He was caught up in what I call the medical pinball machine, bouncing from one doctor to another. To look on the patients’ faces in the waiting rooms was to see people whose identity was now invested in their health. Or, more specifically, lack of it. We’d exit the exam room, and every patient in the waiting area looked at us expectantly. “When do you have to come back?” was the sorting question. Say you didn’t have to come back for six months or a year, and everybody sat back in their chair and turned their attention back to their magazine. Say you had to come back in three months or less, and they moved even closer to the front edge of their chairs, sat up straighter, and ooo-ed and aah-ed in a kind of envy or respect. Three months or less meant you were Really Sick, you see, and these people had an illness rating system that didn’t cotton to imposters. Daddy was on the every-three-months plan with the cardiologist, which is to say he was well respected in that waiting room.

I turned the appointments into a Social Occasion, letting Mother invite a friend and taking everybody to a new restaurant after the carefully-timed mid-morning appointment. On this particular day, Mother invited Miss Eleanor Jones to go with us. Daddy sat up front with me, and the girls sat in the backseat so they could talk – or “visit”, as Aunt Rene would say. Anticipation is part of the fun, so I told them I was taking them to Athens Pizza for lunch on that bright, sunny springtime day. Daddy was excited about it, but something changed after his appointment, and he turned grumpy and didn’t want to go. “Just take me home,” he said. “You can take them to eat somewhere in Fayetteville after you take me home.” Mother and Miss Eleanor were disappointed, but not to worry. I drove straight to Athens Pizza, telling Daddy he could sit in the car and assuring him we’d eat fast.

My made-on-the-fly plan called for me to park in the sunshine, leaving Daddy in the car with the windows up. Mother and Miss Eleanor wrung their hands and clucked with concern, but Br’er Jeanne just ushered them right on into the restaurant where the hostess greeted us.

“How many are in your party?” she asked.

“There are three . . . now,” I told her looking at my watch, “but there’ll be a fourth joining us in, oh, about fifteen minutes.”

Only then did Mother and Miss Eleanor relax.

We were shown to our table, and I moved a chair to make room for Daddy’s eventual wheelchair. We ordered our drinks, and, even though it hadn’t been 15 minutes, I decided Daddy was just about fully baked, so I excused myself and headed for the car. Daddy saw me the minute I rounded the corner, and made ready to get out. I wheeled him in, and we all enjoyed a leisurely and delicious Greek salad and pizza. Years later Daddy asked me to take him back to Athens Pizza, and on the way, I told him the rest of the story about that first visit. He laughed and laughed and laughed then said, “You know me better than I know myself, don’t you, Doll?”

Which wasn’t really a question, you know.



Today’s Daily Dahlia