LIFE AS LIVED IN THE SENIOR-CITIZEN GHETTO

Burlington County Times, March 26, 2001

Okay, Mom, you wanted to know when you’d see yourself in print. Here goes, but I’m not sure you’ll agree with what I have to say:

I recently read that a developer has proposed rehabilitating a dilapidated farm house and its adjoining barn, located at the edge of a new housing development in Evesham Township, into low-income senior citizen housing. If the plans are approved, it will be the fourth establishment in the Evesboro-Medford Road area exclusively for senior citizens. It will join the B’nai B’rith Elmwood House, which consists of subsidized rental units funded by HUD, and Village Greene, a development of “active adult” two-bedroom, one-story detached houses which cost only slightly less than the four-bedroom mini-mansions sprouting up instead of soybeans and corn. A bit further down the road, Legacy Oaks, a development similar to Village Greene, is under construction. Right across the street from it is a “senior care” center and new medical office building. And that’s just in one section of Evesham. There are several other senior citizen developments throughout Burlington County: the Weston Club and Holiday Village in Mt. Laurel, Sagemore in Evesham, and the older, well-established and well-known Leisure Village in Southampton come immediately to mind. I know there are some in northern Burlington County, too, and I’m sure I’m leaving out quite a few others.

I really hope we’re not about to become a Southern Florida with snow.

My parents live in Boynton Beach, Florida, in a gated community that is age restricted. So do most of their friends. And most of the members of their synagogue. In fact, when I last visited them, they made a point of showing me those few – very few – developments in their area that were not age restricted.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to live in a neighborhood with people who have similar tastes, experiences, and backgrounds. And, especially after this winter, which was “normal,” I can understand wanting to get away from cold weather and icy roads. (I grew up in Boston; my parents decided to make the move south after a winter when they got 100″ of snow. I’m ready to move after 3″.)

When my parents’ generation was young, they lived within walking distance of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. When they grew up, they moved to the suburbs, and my generation was raised within driving distance of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. When my generation grew up, we moved to a different state and raised our children within flying distance of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins.

One day when I was home on vacation from college, I asked my grandmother and great grandmother to show me how to make stuffed cabbage. The first thing they did was kick me out of the kitchen; they then proceeded to spend the day arguing with each other about whose recipe was better. The end result was delicious, but I didn’t find out how to make the dish until my mother showed me. These days, if she wants to share a recipe with me, she’ll get my father to scan it and send it via email.

My father is a do-it-yourselfer. If he can’t fix something, he’ll pretend he can, and usually succeeds. We always have a list of chores for him to do when he visits. I’m sorry I didn’t pay more attention to his repair work when I still lived with my parents. The only thing I can do for myself is call someone. It would be nice if he were nearby to share his talents with my kids.
I
’m not trying to make my parents feel guilty – after all, I’m the one who moved away first. They certainly have earned the right to bask in the sun (okay, to go from an air conditioned house to an air conditioned car to an air conditioned store – after all, February there is like August here). They’ve got a great house, with minimum maintenance and maximum comfort. They’ve become reacquainted with friends they hadn’t seen in years. They’re busy and active and involved in their community.

But … there’s always a “but”… there’s something strangely unreal about that section of Southern Florida. It’s almost as though my parents and their friends have segregated themselves into a voluntary ghetto, one that is like a tropical vacation resort, but still a ghetto. One bomb or virulent virus, and an entire demographic classification would be wiped out.

There’s a sameness and lack of diversity that made me feel as though I’d entered the Twilight Zone, or maybe Stepford, 25 years later. Anyone under the age of 55 was likely the child of a resident; anyone under 35, the grandchild. The only young children were visitors. The only teens I saw were working the cash registers in the stores.

I can’t help but feel that something is missing. If “variety is the spice of life,” then they’re living in a salt-free, bland diet. At least the seniors in Burlington County who decide to live in age-restricted neighborhoods see a wide sampling of ages in the stores, restaurants, movies, libraries, houses of worship. They can volunteer at a day care center, share their interests with a classroom full of kids, babysit.

Of course, as the parent of a teen who just got his first electric guitar, I can see one definite advantage to living in an age-restricted community: they don’t have to listen to garage bands playing “Wild Thing” over and over and over….

And I have to admit that it must be nice to live in a tropical vacation resort full time. As long as the air conditioning works.

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