Friday, December 17, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 9 - Visitors

If you do visit Florida, one week you want to avoid going to Harbor View or any other development, for that matter, is the week between Christmas and New Year’s. Not only because it is when all of the tourists come and the airfares are at their highest, but because it is the only time that Harbor View (and similar developments, I’m sure) appears to be a summer camp for children, rather than a retirement community. Everyone’s children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and even friends of nieces and nephews, who are off from school, come to visit that week. If you want to come to Florida to relax, then Christmas week is not the time to do it. There are kids splashing in the pool; there is noise from the children in the neighboring apartments; and there are long waits at all of the restaurants. (Of course there are always long waits at restaurants, but they are even longer during Christmas week.)

The other difference during Christmas week is that The Characters are usually on their best behavior. Sure they do the expected bragging to their friends and neighbors, or anyone who will listen, about their son ‘the dentist’ and their granddaughter the ‘third-grade genius.’ But because they have guests, they don’t seem to talk unkindly about each other as much as they do during the regular season. And overall, the residents seem just a little more ordinary.

So even though I now bring a child with me when I visit Mom and Dad, I try to make sure we go later in the winter, because I just don’t think you can get a true taste of Harbor View during Christmas week. “No,” I decide for certain later, after hearing Mom tell me yet another story of some of The Characters’ antics during the regular season, “going during Christmas week just wouldn’t be worth it.”

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 8 - Visitors

Another favorite pastime of Mom and Dad’s and other residents of Harbor View, it seems, is watching the weather on the news – not to see the forecast of South Florida. Oh no, they want to see what awful weather they are missing back home. Chilly and mid-30’s back home? My parents are happy. A blustery cold with chance of snow flurries? Mom and Dad are beaming. A few inches of snow back in Pennsylvania? My parents are absolutely giddy. And the more and more footage they show on the news of the blowing wind, the snow falling down, tires spinning in the snow, people shoveling their driveways, and the lines inside the supermarkets, the happier they are.

And it doesn’t matter that I live in the DC area where the weather is currently sunny and dry, if it’s snowing “Up North” it must be snowing near where I live. We’ll walk over to my parents’ friends’ home, and Mom’s friend will comment, “You must be glad you came down here this week – you’re missing all that snow.”

“Um, I don’t think it snowed in DC this week. It’s up in the New York and Pennsyvlania area.”

“Well, I heard it’s going to be all over “up north” in the next few days. It’s best if you stay down here.”

“Umm sure,” I reply. Yet, when I look at the forecast later, it clearly says mid-40s for the whole week in DC.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 7 - Visitors

One pastime Dad and Mom love to do with me when I visit them in Florida is to point out everyone’s age. Dad especially enjoys this. He boasts about it like it’s some kind of accomplishment.

“See that man over there?” he says to me one day at the pool, “He’s 85. Doesn’t he look no more than 70?”

“Well, it’s hard for me to tell, Dad,” I say.

“And you know my friend Harold? He’s 77. He still plays tennis every day – sometimes twice a day,” Dad brags.

“That’s impressive,” I reply.

“And there’s an absolutely adorable couple who live next door to Flo and Irv. He’s 84 and she’s 81. They go out almost every night to dinner, and he’s still driving,” Mom chimes in.

“They sound adorable,” I say, although I cannot picture an old couple that I would describe as ‘adorable.’

“And that nice man who lives downstairs from us,” Mom continues, “He’s got himself a girlfriend.”

“Wouldn’t that be ladyfriend, Mom? I bet she’s at least 75,” I ask.

“Actually, she’s 88. And he calls her his girlfriend,” Mom answers.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 6 - Visitors

The funny thing about bringing a baby to Florida is everyone wants to stop and talk to you about the baby – not just residents of Harbor View, but people at the supermarket, the shopping mall, and the gas station. Now, I know that babies are cute, and I’m not saying that people don’t stop me up North every so often; they do.

However, back home, the person usually would say, “Cute baby.”

I’d say, “Thanks.”

They’d say, “How old is she?”

I’d say, “Eight months.”

They’d say, “Well, enjoy her. It goes by fast.” And that would be the end of the encounter.

