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The Naranja Lakes Men’s Club


There is a pretty famous picture of a Royal Palm tree from Hurricane Andrew.  The tree is about 75 feet tall.  About 60 feet up there is a two by four impaling it.  That tree survived for many years with that piece of wood sticking out of it.  The wind gauges were destroyed in the storm, but many believe the wind exceeded 200 miles per hour.  That tree made you believe it, how else could such a thing be possible?  I used to drive by it every now and then to see if it was still there.  It seemed symbolic that the tree could take such damage and survive.  It became a kind of tourist attraction and people frequently photographed it.  Some found the cross-like image inspirational.  Over the years though, the tree started to decline, and it became symbolic in another way.  The communities that suffer from these catastrophic storms are changed, and the damage and suffering can be permanent.  If the underlying economy is fundamentally damaged, it can be masked by the insurance dollars and FEMA money that rolls in.  In the case of Homestead, the loss of the Air Force Base took away the community’s economic engine, and its vitality began to seep away.  Like the tree, as it deteriorated, less and less people wanted to see it, and it moved from inspirational to sad.  Isn’t it the same with all hard hit disaster areas?



There was a small senior citizens community called Naranja Lakes just a little north of Homestead.  Most of the residents were from the northeast, mainly New York and New Jersey, and had retired to this little haven of warm weather.  We had quite a lot of them as patients and they were a handful for the nurses, but mostly in a good way.  They had this thing called the Naranja Lakes Men’s Club.  It was all Chiefs and no Indians in this organization as all of them had some kind of title.  They did, however, have influence and if you wanted to address this community you had to address the Men’s Club first.  The price to get on their agenda was to sponsor the dinner.  They were very particular about the menu and it was a challenge to get an acceptable meal together.  Addressing these guys was like going into the lion’s den.  Imagine being heckled by a hundred Jackie Masons.  They could be brutal.  I was there trying to persuade them that our small community hospital was a good and safe place to be cared for.  During the Q and A they would say things like “how do you compare to Sloan Kettering in New York City?” or ask wildly inappropriate questions about the ethnic background of the medical staff or the administrator (me).  I enjoyed them in spite of it all, as they were deep down nice guys and there were many war-time veterans among them.  They had built businesses, raised families, made some money, and were generally enjoying life in retirement.  They invited me back from time to time, and I always went (with the food).  They brought a genuine flavor to the community that was unique and something to be treasured.  I am reminded of them when I hear about how fundamentally the culture of New Orleans has changed with the diaspora Katrina created.

So what is the power of a storm?  Yes, there are the physical things, but it can also spell the end of institutions like the Naranja Lakes Men’s Club.  A large percentage of their homes were totally destroyed and pretty quickly the Naranja Lakes community was no more.  I asked one of the residents why he was leaving, as I was overly optimistic at the time about rebuilding the community.  He told me “son, I will probably only live ten more years and I just can’t spend the little time I have left trying to fix things here.”


Years have gone by and Naranja is still there, just like New Orleans is still there.  But it is not quite the same, you know what I mean?

To see the a photo of the palm tree click here

“We ain’t wasting time no more
‘Cause time goes by like hurricanes
Runnin’ after subway trains
Don’t forget the pouring rain”         Ain’t Wasting Time No More-  The Allman Brothers Band

This entry was posted on Sunday, July 19th, 2009 at 4:51 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.