What do you make of this?
This may take a while in the telling, so get comfortable. As I told you, my mom got sick recently with a pulmonary infection and needed hospitalization. After about four days, she was ready to go home but on the day of discharge she went into atrial fib, so needed a couple more days in the hospital, finally getting out after a week -- on Thanksgiving day. She seems to be doing okay at home so far, all things considered.
As I also told you, my dad has gotten rather frail physically, and has become more easily confused. It is a sad thing to watch. He was a very bright fellow, independent in thought, strong opinions, and determined in life. That has all gradually left him.
At any rate, with my mom's admission, my brother and I knew that our dad couldn't be left home alone at night, so we took turns staying with him. We might leave him alone for a couple of hours in the daytime, but as the sun would start to go down, he would get more confused and needed somebody to be there.
I would drive an hour and a half after work to be with him. I'd try to visit my mom if time allowed and then go to their house to stay with my dad. He did not feel up to ever going to the hospital to visit her. Between my work obligations and my brother's it took a little juggling, but we were always able to be there to spend the night.
Naturally, as I would drive to be there, my thoughts would be about my folks, just the sort of free-thinking non-directed loose associated thoughts one might have. As part of those thoughts, I would think about my dad, about the fellow he used to be and the kind of dad he was.
My dad was a wonderful father. He laughed, he loved, he set examples. I thought about all the things he used to do with me.
He used to work 12 hours a day, 6 days a week in his drugstore for several years and I recall the big deal it was when, I suppose I was seven or eight, he was able to finally afford to hire a pharmacist to take care of things so he could have a half day off.
Anyhow, despite so much time in his store working to support us, he still had time to do stuff with me. One thing we did was to go fishing on his day off on Sunday. I do not recall the actual event, but I do recall the telling of the fact that I started fishing when I was four and caught my first fish when I was six.
We were not at all very serious fishermen. I usually fished for bluegills or perch with worms for bait. My dad would fish often with shiners or sometimes lures for bass or pickerel. He also would spend a lot of time patiently fixing my tangles. So, I thought a lot about him taking me fishing over the years.
He did other stuff as well with me that I thought about. He cheered my mediocre athletic efforts. When I failed, again and as usual, to make the Little League majors at age 12, my last chance, I was
able to convince him to coach my minor league team.
He would take me, and my mom, to Boston to watch the Sox play, back when you could buy a ticket on game day. But one time, I just had to go to see a night game which I had never done, so he took just me into Boston one time to do that.
When I was 14 and again when I was 15, I got him to drive me and a few friends to New York to watch the Giants play football at Yankee Stadium. I would organize a few guys in the early
spring and we would order the tickets. He would drive us down, we would all go to the game and then he drove us home, four hours each way, all in a day.
One winter when I was, I think, 15 I convinced him that we should build a sailfish -- a 12 foot sailing craft that you sit on, not in. We spent all winter in the basement building it and when spring came we just by the narrowest margin were able to get it out of the basement. I had a great time sailing that thing around in one of the local lakes for a couple of years.
Those were the sorts of memories I thought about. But as I sometimes, as you know, like to kind of
'shorthand' ideas and thoughts into simple phrases, I was able to distill all the memories I had of my dad
doing stuff with me, as well as the general job he did rearing me and the way we related after I became an adult to a simple statement: "He took me fishing."
So, there I was one night at my folks' house, caring for my dad.
Now, my folks' home is not mine, and it has never felt like my home. The house in which I grew up was my home. They sold it and moved to a new home they built when I was in the third year of college. Even though they have been in their home for about 35 years I have spent very few nights there and don't have, as my brother does, or did, my own bedroom.
Well, there I am, taking care of my dad. With my mom in the hospital, there is nobody to sort of "cover" for him, and I am there in the evening and night, when it is tougher for him. It quickly becomes clear to me that my dad is a lot worse than I thought, so far as his ability to do things for himself. He is much more confused than I had cause to realize. It is all upsetting for me. I have said before that this frail, confused old man is not really my dad, not much anyhow. It is now even more clear that is the case.
It is now late night. I have finally gotten my dad settled in bed. I am lying in my brother's bed, in his old bedroom where I sleep. I am just lying there, thinking about life, about getting old, about my folks, and about my dad.
The shorthand: "He took me fishing" and I think about that, and recall that time of life.
There are two specific memories that I turn over in my mind. The first is more of a visceral memory. I am probably seven or eight. I know I am less than nine because of the car we are in. We have gotten up very early, before dawn. We would do that once in a while to get an early start when the fishing should be "better."