In Florida I went shopping in the supermarket one day, when an old woman struck up a conversation with me. It went something like this:

Old woman: What a cute baby you have. Is it a boy or a girl?

Me: It’s a little girl. (I wanted to say, “She has pink clothes on, a ribbon in her hair, and earrings in her ears, what do you think?”)

Old woman: How old is she?

Me: Eight months.

Old woman: Ohhh, I have a grandson who is eight months old. But he lives so far away. I’ve only seen him once. He’s very cute. He looks very much like your daughter.

Me: Thanks. That’s nice. Well, I’d better continue with my shopping.

Old woman: Little Jacob just started crawling. He’s named after my late husband, you know. Is your baby crawling?

Me: Yes, she is.

Old woman: Well, Jacob is very smart just like his father – my son. He loves to have the phone up to his ear and listen to grandma talk to him.

Me: Yeah, our daughter likes that, too.

Old woman: Do you mind if I just tickle her cute little toes? (Of course she asked this after she had already started playing with my baby’s toes.)

Me: Well, the doctor said I should try not to have too many people touching her so she doesn’t get sick. She hasn’t had all of her vaccines yet.

Old woman: Aah, doctors today are too overly protective. In my day, babies lived with their grandparents and were handled by everyone in the village. You know, Jacob, my late husband, not my grandson, and I both come from the same village in Russia?

Me: Well, that’s nice but I really must go. The baby gets really fussy at naptime and she’s way past due.

Old woman: Oh, my Jacob never gets fussy. They say he’s such a good baby. Awww, I wish I could see him more.

Tears started to well up in the old woman’s eyes. I did feel bad, but at the rate she was talking, I was going to spend my whole Florida vacation in the supermarket rather than at the pool.

Me: That’s too bad. Well, nice meeting you. I really must go.

I dashed off to the next aisle before the old woman could say another word.

“Phew!” I breathed a sigh of relief just as an old man tapped me on the shoulder.

Old man: What a sweet baby you have. I have a granddaughter just about her age. She lives in New Jersey, though. She’s a looker she is…

Friday, November 12, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 5 - Visitors

I have since gotten married and have a baby of my own. Thankfully, I am no longer ‘the single daughter.’ As I have mentioned, I live in the DC suburbs, while Mom and Dad and all of the rest of my family live in the Philadelphia area, where I grew up. So now when I visit Florida, Mom introduces me as “my daughter who moved far away from me, as opposed to my other daughter who chose to stay near her mother.”

In spite of this introduction, I still visit Mom and Dad at Harbor View once a year, except now those visits include my husband and our daughter. Unfortunately, now all of us cannot sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room of Mom and Dad’s condo. We have to stay at a nearby hotel instead.

I knew that Mom would be thrilled when I told her that we wouldn’t be staying at her condo anymore because I thought it was too small and cramped, and that their sofa bed was very uncomfortable. I knew she would be happy that we wouldn’t be there to mess up her morning routine or clutter the apartment. She actually had a song in her voice when she replied, “That’s too bad; we’ll miss you staying with us.” My husband, on the other hand, was less than thrilled.

“Sweetheart, if we stay in a hotel when we visit your folks,” he said to me, “it’s going to cost quite a bit of money. After all, it is high season in Florida that time of year.”

“Well, what can we do? I’m not staying in their small condo,” I replied.

“How about if we just go to an island this year? It’ll cost the same amount of money.”

“But that’s not the point, honey. We’re not just going for vacation, we’re also going to see my parents,” I said.

“Name one good reason I would have for choosing Florida with your folks for vacation over a beautiful, sunny, tropical island?” he questioned me.

“Mom and Dad will babysit so we can go out,” I answered him.

“Start packing, we’re going to Florida,” he replied.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 4 - Visitors

Of course, going to Florida with the label of ‘single’ comes with added bonus conversations with Mom’s friends and neighbors.

This is a conversation that took place about four years ago between me and one of Mom’s friends:

“Oh, so you’re single?” Mom’s friend asked me, “Where do you live?”

“Outside of Washington, DC,” I answered.

“Well, I have a perfect man for you to meet. My son lives just north of Baltimore.”

