Christmas is the time of year when we think of “home”. Home for many Americans generates warm fuzzy feelings of a place where things were simpler and life was, somehow, better. It brings memories of places we’ve left, assuming we’ve left them behind at all. And it’s a place where, for all the saccharine sentiment, most of us wouldn’t want to move back to, because where we’re at is better materially than where we started.
For those of us who grew up in a place like Palm Beach, life is different.
To start with, Christmas in South Florida is something of a mind bender. When we South Floridians (or anyone who grew up in a tropical or sub-tropical place) hear of people waxing about “sleigh bells in the snow” our first question is simple: snow? For me, memories of Christmas turn to a Christmas day when my brother, first armed with a driver’s license, and I cruised down the streets of West Palm Beach in 75 deg. F weather, windows down, and sunny. Who needs snow?
Being on our side of the lake–the barrier between us and the riff-raff–was even stranger. People go on about many things they experienced where they grew up, but honestly the best thing about being a kid on the North End of Palm Beach was (and probably is) Lake Trail. A bicycle/pedestrian trail that runs most of the length of the Town of Palm Beach along the shore of Lake Worth, it was a two-wheeled interstate down to more interesting places (including, after 1971, Publix). To get there from our house, we went up and over Palm Beach’s fabled coral ridge and down a paved path at a vacant lot which put us on the Trail. Our cat was likewise enamoured with the area, but he reached it by imperiously sauntering down the streets of Palm Beach as cats are wont to do. One time he came home with blood in his eye, which led us to suspect he came in contact with something bigger than he was.
The years have come and gone, and so has the vacant lot. The Palm Beach Country Club built a house on the lot and sold it in the 1980’s, and that house is now on the market for a paltry USD37,450,000. From the looks of it the access to Lake Trail has been cut off as well, although there are alternatives.
Our abode was nowhere near that magnificent, and it wasn’t on the water either. Nevertheless, while many of my contemporaries wouldn’t go back to the place they came from because they have “advanced” (their material circumstances have, the mentality has not) I could not go back because, frankly, I can’t afford to. As my grandmother would say, we are “too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash“, by current Palm Beach standards.
Some of that is the fate of multigenerational success; sooner or later it fades. But another reason is the stratospheric rise of real estate prices in Palm Beach and other places like it. It’s kind of like the debate over sea level rise: is the sea rising or the land falling? That’s the case with several places I or my ancestors called home at one time or another.
God is good and so is life; I don’t mean this to be a gripe session. Palm Beach’s social system may be the one I reference all others by, but then it wasn’t much fun. I still find all the obsession many of my contemporaries have with “moving up” distasteful, especially if they profess and call themselves Christians. But Christians especially would be well advised to lose the obsession with “moving up” in this life at least. We live in a time when technology and the productivity it can produce great improvements in life, but our economic and political systems tend to concentrate power and wealth in the hands of a few while making the rest of think that we’re in charge though a dubious electoral system. With the downsizing of life our elites plan to mandate in the name of saving the planet, there will be many more who will find the “old home place” out of reach financially.
And that will probably include the place we’re at now.