With time running short, the lively and intrepid residents of the Sunset Village retirement community in Florida continue to thirst for life. But the true beating heart in these acclaimed short stories is the love of family and friends and the finding of joy in the very act of being alive. In America, where "old" is a dirty word and people over sixty-five are often treated as if they had a contagious disease, these humorous, jewel-like stories prove our older folks still have a taste for sex, romance, excitement and living. Join the thousands of readers who have let the Sunset Gang into their hearts. They will teach you a lot about the aging process and about life itself - a subject on which they, after all, are the experts. A three hour mini-series on PBS's American Playhouse, starring Uta Hagen, Harold Gould, Doris Roberts, Anne Meara, and Jerry Stiller.
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How I Got the Idea for The Sunset Gang
I'm unsure if my father graduated from High School; he never told me. I think my mother graduated from Girls High in Brooklyn, but I'm not certain. She had come to New York in the hold of a ship from Russia with her mother, my Grandmother, who had six children in tow. My mother was three years old. My Grandfather had come a few years earlier to save enough money to bring them to the United States. It all happened in the waning days of the nineteenth century. That was the way it was done.
My father came to New York from London's East End when he was ten-years-old. He was, I think born in Poland and had come to England with my grandparents when he was eight months old. He rarely talked about his early childhood in London, but when he did he cited merely the names of boys with whom he had played. He never went back.
That is the sum of knowledge that I gleaned from my parents about their early days. It represents a huge gap in my education. Perhaps it was my fault because I never asked, but they never told me. I didn't miss this lack of knowledge until a few years ago. Now I hunger for it. Not only about their history but about the whole line of ancestors that came before me.
This is not how I got the idea for The Sunset Gang, but it is an element of memory that clearly connects with the idea and might be one of the subconscious reasons why I wrote these stories.
Late in life my parents retired to Florida. Somehow, after a life of hard economic knocks, they managed to scrape up enough money to buy a one-bedroom condominium for $13,000 in Century Village in West Palm Beach. My father had been a bookkeeper, mostly expendable and mostly unemployed throughout the great depression. Half our lives were spent in a small three-bedroom house in Brownsville, Brooklyn bought for my mother's parents (my grandparents) by their sons who supported them. We moved in whenever we were thrown out of our apartment for not paying the rent. It was called being dispossessed.
My grandparents had no social security, no pension, no means of support except by their children. The house became a refuge for us and those of my aunts and uncles and cousins who had lost the means of their livelihood because of hard times. There were eleven of us who lived in this tiny house with one bathroom. I slept with my kid brother. My parents slept somewhere downstairs in the dining room.
I have no memories of deprivation or unhappiness. I loved my childhood and loved that house, but that is another story I will write one day.
The idea of The Sunset Gang started from my time in Century Village in West Palm Beach. It is a sprawling community which was populated in the seventies and eighties by mostly lower-middle class people, many of whom were Jewish, who had found Valhalla after lives of tough sledding in New York City and other northern cities. It's probably much changed these days. Most people who lived there at that time were, like my parents, immigrants. With their children grown, they trekked to the new promised land. Florida! This became the magical destination with sunshine, perpetually blooming flora and fauna, swimming pools, a giant clubhouse for entertainment, vast areas for card playing, old comedians doing their Catskill shtick, cycling clubs, lectures, classes--and above all--gossip.
Gossip had always been the coin of the realm among these immigrants who had come to America as children. They had always lived in close quarters, always watching and listening to the people who lived around them. They were always observing each other, talking about each other, criticizing, commenting, bragging. They were a living and pulsing version of today's tabloids. They knew who was cheating on whose husband or wife, who was lying about their past lives, who was exaggerating about their children's achievements, who was richer or poorer, who had been a crook or a gangster, who was in bad health, who was dying, which widow was on the prowl for a man, and visa versa. Above all, they knew who had secrets and they passed them around to each other in strict confidence. You shouldn't tell meant spread the word. They were more efficient communicators than today's internet.
The principal conduits for this word of mouth knowledge were the Yentas. "Yenta" is a Yiddish word for busybodies, a term of derision and mild contempt.
My mother would have been appalled if she was referred to as a Yenta. In fact, no woman would ever admit she was, at heart, a Yenta. "Me a Yenta. Are you crazy?"
The men, too, were a form of male yenta, although I never heard them referred to as such. To them yenta was the ultimate put-down, a troublemaker, a female gangster. "Watch your mouth. The Yentas could be listening." was the ultimate danger signal of all the men who I met at Century Village on my periodic visits to my parents.
This said, I must confess that all of the ideas that became the short stories in my books, The Sunset Gang and later with more stories added Its Never Too Late for Love came from the Yentas of Century Village, including my mother. I owe them a profound debt of gratitude.
I began this little essay with some background about where my parents came from. I am, after all, a child of their experience and their genes flow through the blood of my body and my brain. I know in my gut that these stories come from that fount, that milieu.
God, how I miss them.
With time running short, the residents of Sunset Village, a Florida retirement community, prove that sex, love, intrigue and vitality continue to salt the so-called golden years. These acclaimed and timeless short stories have become a primer for the twilight years and a message of hope for a rich extended life in today's world. Sunset Village's intrepid inhabitants continue to thirst for life and love, teaching us all a lot about living—a subject on which they are, after all, experts.
A three hour mini-series on PBS's American Playhouse, starring Uta Hagen, Harold Gould, Doris Roberts, Anne Meara, and Jerry Stiller.
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