Thursday, November 28, 2002

Bountiful, Redux
One and One-Half Wandering Jews

Part Three:
Hy and Florence

Continental breakfast in the small dining room at the Plaza Inn in Palm Beach. Silver service coffee; sticky banana cornbread muffins; passing the baby back and forth over the fruit cups.

Sunday morning, exactly 24 hours after leaving home, we headed back inland towards Cresthaven, the retirement community my father's parents have lived in for 24 years.

This meant driving through the endless sprawl of strip malls and superstores which have sprung up to serve the burgeoning suburban belt, a band of pavement, cars, and dirty canals that, on a map, cuts a wide swath just inside of the beach communities along the substantive part of the Eastern border of Florida. I seem to remember that these things were not here, that the land was pristine, back when Florence and Hy Farber first moved down to Florida in the late seventies. When we were very small, my brother and I used to dig for fossils -- powdery grey imprints of clam shells, clams being an abundant and therefore cheap filler for concrete -- in the building zones when we came to visit, and going out to eat meant going back towards town; now there are no towns, only endless suburbia.

Finding the turnoff for Cresthaven was easy, but finding the house proved more challenging. In 24 years, I've probably been to this house nine or ten times. Until a three years ago, when my Grandmother's body began to betray her, my father's parents had come up North to summer in Killington Villiage, along with half their retirement community, it seemed. There was never a need for us to trek to Florida; eventually, those who could make the migration -- and a migration it was, North in the Summer and South in the Winter -- came back each year like wild geese do.

But Florence walks with a cane now, turtle-slow, after breaking her arm falling off a curb a year or two back. She's had stomach problems, with accompanying whatever-ostomies. Cataracts have left one eye blind, swollen shut, and the other able only enough for books in large print. I remember her as solidly cynical and complaining; now that she has much to complain about, paradoxially, of course, she seems happier, or at least at ease with herself in a way I do not remember.

Hy takes care of her when he needs to; mostly, she sits around the house, which doesn't demand direct care. He's much more active, but in a kind of supervisory role for the community which brings him a notoriety and accessibility she can't stand and he seems to relish. He calls the bingo games at the Clubhouse twice a week, and plays old standards for them on the Organ with a rhumba beat, wiring the speakers from the organ straight out to the pool that no one uses. When we go to the clubhouse, there is a sign tacked to the top of the community bulletin board -- Bulletin Board Supervisor: Hy Farber. Effective September 1989. -- which says it all.

Years ago, he used to beat my father soundly at pool. Now, in the clubhouse, he carefully peels back and folds the thin plastic tablecloth to reveal a carefully maintained pool table; breaks; loses twice to me, even though I am using a house cue while his unlocked from a wall rack. It isn't that I've improved. He's getting old, the first real sign of strain I've seen in him in 20 years or more.

We spend Sunday morning, and then Monday morning and afternoon, at their house in Cresthaven.

I glean precious gems about my father over the two days.

Hy watches the baby on her blanket while we talk as if he might never see her again.

I hear my grandmother say Joshua seems like a very active Father; you're very lucky; men weren't so involved when Steven and Susan had him to Darcie in the other room when he and I are talking about my father.

They show us pictures of Aunt Marion, who has a huge head as a result of water on the brain. She lives only in black and white, in memory and one or two very old pictures. Marion died before my father was born, and bringing the baby to them seems to make them wistful; they talk more about family, especially about their lost daughter, than I have ever heard even from my father.

I think about my father, and his father. I learn that my paternal great grandfather, who neither my father nor I ever met, sang while he farmed, and that my grandfather, his son, played the harmonica to accompany him.

I think about my father, and myself, and my daughter.

My heart sings.

posted by boyhowdy | 3:03 AM |

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