“Well, I actually live on the Virginia side of DC, not the Maryland side. Baltimore is a good one and a half hours away.”

“Aaah, what’s one and a half hours at your age? You shouldn’t be too picky,” she answered.

“I’m only 27,” I replied.

“At 27, I was married with two kids. Anyway, that’s perfect; my son is 41.”

“Thanks, but no, thanks,” I said. “I like to date men who live close to me and who are nearer my age.”

“Okay, honey, but I’m telling you, you’re passing up on a winner. He’s a blank canvas; he’s never had a girlfriend before.”

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 3 - Visitors

When I first started visiting Mom and Dad several years ago, I was single. This is how Mom used to introduce me.

“Neighbor, this is my single daughter. She’s visiting from Washington, DC for a week,” Mom would say.

“Nice to meet you, single daughter,” Neighbor would reply. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

“Mom,” I would say later, “it’s insulting the way you introduce me as your single daughter.”

“Well, everyone knows that in addition to my son, I have two daughters – one single and one married to a wonderful man with three adorable children. So that’s how I always refer to you. They wouldn’t know which daughter I was talking about if I just said your name,” Mom answered.

“Well, I don’t like it. Please try to introduce me with a name next time.”

The next time we met one of her friends, this is how the conversation went:

Mom: Friend, I want to introduce you to my daughter, Amy.

Friend: Nice meeting you, Amy. Are you the single daughter or the married one with the wonderful husband and three beautiful children?

Friday, August 6, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 2 - Visitors

The first thing Dad asks every year when I arrive is, “What was the weather when you left?”

“I don’t know, Dad. It was cold,” I say.

“How cold?”

“I don’t know. Very cold.”

“Was there snow on the ground?” Dad asks.

“No, no snow.”

“How about ice?”

“No, no ice either,” I reply.

“You know it’s in the seventies here.”

“Yes, Dad, I can feel that.”

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chapter 12; Part 1 - Visitors

At some point or another during most retirees’ winters in Florida, they get visitors – children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews from ‘up North.’ I’m always one of them; I visit Mom and Dad every year.

The funny thing about visiting Florida in the winter is you leave your city or town in the Northeast, where the average age and the average temperature are both around 38. A little more than two hours later you arrive in Florida to find that the temperature and the age of the people have both climbed about 40 points.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Chapter 11; Part 8 - Trips

After they came back from the cruise, Mom called to tell me all about it. “We had a wonderful time and the food was delicious – I ate veal parmesan, fabulous fish, and oh, the portions; it was never-ending. The shopping was wonderful too. I got such bargains – a handbag for $10 and a pair of silver earrings for $15. Oh, and the weather was beautiful too. It was always about 77 degrees.”

“What did you do every day?” I asked.

“We did so much. When we were at sea, we sat by the pool, and played shuffleboard, and walked around the track. When we were docked, we went shopping. And at night we saw some wonderful shows.”

“Mom, if I didn’t know where you went, from your description of the food, weather, pool, and the activities, I would have thought you were describing a week at Harbor View,” I said.

“Oh yeah, speaking of Harbor View, that reminds me of one more thing about the cruise,” she added, “there were lots of old people on board, too.”

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Chapter 11; Part 7 - Trips

Mom, of course, also talked about the cruise with her friends. One evening at dinner, Mom brought up the subject of the food on the cruise.

“Uumm, this dinner is delicious,” Mom said to her dining companions at Antonio’s, “I hope the food on the cruise is just as good.”

“Oh, speaking of food on the cruise, Phyllis called up the travel agent and they told her that the Captain’s Dinner is probably going to be the second night of the cruise,” Flo replied.

“Well that’s a relief,” Mom said. “I’m glad it’s not on the last night. My new evening gown should still fit by day two. Last year, Sylvia and Susan went on a cruise and they said by the end of the week, they couldn’t zip up any of their clothes.”

Friday, March 19, 2010

Chapter 11; Part 6 - Trips

Sometimes getaways from Harbor View last even longer than a weekend. This past year the ‘Young in Spirit’ club organized a weeklong cruise. Twenty-eight couples signed up for a seven-day journey to the Caribbean.

