“Frenchman’s Creek” has “gotten’ to be a habit with me,” in the phrase from an old song. I know the turning of the roads around the creek with the fountain and the golf-cart traffic at the curves.
The herons, ducks, and swans and the squirrels on benches on the short dirt paths among the smooth streets surrounding the immaculate “lawns” – if that is what they are – on the hilly course grounds.
“What was here before the gated community?” I ask our kind, patient, popular and generous host. “Nothing,” he answers, not accepting the nature of my rather fresh query. What I meant, of course, was whether or not there was an everglade, a watershed, a habitat for ancient and honorable creatures.
This – Eden? – is the reward for Jewish retired persons now free to live comfortably, courteously and companionably. The warmed robes you can wrap yourself in after a dip in the heated pool with tended palm trees swaying gently in the breeze, plus the exercise routines and massages available, as well as the fine cocktails, make the day go by calmly and sweetly. My endlessly indulgent dad-in-law puts up with my whimsical complaints. “I found the cups but where are the saucers?” or nonsense that like. He laughs good-naturedly at my mini-problems. “I was reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt and how he created our national parks, and I can’t find it anywhere ... and last time we came, I lost my bathing suit!” I accuse. “Don’t write about that,” he suggests.
Each visit here to West Palm Beach is, of course, slightly different. This time we are celebrating the newest grandchild, Selma, currently nine months old and we like the daily weather clouding up and then bursting into sunbeams of delight. Great Grandpa has thoughtfully provided a fancy bottle of whisky for l’chaims. Frenchman’s Creek has become … what? A symbol of what we do with the American Dream. We welcome the generations and deal devotedly with them.
A fine and elegant couple is walking hand in hand across the lobby of the club house. Directly behind them stands a handsome African woman, large, benevolent, quite beautiful and imposing. The well-dressed man and woman have eyes, seeing neither yesterday nor tomorrow, only the happy moment, looked after by a 24/7 aide, guide and guardian.
Oh, I know I am a dilettante and I am trying to ponder the guilt or innocence of my stance. My judgments are not harsh or final, only playful and yet also melancholy.
There is a “Shalom” show on the big screen in the viewing room of the residence here in Frenchman’s. The hosts of the show pose the same questions I am putting out. Is the acquisition of fame and fortune the meaning of something we call “success”? The guests on the shows are cantors, memoirists, searchers for Hasidic interpretations.
“What do you want from 2014?” – who asked me that? – “Nothing that I don’t already have,” I answer sincerely but unimaginatively. I have everything I desire, right here and right now. I have my wife, my son and daughter here, and my baby grandchild, and her great grandpa. I have a job to go home to that I enjoy every day of the weeks ahead and, in hindsight, behind. I have memory and hope. I may brood about my guilt for things done or undone that cannot be redeemed, but I also smile over the small victories and triumphs, like finally getting the heated robe, with the help and support of great grandpa, who really stands in here.
Put it all together and what do I conclude? You figure it out, for me.
Mike Fink (firstname.lastname@example.org) teaches at RISD.