When I stopped to visit my dad one day last week, I walked into his room (shared with several others) to find that my sister was already there.
Bonnie was busy working on his fingernails.
At age 96, his fingernails seem to be on steroids. They grow. Bonnie tries to keep them under control. She looked up from her busy filing to say hello. He added his own fulsome greeting.
My dad’s been quite lucid recently, able to carry on a conversation, respond to questions, show appropriate emotions, etc. But his here-and-now awareness is undercut by signs that more layers of memory are disappearing.
We exchanged pleasantries.
Bonnie looked over to me with a look that signaled something more was coming.
“I phoned yesterday to tell him that I wouldn’t be able to visit,” she said, her face again indicating I should pay attention.
“Guess where I reached him?”
“He was at the Pearl Harbor Officers Club.”
Aha. He sold a lot of supplies and equipment to those military clubs in the course of his 65-year career in the hotel and restaurant supply business. I imagine he spent a good deal of time on the sales calls.
I look at him now, lying in bed, half-dressed, a T-shirt over a pair of disposable adult diapers, a sheet pulled up just above his waist, wires clipped onto his shirt and onto a bed pad that will trigger alarms if he tries to get up without assistance.
The Pearl Harbor Officers Club seemed a very long way off.
I asked if he had been stuck out there.
“No,” he responded deliberately. “I wasn’t stuck anyplace.”
Then a thought crossed his face.
“What was I doing out there?”
“I guess it couldn’t have been very important!”
He thought a bit more.
“I didn’t have a car because someone borrowed my keys. That’s been happening quite regularly lately.”
The car again. It’s a symbol for lots of things. Mobility. Independence. Individuality.
Bonnie jumped in.
“I didn’t have your car. I keep telling you, I don’t drive your car.”
He didn’t miss a beat.
“I’m sure glad of that,” he said slowly “because without a car I’m socially and…”
He groped for words, then finished the sentence.
“…and physically lost.”
He said it. I’m lost without my car. That’s probably a very astute summing up of his situation.
The car comes up in almost every visit.
When I was leaving after a visit yesterday, I apologized that he couldn’t offer me a ride back downtown.
“I don’t even have a car,” he said, gesturing at the possessions that surround the bed next to the window in a room shared with three other men. On a rolling tray/table that sits beside the bed there’s an old copy of Hawaii Fishing News that he’s probably paged through a hundred times. There’s a big photo book I found in a Barnes & Noble bargain bin, a photo album that’s grown as Bonnie carefully inserted copies of old photos, mostly from the 1930s, that trigger scenes he still remembers in great detail. His glasses were on the top of the stack and, at least on this day, he remembered they were there.
The lack of a car echoes between us.
I just nod in sympathy.
“It’s tough getting old, isn’t it?”
On that we agree.