“Mom, I can’t believe you’re going on a cruise. Most people would be more than happy to change places with you where you are now. Being in Florida for four months is already a vacation,” I said to her one day on the phone.

“I know, but since we’re already down here, we didn’t have to pay for airfare to fly to the cruise port in Florida. It was too good a deal to pass up,” she replied.

Mom talked about her cruise for about a month prior to their departure, and of course began laying out her clothes for it weeks in advance, too.

“Oh, I don’t know what to do, I need a new dress for the formal Captain’s Dinner on the cruise,” she said to me on one occasion.

“Why don’t you wear the dress you wore to Cousin Linda’s wedding last year?” I asked.

“I can’t. I left it at home in Pennsylvania. Who knew I’d need a formal dress down here?”

“But you knew back home that you were going on a cruise this winter. You should have just brought it with you,” I informed her.

“Okay, I’ll be honest with you. It doesn’t fit anymore. I gained four pounds last year in Florida and probably at least two more this year.”

“Mom, what about all of the walking you’ve been doing?” I asked her.

“I guess it doesn’t make up for all of the dinners I’ve been eating out,” she admitted.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chapter 11; Part 5 - Trips

Sometimes, residents of Harbor View go on weekend trips. Last year, Mom’s friend Phyllis organized a weekend getaway to visit cousins of hers at a retirement development in another part of Florida. Three couples went – Mom and Dad, Phyllis and Herb, and Flo and Irv. Mom said it was nice there, but that she was glad to be home.

“Phyllis’s cousins were very nice, and their development was lovely, but it just didn’t feel right,” she said. “I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh, maybe it’s just that everything was slightly different. On Friday night, instead of eating at Antonio’s we ate at Francesca’s. Instead of Wu’s Chinese buffet on Saturday we ate at Wong’s. And we ate Sunday brunch at Shlomo’s instead of Bubbe’s. Even the shopping was different. The flea markets were called Fantastic Flea instead of Celebration Stores and the mall was Crystal Lake instead of Coral Sands.”

“How about the people in the development? What were they like?” I asked.

“That’s it!” Mom screamed excitedly, “The people! That’s why it felt so weird. Everything around me was different, but the people were exactly the same – they were Characters!”

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Chapter 11; Part 4 - Trips

Mom and Dad don’t always go on the trips sponsored by some of the clubs. With Mom not able to easily get out of the house before 10:00 in the morning, she says the trips are often a little too hectic for her. Last year there was a day trip to Pelican Lake State Park, which is three hours away from Harbor View. The bus was leaving the Harbor View clubhouse at 7:30 in the morning (much too early for Mom) and not returning until 10:00 at night. It should have been an overnight trip, rather than a day trip, but Dad says the club didn’t think they would get enough people to spend the extra money to overnight there.

Anyway, despite the early departure, the club still managed to fill one and one-half busloads with people, including Mom’s friends’ Flo and Irv. The next day Mom called Flo to find out how the trip was.

“Ugh, it was a disaster,” Flo said. “About two hours into the bus ride to the park, the engine on the second bus started smoking. We pulled over to the side of the road, while the drivers checked out the problem. They determined that they needed some part, so all of the people on the broken bus came over onto our bus.” Flo explained.

“You’re kidding! How did you all fit?” Mom asked.

“Well, it was very crowded, and some people had to stand. Then everyone started arguing whether we should continue on to the park or just turn around and go home.”

“What’d you do?” Mom asked in anticipation.

“We continued on. In the end, most of the people agreed, and I mean most; that difficult woman, Lila in Building 17 didn’t agree. Anyway, most of the people agreed that since we had already paid for the trip, we might as well go. We didn’t know if we’d be able to get a refund.”

“So how was the park once you got there?”

“Well, I don’t think it was worth the three-hour ride. There were palm trees, a lake, and some birds, which were pretty enough, but frankly, I can see all of the things outside my bedroom window at Harbor View – for free. Besides, there were so many mosquitoes around that I got bites all over my body. And the sun was very strong by the time we got there midday that a lot of people got sunburned, including Irv.”

