What It's Like to Visit Your Retired Parents in Boca Raton

by Stefanie Iris Weiss
Originally Published: 

They call it “God’s Waiting Room”

Shortly after I arrived at my parents’ new home in South Florida last week, they took me to see the clubhouse, a common feature in the ubiquitous gated communities catering to the 55-and-over set. My father introduced me to his coterie of male friends, whom I immediately dubbed “Pool and the Gang.”

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First I met Herb, a perversely tan gentleman in his mid-seventies, wearing a gold “chai” on a chain that hung about 15 inches above his bowling ball-shaped belly. At first I didn’t believe he was real, because if I were using profoundly cliché tropes to make a movie about the lifestyles of Jewish snowbirds, I would cast him immediately. There are so many people here from the northeast that “Brooklyn Water Bagel” is the local hotspot.

Hi from the Lanai!

My parents literally live on a golf course now. In my old INXS “Kick” t-shirt, I’d spend mornings on my laptop in their “Florida Room,” g-chatting friends with my new tagline “Hi from the Lanai!” as geckos and golfers provided a bucolic backdrop. (Like Eskimos and snow, Floridians have many names for their screened porches.)

On my second day in Boca, we went for lunch at a local deli whose menu offered both lox and nova. This is when I got depressed. More than half the patrons sat with their aides, some moving about with the help of walkers, others nibbling on whitefish sandwiches with gnarled, arthritic hands. It indeed felt like a hospital waiting room. The stench of sickness mixed with sour pickles.

I briefly imagined my still incredibly youthful mother, who does zumba five times a week, coming to this place for the next decade or two, making sure to catch the $5.99 lunch special before 1 p.m. I cried behind my sunglasses. I didn’t want her to know how it terrified me.

I never thought they’d end up here.

Here’s the thing: I never thought my folks would end up here. Former hippies, they were the coolest of my friends’ parents.

My dad owned Long Island’s first head shop, “The Magic Cottage,” when I was a baby. There was a six-foot-tall bamboo bong in my basement growing up and rolling papers in my dad’s night table drawer. The first time I smoked weed at an open-house party in 1987, I freaked out and called my mother. “Mom, I smoked pot and I’m definitely going to die tonight,” I said, “so can you pick me up?” Instead of scolding me, she made some tea and sat by the edge of my bed, while my dad peeked in, stifling giggles at my overblown paranoia.

Both of them had—and still have—excellent taste in music. My father has an extensive collection of rare blues and taught me everything about music from Bo Diddley to the Stones to Jimmy Cliff and back to Frank Zappa. Jews are not typically known for their rhythm, but my family’s ass-kicking bar mitzvah dance moves were legendary among our cousins.

Off to Boca, where all the Jews go to die.

Two years ago, my dad suffered a serious heart attack, followed by a quintuple bypass. During his long recovery, he told us he wanted—rather, needed—to retire. This would necessitate leaving Long Island, the place with the highest property taxes in the nation. My parents decided to decamp to Boca, where, it’s often said, all the Jews go to die.

If all of Florida is “God’s Waiting Room” because of its population of retirees (64 percent in 2012), the Boca/Delray/Boynton Beach area has its highest concentration of Jews. In a way, for my parents, it felt like going home again. Their new ‘hood might as well be Long Island without snow.

I’m thrilled that my father is deeply relaxed, no longer stressed about waking up in the morning for work. My mother drinks a glass of wine in the evening and goes power walking at local nature preserves. They hop over to the beach whenever they feel like it.

Still, I’m unsettled, knowing that this is the proverbial last stop. That this is the place I’ll come to when more health issues come up, as they inevitably will. That instead of hopping on a train, I’ll have to book a flight from New York City in the case of an emergency.

But my parents are happy, and they’re not afraid. It’s me who must adjust to the idea of them in their home stretch. After a week in Boca, I know, at least, that this stretch will be full of sunshine. I must admit it—life on the Lanai ain’t bad.

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