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FRED FIRST: Life Plan, Healthspan and Third Places

The essential vitamin of Other People in Regular Places

I was thinking and writing recently about those individuals who live long and remember well. They are known as “super-agers” and I suspect my mother was one of them.

I learned that this retention of good memory into the 80s does have a genetic component and so I have been wondering about my next twenty years, should I survive as long as mom did.

But mom did more than survive. She was thriving until right at the end, having had a remarkable “healthspan” in which she could enjoy (and remember) the things she enjoyed most. Being with other people charged her batteries.

As seems to be common in super-agers, she had a rich supportive group of friends over the course of her life; and she always had a place she could go that was not work and was not home. She could be fully herself in the garden club or the hair dresser’s or any of those routinely visited places among old and new friends.

Such a space is being referred lately as a “third place”a term coined in 2008. And for those whose healthspan allows them to create or find such places, this part of life may be one of the most important “vitamins” towards a rich and contented life.

The term “third place” originates from a 1989 book, The Great Good Place, by sociologist Ray Oldenberg. He characterized third places as locations that facilitate social interaction outside of the people you live or work with and encourage “public relaxation.” They are places where you encounter “regulars,” or frequenters of a space, as well as potential new connections. Third places tend to foster light, pleasant conversation and are free from expectations of productivity.” What is a third space?


And here is what this all looks like, up close and personal, as they say:

At 76, I am in good physical health, but I also have had a life (with the exception of the Covid years) that has been rich in “social capital.” Floyd is a convivial community and pot luck is a way of life.

I enjoy several gatherings every week in “third places.” I see these hours as some of the most important vitamins enriching my more-or-less sustained more-or-less good mental health–even during this most difficult transitional time in my longish lifetime.

I’m naming names: Red Rooster Coffee in Floyd is one of my weekly predictable third places. McDaniels Tavern is another. These are routine, non-threatening, rewarding places to be with like-minded graybeards. And less predictably, I’ll gather with some musical buddies at somebody’s house and chat, sip and make a racket.

The farmer, the hippy and the business man shared a common place in “downtown” Floyd at Oddfella’s for several years.

My concern arises with the realization that I am on the precipice, soon to leave all my third places (and the friends in each) behind when we move into a “Life Plan” community of age peers in a few months. Fitting in and finding one’s place is slow and awkward.

I feel certain that the retirement community social event organizers make efforts to engage residents in communal activities and social events. I am a reluctant joiner under such coercion to participate.

DO NOT put a funny hat on me and ask me to do the hokey-pokey. I’m not kidding.

But in a few months of being there, my hope is that I will fall in (oh so slowly) with some of the guy-geezers (about 20% of the 200 residents) who like coffee or beer or 60s music or bird watching or some common interest that finds us getting together on a predictable schedule. These already exist there, and I will be the outsider awkwardly wanting to become a regular.

Ann will find her own group of geezerettes in a book club, walking group, crafts class et cetera, and have her own regular calendar of “third places” that have meaning and offer the possibility of being fully herself.


All of this comes on the heels of remembering the disappearance of Third Places during the covid years. Life on this side of the past (but not the last) pandemic is so much richer for predictable time with coffee and brew buddies, and irregular musical jam sessions. And I’m healthier for this pattern of pleasant participation.

You likely see the importance of these kinds of gatherings in your own life today contrasted to the empty loneliness and isolation of 2020 and the two years following. They were awful because we were cut off from “third places” except via Zoom. (How quickly that virtual “face to face” became necessary to keep us connected, even while not touching or breathing the same air.)

I have hopes that a year from now, I can tell you about the groups or places I have found–or that have found me–where by then, I will be starting to feel a part of a third place or places in Columbia, Missouri.

And so, in 2044, should I reach 96 like my mother when she died, I will be ready to go quickly like she did, and open up a space for some other new guy to belong in the Wednesday meeting of the coffee guys in Columbia.

Floyd Barber Shop (now the Ice Cream shop next to the Floyd Country Store) was once a space shared by Ralph the barber, and one guy in the chair and a half dozen “waiting” for hours while telling lies or playing the banjo.

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