Charles F. Bryan Jr. writer photo, page E1, March 4

Charles F. Bryan Jr.

I was looking for my hammer the other day, and couldn’t find it anywhere. I know where I kept it for some 30 years, but now it’s nowhere to be found. Why? It’s because my wife and I have recently moved for the first time in three decades.

Surveys reveal that moving is one of life’s most traumatic experiences, ranking only behind the death of a loved one and divorce. By my count, I have now moved 13 times, my wife a dozen, which is just about the average number of moves that most Americans make before going to their just reward.

Some Americans, particularly those who are career military or who have corporate jobs that require frequent relocations, move 20 or more times.

Why do people move? It boils down to two or three basic factors. They are either pushed or pulled to do it; or it can be a combination of the two.

People are often pulled to move when presented with an opportunity, as I was 29 years ago when I moved to Richmond to take a job as head of the Virginia Historical Society.

On the other hand, some people are pushed or forced to move because of economic circumstances or because their jobs require them to relocate.


The move that we just made, however, entailed both push and pull factors, and was heavily influenced by issues of age and health.

We became septuagenarians last year. And I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease 14 years ago. As of yet incurable, Parkinson’s probably will eventually render me an invalid and would make living in our two-story home difficult for both of us.

My wife developed ovarian cancer two years ago, and then suffered a recurrence earlier last year. Fortunately, thanks to aggressive treatments, her latest checkup determined that she is in remission, but we are fully aware that ovarian cancer has a risk of returning.

With those two traumatic life events in mind, we decided that it was time to begin thinking about moving to a continuing care retirement community.

We considered going to my wife’s hometown of Lexington, Virginia, or to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where our daughter and her family live, but we decided to stay in Richmond.

We both had lived in our Richmond home longer than any other place in our lives.

Richmond offers a rich cultural and arts community, relatively low cost of living, a pleasant climate (except for July and August!), and, most important to us, first-class medical care. Also, over the years, we have built many strong friendships that we were reluctant to give up.

After visiting several retirement communities, we chose Cedarfield in western Henrico, which was only two miles from our current home and near all of the shops, stores, and restaurants we have patronized for years.


Knowing that we would be moving eventually, we began the unpleasant process of downsizing from a 2,300-square-foot house to a 1,200-square-foot apartment last summer.

Our adult children had little interest in our collection of so-called “brown furniture,” nor did the china and silver collections we had inherited from two sets of grandparents appeal to them. Young adults today are more informal in the way they live and entertain.

During my career as a professional historian, I had accumulated an extensive book collection that filled the shelves of my study and had long since spilled over onto the floor and to other rooms.

Years ago, my wife unsuccessfully tried to rein in my book purchases saying, “No more books! Just download them on your I-Pad.” Indeed, I cut back on buying real books, but there were certain ones that I just had to have.

But the closer we came to moving, the more I realized that we simply didn’t have the space to take my full library. I ended up donating a large number to the Virginia Historical Society (now known as the Virginia Museum of History & Culture), which in turn put them up for sale at its annual fall used-book sale, the proceeds of which go to a collections fund.

Our biggest downsizing challenge, however, was our attic, which has accumulated three decades’ worth of stuff, including more brown furniture, clothing that we haven’t worn in years, — my VMI uniforms, for example —and dozens of boxes containing who knows what.

Some of that stuff came from the homes of our parents after they died. These included my Lionel electric train set, my wife’s dolls, my class notes from VMI and graduate school, my childhood drawings that my mother had saved, and many things we had said we would decide what to do with later.

Suddenly we were discovering that later is now. Thanks to Goodwill Industries, Sisters of the Poor, the Historical Society, and Hope Church, which collects used furniture, we were able to rid ourselves of a good bit of material.


Then came the time for us to get ready to move. We had not sold a home in 30 years, and we soon discovered that the rules of the real estate game have changed. Fortunately, we chose experienced and engaged agents, a couple who live in our neighborhood. From beginning to end, they worked closely with us to get our home sold.

First, they told us that we would have to “stage” the house to make it more marketable. Rather than calling it “staging,” I would describe it as “sterilizing” the house.

We had to remove almost anything left that was of a personal nature. So down came all of our family pictures; into boxes went my wife’s shelf of collectable trinkets that she had accumulated from our travels abroad, along with the majority of my history books.

Our interior began to look more like a nondescript furniture storeroom display than a real home.

Staging must have worked because our house sold just 16 days after going on the market — and attracted dozens of prospective buyers. The young couple that bought the house wanted to move into our neighborhood and liked the idea of raising a family in our home.

The physical move to Cedarfield proved to be much more difficult than we ever imagined. Although our home is nearby, it may as well have been 2,000 miles away. Thank goodness for the help of neighbors, friends, our daughter, and a good moving company — we transported stuff from one place to another over a two-week period. Yet the real burden fell on us, which made us realize that moving is not for people our age.

Despite having downsized what seemed like tons of stuff, we discovered that it was by no means enough. As I write this column, I see boxes yet to be emptied everywhere I look. My wife says anyone walking in to our apartment now would think we are hoarders.

We have been reassured by our new neighbors that this is not unusual and to take our time. Those are words of wisdom, but I still wish I could find my hammer!

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Charles F. Bryan Jr. is president emeritus of the Virginia Historical Society. Contact him at

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