[Note: click on any photo to see a full-size version.]
Meda dropped me off to visit with my father late yesterday afternoon. She continues along Beretania Street and makes a sweep through the Goodwill Store while I head up the stairs to the third floor of the Oahu Care Facility, sign in the visitor log, and make my way down to his room.
Bonnie’s name was there in the log, so I wasn’t surprised to find her sitting along side his bed, a bag of dirty clothes on the floor next to her chair, ready to be taken home and washed. Bonnie greeted me. “It hasn’t been a good day,” she said. “He said he needed to go to the airport.” Something about business, or clients, or something.
And my dad was coughing. Not a simple clear-your-throat cough, but a real cough. Not a good thing in a nursing home setting.
He was lying in bed. His feet, in socks, stuck out from under a sheet, which was tossed around, apparently the result of a restless sleep.
He looked up. “Hello, Ian. Did you meet your sister?”
His voice was low and gravely. Tired. I’m not sure if he’s joking or confused, but I respond, yes, of course we met.
“Was I coughing when you came in?” he asks. I nod.
Then he and Bonnie resume the conversation they had been having.
“Whose birthday was yesterday?”
Bonnie responds with patience. “It was mother’s birthday, and you remembered.”
“Where was I?” He’s trying to connect to this birthday, but it’s hard. He’s drawing a blank.
Then, frustrated, he shakes his head: “Where did my memories go?”
Ouch. He’s still self-aware enough to recognize that memories are becoming an endangered species. I don’t know what to say. The thought lays there in the middle of the room. We don’t touch it.
Bonnie says goodbye, gathers her things, and leaves, heading back to the house we grew up in where she is again in residence, this time assisting our mother, whose birthday we celebrated on Saturday.
On her way out, she opens the little fanny pack that hangs on the side of his walker and pulls out his reading glasses, handing them to me.
I turn back to my dad, put the glasses in place, sliding them onto his head, the bridge settled on his nose. He accepts the assist.
I’ve brought a few more old photos, hoping that he may be able to add some information to them. It’s also kind of a trick. Sometimes he recognizes them immediately, at other times the photos seem to tap into very dimly held memories. Sometimes they draw a total blank. You never know.
The first photo I pull out is an 8 x 10 showing him standing with a surfboard. They’re posed alongside what appears to be a stack of large, stainless steel refrigerated units with an ice machine stacked on top.
“Makaha.” He recognizes it immediately. The Makaha International Surfing Championships were his baby, founded by the Waikiki Surf Club when he was still president, if I recall correctly, in cooperation (at first) with the Waianae Lion’s Club.
The memory seems to give him more energy, focus. “That’s me,” he points. His eyes search the photo. “Is that a fat man?” he asks, pointing to figures in the background. I try to see where he’s pointing. Yes, it looks like he’s fat.
I ask about the surfboard, and he identifies it as his own. It appears to be around a 10 foot board, wood strips for strength, standing on its nose.
He asks if I can tell what decal is on the surfboard. Even up close I can’t make it out.
Then I ask about the ice machine, and I’m surprised by the immediate and detailed response. He rattles off the manufacturer, model number, and capacity, then adds, “that was about a $10,000 investment.”
That was his profession, selling restaurant equipment and supplies to hotels, restaurants, bars. For about a decade, he also set up his own equipment and peddled ice, with truckloads of bags of ice delivered to stores and service stations where customers could help themselves from self-service bins that he provided to the retailers.
The next photo I show him is of a woman sitting on the bow of the catamaran Manu Kai. He stares at it, his eyes roaming the 8×10 inch paper. I don’t see any spark. He turns it over. It’s stamped on the back. November 25, 1953. Photo by “Scoop” Tsuzuki. Then, in pencil: “22nd trip. Doris Backlund. Miss Lurline.”
Even with the aid of this extra information, he doesn’t recall the occasion or the photo. He feels he has to explain.”My memory’s real bad,” he says, a bit of pain in his voice.
According to Wikipedia, Brown designed and built the Manu Kai (“Sea Bird”) in 1947, described as “probably the fastest sailing boat in the world at the time and now seen as the first modern, ocean-going catamaran.”
It’s just at the edge of his memory.
There’s a number (“46″) written in pencil on the back. The year? If it’s 1946, it could be the original launch of the Manu Kai.
He stared at this one for a long time, his fingers rubbing along its surfaces, searching for clues. He comments on how many people it took, fingers tracing the bodies arrayed beneath each of the twin hulls and under the deck, but he doesn’t seem to recognize anyone. It remains a mystery.
Just a couple of additional photos to try.
“George is skinny!” he says.
I ask about the woman. He draws a blank. I think he recognizes her but there’s no name attached and he tiptoes around its absence. I imagine it’s frightening, feeling the presence of these memories but unable to get to them.
He holds it, looking closely.
I ask whether the Waikiki Surf Club had a clubhouse. “Not anything like this,” he said with some energy.
Then he stops. “I wonder if this is on Kauai?”
I ask, “Why Kauai?”
Because, he replies, it was the only place the Surf Club traveled for competition to that looked something like this.
I let a polite length of time pass, and then ask again. Do you remember any of them?
He looks at me. “I know all of them,” he says, his finger indicating the row of young women. He points to one. “She’s now about 300-pounds,” he says matter-of-factly. Then to another: “She’s the one who was always after George.”
Their names? He shakes his head, tries to explain in a few words. He knows them, he says, but just can’t get their names right this second. Maybe later, he says.
We’ve just gotten through the photos when cart delivering meals arrives at the door of the room. A nursing assistant walks to the back of the room, where his bed is located, the fourth bed set along the wall of the long room. She’s just checking if everything is alright before the tray of food is brought in.
He looks up. “Hi, who are you?” She laughs, turns. He calls after her, “What’s your phone number?” Then he joins the laughter.
Dinner is served. A cup with colored cubes of jello. A plate with mashed potato, a scoop of ground mystery meat, a nice serving of diced carrots.
He fingers the jello with his right hand. I can’t tell if he’s just toying with it or really plans to try to grab ahold of one of those wiggling little squares. Then he changes strategy, spears it with a fork. That gets it to his mouth with less effort.
He seems to be enjoying the food. But the cough returns. A deeper sound this time. He gets past it, continues eating.
I say goodbye and leave him with the rest of his meal. We’ll look at those pictures again, I call back. Maybe you’ll remember more. He nods, mouth full. We wave at each other. Then I step past the curtain that separates his small world from the next bed and start walking toward the stairs.