Under One Roof1Every once in a while, a book takes you completely unaware and causes a shift in your entire mindset and perspective. I guess the life coaches and psychologists would call this a “paradigm shift” but, really, who wants self-help jargon in a book review? Just trust me when I say: This book will change the way you think about certain things, including, life, friendship and the elderly.

With its unassuming white cover and plain black typeface, Under One Roof: Lessons I Learned from a Tough Old Woman in a Little Old House by Barry Martin (with Philip Lerman) didn’t offer any hint of what a life-changing journey the text would offer.

As a blogger at SeniorLiving.net, I had purely professional curiosity about the book based on the description on the back: “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 for the blog.

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 for several nights in a row, and help me to 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 made you cry every time 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 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 BS, 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,” Danny wrote, “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 what we’d like to believe is a typical guy, an average Joe.

But the fact is, men (and women!) like Barry Martin are rare today, as rare as women like Edith. This story serves as an inspiration and the characters, real life people, give us a standard we can all aspire to, even if we only come close to reaching it.

If you’re looking for an uplifting, relatable 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. The plain white cover will look quite classy wrapped in a big red bow.

Dawn Allcot is a Spa Week Daily Book Club contributing reviewer.