he was stuck in the medical pinball machine, bouncing from one doctor to another. the weekly appointments became social outings, my mother inviting a friend or two to join us for the ride to the doctor’s office then lunch on the way home.
on this particular day, i chose a pizza restaurant they’d never been to before. mother, her friend miss eleanor, daddy – they were all excited at the prospect, but when we pulled into the parking lot, daddy changed his mind and grouchily voiced his reluctance. he just wanted to go home, he declared. “well, mother and miss eleanor are hungry,” i told him. “they had a light breakfast in anticipation, so we’re going to stop.”
“well, i’m staying in the car,” he huffed.
“fine,” i said as i wheeled into the sunniest parking space and rolled the windows down about half way.
“how many?” the hostess asked as we entered the restaurant.
“three now,” i said, “but there’ll be a fourth one in a wheelchair joining us in about 15 minutes.” mother and miss eleanor, now onto my plan, chuckled nervously.
we sat down, ordered our drinks, and perused the menu. they were amused but cautious, too, not knowing how daddy would respond to not getting his way. he was, after all, The Sick One, and even the driver takes second seat to The Sick One. sick one wants to listen to a particular radio station, driver must relinquish control of the dial. the sick one is too cold, the thermostat is adjusted to accommodate, even if the driver gets warm and drowsy. the sick one doesn’t want to stop for lunch, well, usually, the driver would go straight home.
about 15 minutes later, i removed a chair from the table to make room, excused myself, and went out to check. as i rounded the corner, he opened his door as though he thought i’d never come back for him, and we all ate pizza at a restaurant that still reigns as one of the family favorites.
my daddy died 9 years ago today, and i miss him more this year than ever before. 2 nights ago i sat watching my favorite television show, the closer. (southern gal rides into l.a., assumes a management-level position, sweetly and silently endures the ridicule, then goes right on to confidently solve the case in slightly less than 40 minutes every single week. i mean, really, what’s not to love?) anyway, monday night’s rerun was the christmas show, and when brenda lee’s daddy went into the bedroom to console her about something – when he sat there on the bed beside her and talked to her as her daddy – well, i’m not too proud to tell you that i was green-eyed, flat-out jealous of a television character.
daddy fell the day after thanksgiving that year, and ever the patient advocate, i stayed with him at the hospital day and night. as doctors talked of releasing him for in-house rehabilitation by mid-week, i followed my intuition and called the woman – my little elf – who was creating leather bound copies of the book i’d secretly written about daddy. “hello, karen, this is jeanne, and, well, i know you probably haven’t even had time to open my box yet and i know the books aren’t due back till 12/22ish, and i know this might be an outrageous request, but, well, see here’s the thing: i hear voices and they are telling me that i have to get those books back pronto.”
this remarkable woman who will always be high on my list of sheroes didn’t whine or complain or even exhale loudly. she simply said, “i can have one book to you by this-coming saturday and the rest to you on the following monday.”
he only spoke twice that week: once to tell me he was ready for this to be over, and once to tell me how his brother gene (who was killed at age 18) was wrestling with him and wouldn’t “let him in”. with his eyes closed, daddy described everything and everybody he was seeing, and when finally he came to some kind of agreement with uncle gene, a palpable peace filled the room. as daddy rested quietly for the first time in days, and as i sat soaking it all in, staff members (even the ones who had been so darn grouchy less than an hour before) gravitated to the room and talked softly, telling me about themselves and their woes. the room was a magnet for those in angst.
when daddy’s bells and whistles went off around 8:30 that saturday morning, i called the family. as we gathered around daddy’s bed, my husband and son arrived with the fed ex box. i unwrapped the package, bid everybody an early merry christmas (promising them their very own copy on monday), and began to read.
we started reading daddy’s book around 1:15 that afternoon, taking turns reading, laughing, crying, remembering. there were stories he’d told me, letters i’d solicited from friends and former employees – some he hadn’t heard from in decades – and stories and character sketches others told me about my daddy when i interviewed them. we read and we read and we read, closing the cover on daddy’s book around 10 minutes till 5; closing the cover on daddy’s life 5 minutes later.
the ancient rabbis ask “who is rich” then answer their own question by saying “whoever delights in their portion.” i had my daddy for a scant 72 years, but oh, how i do delight in my portion. rest in peace, daddy. rest in peace.
the story is mine, but credit for the kindling goes to gwen bell and her best of 2009 blog challenge.