We are parked in front of the bait shop. It is in a grimy part of town. It is very dark outside on a dark, unlit street. I guess the bait shop must not yet have opened, I don't know why else we are sitting there.
I recall that bait shop. It always seemed amazing to me that it would open so early, while dark or just dawn. There were display counters with dirty glass with Eagle Claw hooks, lures, weights and the like. The fellow there would dig his hand into the big box of dirt and come out with a bunch of worms or crawlers and count them out one by one. Or he would go to the tank where there were zillions of shiners swimming about and pull out a few with this tiny net.
We are sitting in the front seat of the car. My dad has brought a thermos full of coffee. It is one of those thermos bottles from that time with the plastic top with cup handle configuration that you poured into and drank from.
I don't recall if I asked for a taste or he just offered. Back then, coffee was such an adult drink I don't know if I had ever tasted it before, but if I had I must not have liked it.
My dad hands me the thermos top cup with coffee in it. He must have put a lot of sugar in it and a fair amount of milk. It tastes great, so warm and sweet and smooth almost like, in retrospect, warm coffee
ice cream. I just have this strong visceral memory of my first taste of coffee at that moment and think of the old Roger Miller chug-a-lug drinking song "my first taste of sin."
The other memory that I turn over in my mind that night, as I lie there in my brother's bed, way too firm for my tastes, in his old bedroom, across the hall from my folks' bedroom, listening to make certain my dad has not gotten up and started wandering, is more of a story.
I am probably 12 or 13, maybe 14. My dad and I have always tried to fish on opening day, and usually get up real early to do that. This year, I have convinced him that we ought to camp out by the trout stream where we plan to fish. I guess I have progressed a bit from bluegills and perch.
The plan, my plan, which he buys into, is that we will go there the afternoon before and set up our sleeping bags, cook a simple dinner over a campfire, sleep out under the stars, get up early before the first fisherman arrives and fish and hopefully catch a million trout.
Off we go to the stream, in a rural area maybe 15 miles out of town. There is no campground there, just some clear space along the stream. It is late afternoon, we set out sleeping bags, gather firewood, and get comfortable. We start our campfire and get ready to cook our dinner. I don't recall what it was but pretty simple like hot dogs or something.
Just then, the local warden or fire chief or whatever arrives. There is too great a fire danger, we have no permit, we have to put out our fire. So, we dine that night on something like cold beans from the can, or
maybe a can of sardines.
We go to sleep, get up before dawn, see some people already there and fishing. I have no memory as to
whether we caught anything or not; I think not.
Those are the two specific thoughts I have, recalling in my mind's eye (or in the coffee story, my mind's taste buds) the episodes in more detail than the telling here. My dad stays quiet, I finally go to
It is the next morning. My dad is up early and wandering about the house. He thinks he is going to see the podiatrist today. I explain several times to him that no, there is no appointment today for that. I am getting more familiar with the extent of his confusion. My mom had somehow, intentionally or not, hidden it and I have not spent so much one-on-one time with him.
He spends a lot of time sitting on a couch in the family room with CNBC on the TV. He dozes off frequently. He no longer reads the newspaper. I am not sure how much of what is happening on TV he really gets. He asks the same questions repeatedly, searches for words, and speaks a lot of confused things that have no meaning to me and make no sense. It is really all sad and upsetting.
It is mid- or late morning and I will leave in a while to go home and go to work in the office. I have to admit that I look forward to leaving as caring for my dad is unending and tiring and not fun. He will be
alone for a couple of hours until my brother gets there but he is okay for that length of time, during
the day in his own home, at least so far.
In the time I have come to spend with him, we have really had no meaningful conversations, and none of any length, except one in which he tells me he is not well, doesn't know what will happen, and asks me to take care of my mom and brother, and then another in which he tells me he has tried the best that he can. Neither of these lasts more than a couple of minutes.
So, I am sitting in the family room. I watch my dad doze off in that couch again. He does so with his head back, mouth open, in the typical elderly, frail fashion. He looks very, very old with just a bit of a grasp on life. I tell myself that, as I watch him there, if he suddenly stops breathing I don't think I'll attempt to resuscitate him.
Then he says, "Hey, Harvey, do you remember that time we went fishing and slept out and they made us put out our campfire?"
So, what do you make of that?
Article © Harvey Silverman. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-11-18