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Home Sweet Home

At age 63, this lifelong midwesterner felt called to move to New York. And yet something was still missing.

New York skyline
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Everyone told me I was out of my mind. And maybe they were right. What 63-year-old woman from Iowa up and moves to New York?

My closest friends in Sioux City were shocked. “Shirley, people in New York aren’t like people in Iowa,” they told me. My 39-year-old son, Blyth, agreed with them. “Are you sure you’ve thought this through, Mom?” he said more than once. Everyone I knew tried to dissuade me. “Your life is here,” they said.

Frankly, I had no clue what I was doing. I was too old for a midlife crisis, I knew that. But I was sure God was calling me to New York, for whatever reason.

The idea had struck like a thunderbolt that summer when I was going over reading materials for a women’s church retreat. One of the books was a guide to aging that stressed sharing your life stories with family. That’s when it hit me—I didn’t have any family nearby to talk to about that sort of stuff.

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I was divorced, and both my parents had passed away a decade earlier. Blyth was really the only family I had, and he lived all the way out on Long Island in New York.

My future flashed before me. I pictured myself holed up in some nursing home in the middle of Iowa. No family, no visitors, no one to share my life with. Lonely.

A voice in my head said, You could move to New York….

I almost laughed out loud at the thought. Move to New York? I’d lived in the Midwest all my life. Not once had I dreamed of trading cornfields for skyscrapers. Maybe if I were 20 years younger.

And yet I couldn’t stop thinking about it. As if God had planted the idea in my brain. It nagged me throughout the retreat, in the quiet moments when I was supposed to be meditating.

Was moving to New York really so ridiculous? After all, Blyth was there. He loved his job as a performance-arts director for a university. And, well, as comfortable as I was in Sioux City, sometimes I did wonder. I had my job, my friends, my church. But life was routine, humdrum. Could there be something missing?

I returned home from the retreat and did a little homework. I was good at that—I’d worked as a secretary for many years before taking a part-time job at J.C. Penney.

I contacted a church in Long Island and asked about senior housing in the area. The answer wasn’t promising. If I wanted an apartment, I’d have to get in line. There was an eight-year waiting list.

Maybe I needed to broaden my search. In order for me to move, my new city had to be 1) close enough to Blyth, 2) near a J.C. Penney store, so I could transfer jobs and 3) not too far from a Congregational church.

One result caught my eye. A place called Poughkeepsie. Where in the world was that? I wasn’t even sure how to pronounce it and I was going to move there? At 63? I searched and found that it was located along the Hudson River 60 miles from New York City, two hours from Blyth.

That January, I reached out to the Congregational church in Poughkeepsie. “How might a nice senior find affordable housing in Poughkeepsie?” I asked.

The church secretary put me in touch with a Realtor, a member of the congregation, who got back to me with several housing options. I filled out three applications and prayed on it.

By March, though, I hadn’t heard back from anyone. I was flying out to visit Blyth at the end of the month—the perfect opportunity to make a stop in Poughkeepsie. Unless God didn’t want me to move. Maybe I’d misheard? Confused, I called my first choice of the apartments I’d applied to.

“This is kinda funny,” the property manager said. “Someone gave notice today. Can you move in on May first?”

Before I could give it a second thought, I heard myself say, “I’ll take it.”

I got off the phone and instantly entered panic mode. I wrote out a massive to-do list. May was only two months away! How could I say goodbye to my life in Iowa just like that? How could I find a job? And move all my stuff?

I tackled the first item on my list—finding a job. I contacted the manager of the J.C. Penney store in Poughkeepsie. We set up a meeting during the week I’d be in New York visiting Blyth.

I brought along my last performance review and hoped for the best. I worked in the men’s department at the J.C. Penney in Sioux City and I loved it. What if she stuck me in a department I hated, like children’s shoes or, worse, hosiery?

“Well, your review looks great,” the manager said. “I have an opening in the men’s department. What do you think?”

I didn’t need to think! Now came the hard part—figuring out how to get all my stuff to Poughkeepsie, 1,400 miles away, on a budget. I’d never driven more than four hours by myself. Would I need someone to accompany me?

But packing up boxes, I heard it again. That same calm, quiet voice that’d convinced me to move to New York in the first place. Do you really think I’d take you this far without a plan?

In late April, I loaded up my car and headed east with my trusty map. I made it to Poughkeepsie in three days. My new apartment was in walking distance of just about everything, even a park. A sense of peace came over me, as though I was finally home. Home in a place I’d never heard of just a few months before.

READ MORE: A SINGLE MOM’S SECOND CHANCE AT LOVE

Little by little, I settled in. When I wasn’t working part-time at the store, I explored New York State. I joined a book club, took daily walks and attended free film screenings at the library. Yet something was missing.

I was lonely. I longed for someone to share my new life with. So I landed on another totally crazy idea—to give online dating a shot. I created a profile on a dating site for seniors and, once again, prayed that I was hearing God right.

That July, just as my account was about to expire, I came across the profile of a man named Charlie. He was from a place called Saugerties, an hour from Poughkeepsie, and he attended church every week. How bad could he be?

I sent him a message. “How about we meet on Sunday?” he replied. I suggested drinks. Quick and painless, not like a disastrous three-hour dinner date I’d recently been on.

We met at T.G.I. Friday’s for peach lemonade. Charlie sat across the table from me. “I want to really see you,” he said.

Over the next five hours, we talked about our kids, our jobs and my recent move. He didn’t take his eyes off me, leaning in to catch my every word. I had an excuse prepared in case I wanted to leave early. But I never had to use it.

We both had the day off on Tuesday, so we agreed to meet again, this time to visit the Franklin Roosevelt library and the Vanderbilt mansion in Hyde Park.

“What are you doing on Friday?” Charlie asked at the end of the day.

“I’m going to New York City to meet Blyth,” I said. “I made plans to travel into the city with a friend, but she backed out.”

“What if I go with you instead?” Charlie said with a big smile.

It was a little soon for him to be meeting my son. But I hadn’t done anything by the book so far. We met Friday morning at the train station and spent the day in Manhattan, wandering around Times Square and holding hands like a young couple in love.

That night at dinner, Blyth and Charlie hit it off too. On Saturday I met Charlie’s family for his niece’s birthday.

Charlie wasn’t anything like the men I’d dated in Iowa. He was curious about every little thing, just like me. The kind of guy who loved a trip to the library, spent summers camping with his three sons and dressed up as Santa Claus every year at his church’s Christmas party.

On weekends, we took day trips and hikes, went to concerts and even a lighthouse festival. I could be myself with Charlie, could confess my neat-freak tendencies and past relationship mistakes. He brought out a more relaxed side of me.

For my birthday, he bought me a turquoise bike so we could explore some of his favorite trails. I stopped making so many lists, stopped making so many plans.

Charlie was the guy I’d always dreamed of falling in love with. I just never imagined that it’d happen in New York, of all places.

But God knew. A year later, we got married. We sang the song “Amazed” to each other at church, surrounded by our children and friends, and settled into Charlie’s house in Saugerties.

I couldn’t have planned it better if I’d tried.

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