“Oh, that’s too bad. Did you at least make it home okay?”

“Yeah, they sent a second bus down.”

“Oy, I’m glad I didn’t go,” Mom said. “But, at least you’ll have something to talk about at the pool this afternoon,” Mom said.

And according to Mom, talk about it, they did. She told me that the bus ride fiasco to Pelican Lake State Park actually warranted conversations around the pool for nearly two weeks – a Harbor View record. “Old people love to complain,” Mom informed me. “I believe they actually enjoy incidents like this or else, besides food, what else would they have to talk about?”

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chapter 11: Part 3 - Trips

And at least once a year one of the Harbor View clubs will sponsor a day trip to that favorite Florida sport – jai alai. Jai alai is one of those terms I’ve always heard of in conjunction with Florida, but I truly had no idea what it was. I asked Dad about it when he told me that he and Mom had gone to jai alai the previous evening with the golf club.

“It’s basically a sport, like handball, that you can bet on,” he told me. “You go into a big room like a theatre, and there are men on stage throwing a ball back and forth into a wicker basket that they are each holding. It’s pretty interesting to watch because they have to throw and catch the ball in one fluid motion. You don’t have to bet on all of the games, but you can if you want to.”

“Was it any fun?” I asked him.

“Well, the restaurant we ate at beforehand was good. But, as far as the jai alai is concerned, it was just okay. Actually, watching it once in my life was more than enough for me. To be honest with you, the only reason I went is because whenever I tell people that I winter in Florida, many of them ask me if I’ve been to see jai alai and I’m embarrassed to say, ‘no.” Now I can tell them I have,” Dad reasoned.

Chapter 11; Part 2 - Trips

Sometimes the ‘Young in Spirit’ club will sponsor a day trip to one of the many wildlife preserves in the area. The club members will take a boat ride through the swamps of South Florida and peer at all of the alligators. I’m not sure what it is about alligators that the old people in Harbor View like so much. My theory is that alligators are the only things in Florida more wrinkled than they are. Afterwards the residents will dine at a local seafood restaurant (which incidentally usually serves alligator as a menu item – further proof that the old folks are better off than the alligators), and then they will head home, happy that they have gotten away from the other residents of Harbor View for the day.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chapter 11; Part 1 - Trips

Doing the same things day in and day out at a retirement community in Florida can be boring after a few months, even when those ‘same things’ are playing, relaxing, eating, and lounging. When their lives start to seem monotonous, residents of Harbor View often decide to take a trip somewhere else – essentially a vacation from their vacation. Residents attempt to get away from the daily grind at Harbor View so that they can enjoy playing, relaxing, eating, and lounging at another location.

The trip could be a day trip, a weekend jaunt, or a whole week’s vacation. Sometimes they are impromptu trips decided on a day earlier around the pool; other times they are vacations sponsored by one of the Harbor View clubs planned months in advance.

Day trips are the most common for Mom, Dad and their friends to take. Mom and Dad will occasionally drive down to South Beach for a day at the beach and a nice meal in a trendy restaurant. Mom says South Beach is her favorite place to get away to since it is exactly the opposite of Harbor View – it’s fast, it’s hip, and most importantly, it’s young. “You get tired of looking at old people all of the time,” she tells me.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Chapter 10; Part 6 - Evenings Out

If they are not doing activities at the clubhouse, Mom, Dad, and their friends sometimes invite each other over to the other’s condo for their evening activity. They always offer coffee and cake for refreshments (as if they haven’t had enough to eat at dinner earlier in the evening). Then they either play dominoes or sit around and talk. Actually, even if they are playing dominoes, which requires no thinking, they are still mainly just sitting around and talking. The conversations are usually similar to the ones that take place around the pool during the day. Except at the pool, residents have to wait until the others have left before they can begin talking about them. In the privacy of their condos, they can talk about the others all evening long.

Chapter 10; Part 5 - Evenings Out

On nights when there are no live shows or special dances, Mom and Dad sometimes go to the movies. Of course, not movies in first-run theatres that would cost at least eight dollars a head – that’s much too expensive for the Florida pocketbook. Instead, they go to see one-dollar movies offered in one of the larger rooms in the clubhouse. Most of the films are pretty current, as they have just recently left the movie theatres. And even if it is something Mom and Dad wouldn’t normally go to see in the theatre, they take a chance on it at the clubhouse. As Dad says, “For a buck, you can’t beat it for an evening out.”

