Under One Roof Shares the Story of an Unlikely Caregiver


Every once in a while, a book takes you completely unaware and causes a shift in your perspective. I had no idea what a life-changing journey this unassuming plain white book would offer. Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House by Barry Martin (with Philip Lerman) altered my views on life, friendship, and old age.

As a blogger here at SeniorLiving.net, I had professional curiosity about the book based on the back cover notes: “The inspiring true story of the bond between a feisty octogenarian and the man in charge of building an enormous shopping mall around her home.” Hmm, I thought. This may help me grasp an older person’s perspective a bit better, to really understand people in their later stages of life.

Little did I know.

In the same way Barry Martin had no idea how the three years he spent caring for Edith Macefield would completely change his life, I had no idea this book would keep me up several nights in a row, and help me understand, not just on an intellectual level, but deep down inside, what it’s like to be both a caregiver and the person being cared for.

The book has mystery, intrigue, business, politics, family relationships and, most of all, friendship and love. Certainly, books about younger people befriending older people are not new. If the movie Up makes you cry every time you watch it and you still remember Tuesdays with Morrie, this is the book for you.

The narrator, Barry, begins as a reluctant hero, a construction foreman with the thankless task of letting an 80-something-year-old woman know that they will be building a shopping mall around her house, because she refuses to sell.

Over time, Barry becomes friends with Edith. Eventually, he becomes her primary caregiver as her health deteriorates and visits from her friends become exceedingly rare. Something more than a sense of duty keeps Barry coming back; he’s captivated by Edith’s stories, her history, and her personality or personal energy, if you will. Frankly, he’s not sure if a lot of her tales are only in her head, but he doesn’t care, either. He has to learn more, until he becomes so entrenched in Edith’s life, it doesn’t matter if the stories are true or not.

I was interested on page 1, but by page 17, the story had me hooked with this passage:

Someone in the office showed me the article, and when I read it over, I was struck by the ending of it, what the guy wrote about Edith. He said, “How she lives and the choice she made to stay put seems to spark powerful feelings in total strangers. It did me, yet I’ve spoken to her only three times. I think it’s because she’s genuine. Authentic. She’s living the life she’s got and not asking for help, pity or money.
What does it say about us… that we find that so remarkable?”

Throughout, Barry’s voice is equally authentic and honest. For a supposed “bad guy” on the side of the “evil” real estate developers, he is imminently likeable, a family man, a hard worker, and your typical father of teenagers, wishing he could be closer to his children but not sure how. Watching Barry’s journey and inner struggles is truly inspirational.

If you’re looking for an uplifting, relate-able tale just in time for the holidays, pick up Under One Roof. Get one for yourself and, after reading it, you’ll want to buy a host more as holiday gifts for your favorite seniors, caregivers, and anyone who appreciates a good story about the human condition. That plain white cover with the black title text could look quite classy wrapped in a big red bow.

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