Someone was pulling two empty shopping carts into the apartment building lobby. It was late autumn on the shore of Lake Superior, a day when the too fresh air signaled winter. An old woman, who had gone to get her mail, recognized her next door neighbors’ daughter. 

“What’s going on?” the old woman asked. 

“My father’s been moved to a nursing home and we finally convinced my mother to move to assisted living. I’m clearing out the apartment.”  

“Oh,” the woman answered, “that’s hard.” 

Both women stopped at the elevator and waited. 

Thirty seconds later, the daughter pivoted to the right and glared at the old woman. 

“You should move right away! Don’t wait! While you can, do it!”

The daughter’s eyes were fixed on the woman. She was fuming. It was intimidating. The woman was eighty-seven years old and small. The daughter was tall and looked strong. When the elevator arrived, the two entered together. 

“You should move over there,” the daughter said, pointing to the back of the elevator. Just to the east of the apartment were three large buildings including an independent and assisted living facility whose completion had caused five years of constant noise and disruption in the neighborhood. “Changing Aging” was their slogan. Changing it to what, the old woman thought. 

“I’ll miss seeing your mom and dad,” she said, trying to smooth the awkwardness in the confines of the elevator. 

“Do you know it took three doctors to convince my stubborn mother that she couldn’t take care of Dad anymore and that she should move? Three doctors and me!” The daughter was yelling now.

“Oh,” the woman said mildly, “your parents had a lovely three bedroom apartment. It would be hard to leave.” 

The daughter and the woman were going to the same floor. The elevator seemed to ascend slowly. 

“I don’t know how your mother did it,” the woman went on. “She’s amazing.” The daughter’s mother had needed a walker but still managed to lift her 215 pound husband out of bed to the wheelchair and back each day.

“Why do you want to stay here? The daughter glared at her. “Do your kids a big favor and move to assisted living! Why do you want to cook lunch and dinner when you could get it over there?” 

“I cook for myself because I can,” the woman said, her voice firmer.

“Furniture, papers, lamps, clothes – we’ve been to the dump twice. Do your kids a big favor. Move!”  She hit her fist on the shopping cart. The bang echoed in the elevator.

Finally, the old woman with her mail, the neighbor’s daughter, and the shopping carts emerged from the elevator on the fourth floor. The harangue continued as they made the long laborious walk down the hallway toward the two apartments, the daughter banging the two shopping carts against each other, the old woman unsteady on her feet because of age. By the time the old woman took out her key and opened the door, she felt guilty for not moving. 

In the living room, she picked up the binoculars on the table and looked out at the lake. From the shipping news, she knew if a boat was an ocean-going vessel or a laker, where it was from, and what the cargo would be. It was November and the last tonnage of taconite and wheat were rushing down to Buffalo, Chicago or Cleveland before the freeze. 

She was tired, sat on the couch, where she’d sat for the past twenty-five years, and turned on the news. When the news ended, she stood and looked out the window again. Three boats at anchor, probably a mile out from her apartment. Their lights, switched on as dusk fell, gleamed on the water.  She was glad she could still see well enough to count, glad she could still count. 

Of the three lakers outside her window, two were 1000 footers. She stood, watching the reflections of the boats in the icy water under the full moon. She would mention this to someone tomorrow. “Yes,” the person would say, “three boats last night. “One was the Paul Tregurtha,”” she’d say. “One thousand and thirteen point five feet.”

She went to the kitchen to pull a lean cuisine from the freezer, placed it in the microwave, and gathered her clothes for the laundry. At midnight, when the boats extinguished their lights, she pulled the curtains.

Even though the old woman was tired and weak, she never moved to assisted living. Instead she stayed in her apartment with its view of the lake. She watched the ore boats coming into and going out of the harbor. She made her own food and did her own laundry because she could.

Interconnecting Circles

Mardith Louisell
Born 1945

Where: At 25, I was about to move to a beach on the west coast of Vancouver Island to live in a one room A-frame which my boyfriend built. We thought it an idyllic life, or at least my boyfriend did, and I thought him so. The nearest town was the fishing village of Ucluelet, a 45 minute walk and 15 minute drive.