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chapter 10; Part 4 - Evenings Out

Another popular, although less common, option for the evening activity is a dance offered by one of the Harbor View clubs. Usually around the holidays, such as New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, many of the clubs will sponsor an evening of dinner and dancing in the ballroom of the clubhouse. Mom and Dad enjoy these dances not only because they get to socialize with their friends, but also because it gives them an opportunity to dress up – something they don’t get a chance to do often in casual Florida.

From what Mom tells me about these dances, though, it sounds as if the residents attending them haven’t matured much since junior high school. Not that the men stand on one side of the room and the women on the other; rather, the juvenile mentality has to do with saving seats. Mom says that in the first few years after the ‘Young in Spirit’ club was formed, everyone would save seats for their friends at the dining tables. As new people joined, however, many of them complained that there were too many cliques in the club. This led to a new ‘no saving seats’ club rule. The leaders said it would encourage people to get to know the new members.

One of the incidents that may have led to this new rule was at the Valentine’s Day dance one season. Mom and Dad were sitting with Flo, Irv, Susan, and Stan. Susan was saving the remaining two seats at their table for Hymie and Minnie. Apparently another couple came over and sat down in the vacant seats, and Susan asked them to move. Susan tried to get her way as she does returning food at restaurants, but the man wouldn’t budge. He said he wanted to sit at this particular table, and she wasn’t going to stop him. They got into a yelling match, which ended with the man mouthing off a few obscenities.

At that point, Mom said she herself wanted to move, not desiring to sit with a man with a ‘filthy mouth’ as she put it. But by then the man’s wife was already chatting with the others at the table, and Susan just gave in and told them to stay there if they wanted. By the end of the evening, the man apologized to Susan for his language and even asked her for a dance. Mom couldn’t believe that Susan actually danced with him after the way they were arguing. But Mom said that’s the way it is with the old people in Florida. She said they behave like children sometimes – fighting with each other one minute and acting like best friends the next. In spite of this junior high mentality, Mom says the dances are usually a pleasant way to spend a holiday evening.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Chapter 10; Part 3 - Evenings Out

Once a year toward the end of the winter season, the clubhouse offers a live show put on by the residents of Harbor View. It is a talent show, and any resident who is brave enough is allowed to perform in it. Mom and Dad never used to sign up to attend the year-end talent show, but they have heard that it is actually pretty good, so this past year, they decided to check it out. Mom said it really was very good.

“You won’t believe how talented some of these people are,” Mom said to me on the phone the day after the talent show.

“Really, what did they do?” I asked.

“Well, a few of the women sang and danced like chorus girls in a Broadway show. Sure, their kicks weren’t high like the Rockettes, but I give them credit. Their hair is gray, the skin on their arms is dangling, and most of them aren’t exactly slender, but they had a lot of energy and belted out show tunes like it was opening night on Broadway. I don’t know if I would even be able to remember the words to all of those songs they sang.”

“What else did people do?”

“One woman twirled the baton. She actually wore a glittering costume with knee-high boots. She wasn’t bad. She missed a few times, but, overall, it was remarkable for a woman who looked to be in her early eighties.”

“Wow, I’m impressed,” I said.

“One man did magic tricks. His reflexes weren’t so good, so you could sometimes see what he was doing. But the people in the audience were good sports. All of the performers got a standing ovation.”

“Did Dad like it?”

“Actually, he did. He said he’s thinking of participating next year.”

“Dad? What can he do?” I asked.

“He’s thinking of doing a comedy routine with Herb. They are planning on imitating the folks in Harbor View. You know, things like, ‘Did you hear that ambulance go by? There’s another condo available in Building 41.’”

“That sounds funny. But I hope no one is insulted. They may throw tomatoes at them,” I said.

“Nah, they’re a good-natured crowd when it comes to the talent show. Besides, if they threw anything, it would probably be matzo balls.”