Dudley Clendinen

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A Place Called Canterbury by social historian Dudley Clendinen, former New York Times national correspondent and editorial writer, provides readers with an intimate and revealing account of aging in a particular place at a particular time--Canterbury Tower in Tampa, Florida. The story about the author's mother, Bobbie--and so many others--begins in 1994, a few years after the death of James Clendinen, Bobbie's husband of 48 years, and known to the community as the progressive editor of the Tampa Tribune. Although she had been "falling apart, a piece here, a piece there...collapsing vertebrae...bent, frail, and crooked...subject to spells and little strokes...." (p. xii),

Bobbie Clendinen was in reasonably good health. Nevertheless, her grown son and daughter did what most children their age do--they worried. When she finally agreed to move from the home where she had lived for twenty-nine years to Canterbury Towers, room 502, two bedrooms, two baths ($88,000 in cash, $1505 each month), Clendinen and his sister were relieved. She would be cared for and safe in "the small, cream colored, obsessively well-run geriatric apartment tower and nursing wing...across a broad boulevard from an arm of Tampa Bay" (see book cover).  And, so many of her old friends were already established residents!

Clendinen was fascinated by his mother's new circumstance and by what he came to regard as the new old age. As a writer, he could not resist the opportunity before him. Although he lived in Baltimore, he could come and go, but over the twelve-year period of his mother's residence--three in the Towers and nine years in the hospital wing--he spent more than 400 days as a live-in visitor, observer, listener, interpreter. This unusual arrangement provided Clendinen with a close-up view of a 21st Century phenomenon, the comings and goings of aging people in the final setting of their lives.

Canterbury is a well-run camp and life there is a soap opera. Between his exchanges with the witty rabbi and the former jitterbug champs, the enthusiasm generated by a nudity calendar proposal (declined) and the geriatric bib enterprise (thriving), the inhabitants provided Clendinen with an abundance of riches. Whether at lunch in the dining room overlooking the Bay, over daily drinks at 5pm, or in bed in the health center, everyone of this Greatest Generation had a story to tell. This ethnographic page-turner, with its cohort of named characters--the Southern Belle, the Rabbi who escaped the Holocaust, Emyfish, the ageless New Yorker, Lucile, the warm-hearted Fundamentalist, the raunchy Atheist, the crusty Yankee, the horny widower, and the maddeningly muddled Wilber--reads like fiction. Whether rich or poor, married or widowed, Clendinen listened as they spoke and in doing so became a trusted friend and chronicler of small and great events in their collective lives: childhood, Depression, World War II, medical advancements, healthcare costs, 9/11. Because Bobbie Clendinen spent so many years in the hospital wing, much of the story describes the kind of care and staff standards that we would hope for all--including ourselves. Mrs. Clendinen died at age 91.

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