Advice: I find most of us don’t like advice.

#Mardith Louisell


  1. Kate Forand - April 21, 2024 @ 4:42 pm

    Mardi—I really love this story. I particularly like how the older woman makes her world bigger by looking out onto the lake and watching the boats come and go. Timely read because I am going to Htfd.. later this week to help my mom begin to pack up her house as she is moving to an apartment. Her choice, not her children’s, but still complicated and hard.

  2. Mary Meierhoff - April 19, 2024 @ 8:25 am

    I can see it in my minds eye. Thanks Marti

  3. Karen Hunt - April 18, 2024 @ 11:31 am

    My new motto is “because I can.” Thank you for the lovely story. The claustrophobic elevator scene is great as are the descriptions of the ships. I must admit, I was hoping the older woman would tell the younger to f-off.

  4. Bob Pizzi - April 15, 2024 @ 5:10 pm

    Beautiful Mardith,
    I have a long and ongoing relationship with the Great Lake Superior and see there Orr ships sailing around the beautiful Keweenaw Peninsula, and so I believe you have united with the the Old Woman and her need to care for herself. I am an active hospice worker and appreciate your looking at the reality of we elders and the choices we all need to make, along with the opinion of younger folks who may appear to believe that the choice may be easy.

  5. David Schweidel - April 14, 2024 @ 4:35 pm

    Wonderfully drawn – reveals so much! Thanks!

  6. Norman Tuck - April 13, 2024 @ 6:15 pm

    Perfect, Mardi. Thank You.

  7. Ann Wettrich - April 10, 2024 @ 7:09 pm

    Thanks Mardi! Loved the lingering question and visual sketch of place: elevator / hallway and their pressing anxieties / living room window looking out over the lake and the ocean-going and laker ships. Ann

  8. Judith Belzer - April 10, 2024 @ 4:38 pm

    Good story Mard. I don’t know if this is me giving you advice, or you telling me, but remember, I am dangerously close to 85! With whom do I identify??

  9. Elizabeth Funk - April 10, 2024 @ 2:51 pm

    Terrific story, Mardi! That old woman was so brave! No one wants to be yelled at!!

  10. Kathy McMahon - April 10, 2024 @ 1:04 pm

    Mardi, I too love your writing. There is so much feeling and undertanding in it.
    I was particularly impressed with your knowledge and descriptions of the Lake vessels.
    I think that those who fight against taking unsolicited advice know the true meaning of why they are content with their situation.
    Kathy McMahon

  11. Mardith - April 10, 2024 @ 12:16 am

    Thank you, everyone, for your generous comments and reflections on life, independence and resolve.

  12. J D - April 9, 2024 @ 10:10 pm

    “… because she could.”

    Enough said!
    Thanks for that power.

  13. Sandra Lamb - April 9, 2024 @ 8:21 pm

    Thanks, Mardi, for sharing your lovely story!

  14. ross martin fink - April 9, 2024 @ 2:27 pm

    Too much agism going on in the world.:-)
    Good story, Mardi, I felt their breath on me..
    It is a tight elevator.

  15. Susan Blank - April 9, 2024 @ 2:16 pm

    I loved this. Mardi, I enjoyed hearing that most people don’t like advice. I agree. And I think the story is a right-on illustration of why. Another thing I really liked about the story — going from the claustrophobic elevator, crowded even more by the shopping cart to the ending where there’s water and boats and opening up.

  16. Jessie Walsh - April 9, 2024 @ 11:54 am

    Love your writing.

  17. John McCleery - April 9, 2024 @ 11:11 am

    Beautiful message!

  18. Bob Louisell - April 9, 2024 @ 9:33 am

    VERY well told, Mard!

  19. Cathy Louisell - April 8, 2024 @ 6:01 pm

    Great story Mardi! So evocative of an older person’s desire to do what they can and, of course, very true of our mom.

