Many baby boomers, especially those of us who are closer to 70 years of age now than we are to 60, are caretakers of our parents. Some of those eighty-and-ninety-something-year-olds live with one of their children and some of them are living in assisted living facilities or in nursing homes. Clyde Edgerton’s Lunch at the Piccadilly focuses on the group dynamic of life in one of these facilities, the Rosehaven Convalescence Center in little Listre, North Carolina.
Carl Turnage became a regular at Rosehaven Convalescence when Lil Olive, his favorite aunt, took up residence there. When, as a still relatively young woman, Lil realized she would never have children of her own, she decided to pour all of her affection for children Carl’s way. And Carl, who considered Lil more a second mother than an aunt, reciprocated. Now that his mother is dead, there is no one in the world closer to Carl than Aunt Lil, and he is determined to ease her through her final years.
What Carl finds in Rosehaven will make him laugh, make him cry, and change him in ways he never bargained for. As often happens in assisted living facilities, the residents travel in packs of three or four like-minded souls who live primarily to speculate and gossip about everyone else in the building, including occasional visitors. Come to think of it, life in an assisted living facility is a lot like eating in the Junior High lunchroom we all, perhaps not so fondly, remember.
Carl has the usual concerns about Lil: how to convince her to hang up her car keys for good, making sure that she takes her medication correctly, making sure that her bills are paid, how to add a little variety to her day, how to find enough time to visit her the way she deserves to be visited, etc. And then L. Ray Flowers, a charismatic, guitar-playing, part-time preacher comes to Rosehaven for physical therapy. Soon, L. Ray and Lil’s group of four have hatched up plans to form a national movement that would do away with nursing homes by moving the elderly residents into churches where they would be cared for by church members. L. Ray likes to call these new facilities “nurches.”
But life goes on. And minds slip. And people come and go. And when they go, they go for good.
Lunch at the Piccadilly, despite its setting, is not a sad novel. Assisted living facilities are filled with humor and good times, and with people who are content with this stage of their lives. Of course, there are a few chronically unhappy residents and others whose minds have slipped beyond the point of knowing exactly where they are most days. But the beautiful thing is that they have each other for support and how much happier they all are as a result.
Clyde Edgerton has largely captured the atmosphere that I see most every time that I visit my 93-year-old father. He has been in a facility for over six years, and I have come to know many of his friends during that time. Yes, it is an ever-changing cast of friends, but they are teaching me what to expect for myself later on -and reminding me to live life to the fullest while I can. This is a beautiful little book.