My book was born on a golf course. Which may sound strange since the book has nothing to do with golf or sports of any kind. It makes more sense when you consider the hours I’ve logged with my family looping around golf courses from Miami Beach to Southern California. For all practical purposes, I grew up in a golf cart. Next to my mother, who was forever trying to “find her swing.” Along with my brother, who rode next to my father, who was forever trying to find his ball.
For my father, the day was never about the golf. It was about fishing for golf balls out of whatever pond his cart was pulled up next to. He had a tool—this extendable rod, not unlike a fishing pole—that he used for this purpose. As he fished, he’d talk. As he talked, my mother would curse, blaming her inability to hit on his inability to be quiet. All along, I’d listen or laugh or read my book.
We started playing in earnest after my father’s parents died and entire vacations were no longer devoted to visiting them in their condo in North Miami Beach. These visits to my grandparents began in the ‘70s, before golfing was a thing. When simply being able to board a plane and escape the Chicago weather was vacation enough. Everyday for two weeks we, and multitudes of families like us, piled into our grandparents’ tiny apartments. Sleeping on pull-out beds, on floors, sharing a bathroom, a TV, there it was, our “vacation.”
Our family and everyone else’s returned year-in and year-out. We spent our days sitting at the same pool. We spent our evenings sitting in the same lobby. We stood in line at the same few restaurants or at the same movie theater. No one played golf. No one exercised. No one did anything except sit on a chaise, swim or smoke. Yet no one was bored, either. Somehow, when you do nothing together, it becomes something, and this is what my father was saying one day in 2005, when we were on the golf course and my twin daughters, then four, were back at my parents stand-alone home in Boca Raton, with a baby sitter. “There’s something to be said for communal living,” he said, as he balanced on a rock and reached his tool into a pond. “You don’t realize the fun you had growing up around all those people. Your kids are really gonna miss out.”
Until my father pointed out that those days packed like sardines on a pool deck were a thing of the past, a tradition that, in the name of progress, wealth, and the gated community, had had its day, I’d never given them a thought. But as I sat in the golf cart trapped somewhere on a long par five and thought about my kids trapped at home with a sitter, I saw what my dad was saying.
Both my father’s parents and my mother’s mother spent the winter in that apartment building. So did my grandmother’s sisters. Our second cousins. My mother’s friends from college. My own friends from school. Our Florida friends. No one in the history of Winston Towers 100 ever hired a babysitter. If parents went out for a time, they simply left their kids in the lobby or in the pool with instructions to the nearest adult to “keep an eye” on them, they’d be back soon. They were good days, I decided. And so I decided to write. I didn’t know what my story would be about, but I had a setting that I soon realized brought with it a feeling of joy and a sense of nostalgia.
Of course I never imagined it would take me a decade to write.
“Luckily your father is still alive to read it,” my mother says now.
We just spent a week with them in their gated-community, snow-bird home, where we return to every year. There, my kids have their own bedroom, there are more TVs than people, and instead of pinball with their friends, they play mahjong with my mother. Nonetheless, it is still communal living.
Which is important, especially in this day and age, an age inconceivable back in the day of Winston Towers and even back in 2005. Society has spent the intervening years moving further away from communal living than my father could have ever imagined that day on the course. Who could have imagined faces buried in screens instead of books? Or telephones not ringing. Or the isolation created by the iPhone along with the ability to never have nothing to do. My kids would never think to bring a book with them on a car ride, let alone a round of golf. They would not know how to sit in a golf cart for four hours without looking at their phones. In fairness, neither would I.
I see now that the golfing was less about the golf than the togetherness. Just like the Florida “vacation” was less about what we were doing than who we were doing it with. When are people stuffed together in close proximity for hours on end without distraction anymore? My story, which started as a nice memory to share, has, at least to me, morphed into something bigger, like a museum exhibit brings to life a prehistoric age. Technology made things easier, but it outdated life as we knew it in exponential time. And it seems to me that the more outdated the times, the more relevant they (and the stories about them) become. A simpler time. A way of life gone by. It is not only fun to go there, it’a a lesson. It’s also a relief.
My daughter is now old enough to get it herself. She often says that she wishes she grew up when my husband and I did because there were less choices (think TV shows) and less stress (think high school pressures). If only she could go back in time, she says.
I know of a book she can read, I tell her. If only she’d pick one up.