I’ve been to paradise. And it was hell.
My wife’s parents for a time lived in a carefully designed Tennessee retirement community that I’ll call Ideal Meadow Cove, and at the start of my first visit there I was struck by its idyllic perfection. All the houses were constructed of matching stained wood and stone and were set on wooded lots near golf courses and a beautiful lake. The small lawns were impeccably manicured; flowers bloomed everywhere; there was no litter—in fact no eyesores of any kind; and it was truly peaceful and quiet.
It was without a doubt the creepiest experience of my life.
All the houses were new. All the roads were new. Everything was new. Except the people. The people were old.
I soon learned that the ostensible perfection had been achieved only at the cost of a diabolical level of control by the real estate company that owned this community. After my in-laws bought their lot, they had only three basic house plans to choose from. Lawns were required to be kept mowed. If the grass grew higher than the allowed number of inches, company mowers were dispatched and the homeowners were charged and fined. My in-laws could have no outdoor pets, no vegetable gardens in the yard, and there were regulations about the duration and noise-level of visits from young grandchildren.
When my wife and I accompanied her parents to church, I was astonished. I know that many churches have elders. But this congregation had ONLY elders. As for their hair, there must have been 50 shades of gray. The Bible reading was naturally from the OLD Testament—something concerning Methusaleh if I remember correctly. The hymns were “That OLD-time Religion” and “The OLD Rugged Cross.”
After church I went with my father-in-law to see one of his neighbors in this Garden of Eden. The neighbor was in a wheelchair, and strapped to his face he had an oxygen tube that serpentined for at least 50 feet in coils throughout the house. The house had a close view of the lake but an even closer view of eternity.
After only a few years, my in-laws left Ideal Meadow Cove, moved to Alabama to a neighborhood without restrictions, with a noisy Interstate less than a mile away, with a trailer two lots down, with campers and fishing boats parked in the weedy, dirt-patched front yards nearby. Where funerals were not the only events they were ever invited to. Where my father-in-law had a huge garden filled with the fruits of the field.
And a blueberry bush, from which he picked a handful of ripe berries, took them to his mate, and offered her to eat.
My thanks to Wildacres Writers Retreat, where this piece was written