Aging in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by KEITH LAMAR McDONALD

Visit with the Long/Leon family.


Vince Long talks about his grandmother between puffs of a Camel cigarette on his front porch.

“She’s more like my mom than my mom is,” Long said. “My mom always worked so I was with grandma all the time. … I remember getting busted by her as a kid when I climbed on the fridge to get a toy that got taken from me.”

Long has lived with his maternal grandmother, Eva Leon, intermittently for about 10 years.

Leon, a South High School graduate who turned 75 in May 2014, still lives in the same neighborhood in which she grew up. In fact, her current home is directly across the street from the two-bedroom triplex she and her 10 brothers and sisters grew up in with their parents.

“I’ve worked all my life,” said Leon in a phone interview. “My first job was at Engh Floral on Main Street. We used to transplant flowers.”

Now Leon works at Smith’s Marketplace in the deli section. This August will mark her 19th year with the company.

She said the job at the downtown location is fun, but times have changed since she was growing up in Salt Lake City.

“Families are smaller now,” Leon said.

As one TRAX line after another zips north and south past the 900 South 200 West train stop in front of their home, Long sinks into a lawn chair and discusses his family history and his relationship with his roommate — who happens to be four decades his senior.

He said Leon traveled with her sister Barbara to Florida when she was 18. Her four sisters followed and all of them but one ended up marrying a Floridian. Leon moved back to Utah in 1978 when her husband died. Two of her children stayed in Florida and two came with her to Utah.

Long said he and his grandmother get along well, but mostly because they have been living together for a long time and are used to each other’s ways.

They enjoy watching TV, eating together and playing gin rummy. As a member of the LDS Church Leon has worked with the Relief Society as well. It’s hard to decipher who needs whom more.

“I think about moving a lot but when I‘m out of town I worry about her being home alone,” Long said.

For some aging Utah residents, turning 65 doesn’t mean retirement or a rest home; it means the start of a new career or the beginning of another chapter in life. The term retired doesn’t apply to those who never stop working, never stop being active members of their families, churches and communities.

The US Census Bureau estimates that approximately 57, 866 people aged 65 or older live in Utah. This is about 9 percent of the population of the state.

Sometimes families are thrust together at a moment’s notice and drastic changes and compromises have to be made.

In 2012, Will and Anna Hatton moved into the Salt Lake City home of Anna’s great-aunt Carla Fisher, when she went on an LDS mission to Fort Wayne, Ind., for 20 months. That arrangement helped the couple focus on completing college and starting their new family, rather than having to find real estate agents and secure a home loan.

Fisher had returned from her mission by the time Anna graduated from the University of Utah in fall 2013 with a degree in communication. Will graduated in spring 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. The transition from being single, to being a couple, to being the parents of a boisterous 18 month-old daughter who are living with their great-aunt was something that took getting used to.

Anna remembers her great-aunt teaching elementary school. Fisher taught first through fifth- grade classes at Indian Hills Elementary and wrote some of the LDS Church curriculum for primary children.

She said Fisher, 75, has always had a lot of energy.

“She loves helping people,” Anna said. “She helps women that are younger than her with less health problems,” Anna said.

Anna credits her great-aunt’s longevity to eating well, staying active and her LDS values.

“She’s never drank or smoked and she’s always eaten healthy. She eats like a bird,” Anna said.

Fisher may require help accomplishing tasks like lifting heavy objects and yard work, but she still exerts her independence.

“She is very stubborn. She still climbs ladders,” Anna said.

Will said he doesn’t necessarily think that the difficulties they face are generational.

“I don’t think it’s living with an aging person; it’s living with a roommate,” he said.

“The least amount of [drama] the better. She comes from a different mindset, a lifestyle that she’s made for over 50 years,” Will said. “She’s never been married. She has different cleaning habits [than we do]…. It’s a balancing act.”

The Hatton family plans to move to Atlanta in summer 2014 to find jobs. While they are looking forward to making a new life for themselves, they will always appreciate the things Fisher has done for them and others.

“It’s been a great privilege to live in this house,” Will said. “It’s given me a real interesting perspective of being a homeowner.”

As far as living with an aging person, he said that the benefits are a product of wisdom.

“Everyone has a perspective,” he said. “Aging people may have a fuller perspective on the world [than younger people]. I don’t think it’s better or worse but it is more experienced.”

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