the residents' lives ran as smoothly as possible, their care and devotion admirable.
With over 24 chapters of stories about Canterbury, the real people of this small village tell Clendinen their own stories of wars, the Great Depression, and the prime of their lives; however, the thrust of the work is about Clendinen and his relationship with his mother, who lived the last nine years of her life as the victim of a stroke in the "health" facility of Canterbury, a separate wing from the Tower. Even though he knew her wishes, "no tubes," Mary Clendinen lived for many years "trapped" in her own body, unable to communicate with others.
Dutiful son Dudley made the trip at least once a month from Baltimore to check on his mother and while there, he chooses to spend his extra, idle time developing relationships and interviewing the other denizens of Canterbury and what he deemed "the new old age."
In a chapter titled "War and Survival," Clendinen concludes that "[these residents who managed to live through some of America's worse times] were tested hard and early. They had lived long. Now, in the unexpected years of the new century, a millennium most of them had never expected to know, what they mainly wanted was to feel secure in their last years, and at peace. Surely, history was done with them by now."
Clendinen writes with tenderness about this generation, mostly women, who lived a long time, and who even though life was done with them, continued to live.
One woman tells him: "You can never be sure which of the things you worried about would actually come to pass or whether it would be one of the things you prepared so carefully for."
At times humorous, at other times tremendously sad, A Place Called Canterbury meets the reality of what old age looks like without apology.