  20. Brenda Hutchinson - April 8, 2024 @ 5:12 pm

    Those words from the younger person to the older packed such a visceral punch- so angry — The ending felt like a long slow breathing out– Thank you, Mardi

  21. Constance Milbrath - April 8, 2024 @ 12:09 pm

    My father, a Navy man in his youth and a sail boat owner in his last decades died at 100. He had seen my mother through to the end a number of years before his death. They were already living in a senior residence facility with many options but he stayed in their 2-bedroom apartment to the end. After his death, my siblings and I gathered there to clean out the apartment but found the place was ship shape with little for us to do. His naval training had prevailed. Would that we could follow his example – the basement still beckons as a place to start.

  22. Alicia McGivern - April 8, 2024 @ 11:28 am

    Thank you for this sensitive and evocative piece, resonant for me as my mother lived at home till she died, aged 100, last Sep. She, like your senior, wouldn’t countenance moving and stayed at home, because she could.. You have written a stirring call to arms to older folk, to hang onto their laundry and views and lean cuisines and singular chats, for as long as they can.

  23. Lindaorrante@gmail.com - April 8, 2024 @ 9:00 am

    Thank you. It’s a story that resonates for me because of my age, but can certainly connect for many. I love the reminder that our choices are our own, no one else gets to make them.

  24. Sheila Ghidini - April 8, 2024 @ 7:40 am

    A resonant story. I love the quiet resolve of the old woman and her activity of watching boats coming and going

  25. Rick Barth - April 8, 2024 @ 6:31 am

    Lovely story–crisp and engaging. Reminds me of my parents who were determined not to be a burden on kids and left a lovely home to move to a retirement community and had a great time there, too. Some people are lucky enough to be able to find joyful ships wherever they are. Thanks, Mardi

  26. Paula Coduti Leahy - April 8, 2024 @ 6:26 am

    Great story, Marty. Tim and I, and my sons both helped my mother a lot when she was in her home and visited her really a lot.

    But it was fun for us, and we knew that it wouldn’t continue. Luckily, as I tell people, my mother talked with me, and then went up to her bed. The next morning, I went to her house as usual, and I could feel that she wasn’t there anymore. I went upstairs and found her bed. She accomplished her goal.

    Thanks so much for the story.

  27. Paula Coduti Leahy - April 8, 2024 @ 6:24 am

    Loved it. Made me cry.

    I live in the house Tim and I built 50 some years ago and I intend to stay here.

    My mother did the same thing. She adjusted, I go up and down the stairs one time a day. I do the same thing.

    I love the part about eating prepared meals. I find myself doing that now also.

    My son asked me why I’ll don’t cook and I told him it wasn’t much fun just to cook for myself but I knew I had to eat well, so I
    That is how I do it, prepared meals.

    I do invite he and his wife over for dinner once a week, but they don’t always come. I guess I haven’t told them, and I won’t, that cooking. That meal is fun for me because it is for them.

    My kids know better than to tell me I have to move. They saw my mother being successful at staying in her home and they know that’s my goal also.
    I suppose at some point I would move if it seemed I had to or if they drag me out of here but I don’t think it’s gonna happen that way.

    Marty ,it’s really good story. Had I read it or maybe I did years ago it would’ve had a different impression upon me, but it certainly hit Home. Thanks!! Great food for thought.

  28. Ann Moroney - April 8, 2024 @ 4:33 am

    A wonderful story and deeply moving story Mardi. For a short piece it has so much in it – the old woman’s courageous steadfastness and the daughter’s misdirected rage – conflicting emotions barely contained in that elevator ride and then the beautiful detail of her observation of those boats going by …

  29. Carl Kopman - April 6, 2024 @ 5:14 pm

    Nicely told story, Mardi.; the second time I read it I. listened to Otis Redding– The Dock Of The Bay. Just love that old woman watchin’ the ore boats go by….because she could. The ending sticks with me.

  30. Daniel Danzig - April 6, 2024 @ 8:22 am

    Delightful story. I understand the daughter’s anger.… and perhaps this relates to the vast cultural differences in how we care for our elderly.

  31. Martina Reaves - April 6, 2024 @ 7:24 am

    Such a terrific story. I love the details about the ships and the woman’s quiet resolve.

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