So, Dear Readers, you may recall that our Florida story began with a work conference. But after a successful conclusion of that industry event, it was time to leave the luxury resort in Ft. Lauderdale for the second phase of my adventure. Next up? A 3-hour drive to senior-infested Central Florida to visit my beloved parents in their winter haven.
Now, whenever I mention that my parents flock to Florida with the other Minnesota snowbirds, I get the same question, “Is it anything like ‘Del Boca Vista’?” To which I respond, “Yes, but imagine the Costanzas living there instead of the Seinfelds.”
After getting turned around a few times trying to find the route recommended by the GPS function on my iPhone (it seems all of the freeways in Florida are labeled “Florida’s Turnpike”), I pulled into the Carefree Country Club in Winterhaven around five o’clock. The next 48 hours were filled with visiting some of Mom and Dad’s favorite eating establishments (the upside of dining with seniors: I got carded when I ordered a beer), listening to my dad play the organ (unfortunately, he plays about three beats behind the pre-programmed accompaniment) and visiting the local flea market.
I’ll take my fleas to go
The flea market was interesting. Imagine the 20 worst garage sales you’ve ever been to and string them all together. That was the flea market. One large tent in particular was a veritable treasure trove of shit. Knock-off products of every shape and size jockeyed for the attention of shoppers trying to stretch a fixed income.
I was particularly amused by the “Sharpeis”… Aren’t those the wrinkly dogs? The contrast between that redneck flea market and the oceanfront resort where I had been just one day earlier was both amusing and a bit depressing.
What’s a lifetime of sacrifice worth? Apparently $29.82.
One of the pleasures of being an adult is the ability to buy your parents a decent meal. I mean, my parents raised NINE children, which obviously entailed a considerable amount of physical and financial sacrifice on their part. As someone farther down the batting order, I know that my existence is more due to the Catholic church’s ruling on birth control than it is based on the fact that my parents really wanted an 8th child/5th daughter. So how does one say, “Hey, thanks for all the love and sacrifice?” Well, in our family, food is always an appropriate way to show love, so my plan was to take my parents out for a nice meal during my visit. Sky’s the limit, I told them. Pick your favorite place. After much debate, Mom chose the local Bob Evans. The tab for the three of us? Under $30–so much for gratitude (I had spent that much just having margaritas on the beach earlier in the week). To be honest, my parents would be appalled to know how much my husband and I regularly spend on eating out, as it contradicts the frugal approach necessitated by raising nine children. But my parents enjoyed their meal, and I, their company. So I guess that’s what really matters.
Check out those gams
Being from a large family, it’s an interesting exercise to speculate on which parental traits have carried through to the next generation.
My mother’s nose is…um…prominent. She inherited it from her father and a couple of my brothers and I inherited it from her. My four sisters all lament the fact that they have no pinky toenail and blame my mother. They all covet my pinky toenail—I guess it comes from Dad. My predilection for colorful phrases comes from my father. My love of reading? That’s Dad, too. My sharp tongue? Weird sense of humor? Mom. And so on…
But check this out:
These are the legs of my 86-year-old father. Not bad, eh? In fact, it’s become a bit of a family joke to kid my father about his gorgeous gams. But seriously, this is an unretouched photo taken from my iPhone last week. Look at those legs! I’m hoping this is one of the physical traits I’ve inherited from Dad (my mother’s legs–having withstood nine pregnancies–naturally show a little more wear and tear). Check back in another four decades or so, and we’ll see whether I won the genetic lottery on legs.
Putting the bite on the sandwich generation
The most difficult part of my visit was revisiting an old argument with my mother: The “It’s-time-to-downsize-and-move-to-an-assisted-living-facility” discussion. The fact is, my parents are no longer able to winter in Florida so far away from the assistance of their kids. My mom has her hands full with my dad, who (in addition to great gams) has dementia and no short-term memory. My siblings and I have jobs and families of our own and can’t always drop everything to help out, although we try our best. We all live in dread of Mom getting sick or hurt, because even the most minor hospitalization would require one of us to immediately fly down there and care for my dad.
My sibs and I would like to planfully arrange for my parents to move into a nice senior apartment where they could retain their independence, yet still have a social life and be able to get help in an emergency–rather than waiting for a health crisis to necessitate an emergency move into whatever substandard place has an opening. Ironically, my father–the so-called demented one–is amenable to this; however, my mother is adamantly opposed to the idea. So we defer to Mom’s wishes and continue to persuade and cajole, but the fact is, we’re stuck. We love our parents tremendously and know that these sacrifices are the ones my siblings and I are required to make in exchange for all those our parents made while raising us. As much as I wish otherwise, dinner at Bob Evans just won’t settle that debt.