I am so much like him, in so many ways. But, sometimes I just cannot figure out who he is. We are watching a “Frontline” special on the Cuban missile crisis which began fifty years ago tonight.
He is pontificating about Bobby Kennedy’s role as he just downed the Caro book in a few days.
But when I asked him if he remembers it — as a young man with a wife and two small children — he doesn’t remember JFK’s speech? Is that weird? He was 31 years old and probably had other things on his mind. He remembers all the military moves, who the players were, but cannot remember what his wife and two toddlers were doing, or if he was afraid? Did we “duck and cover?”
When all the military men were telling their wives to “pack the kids and go to the in-laws in Kansas,” what was my father thinking?
This is Dad’s first solo visit to see us — his oldest child and her husband — eight months after my mother died. He swears that he hasn’t been here by himself before, that he cried all the way down on this his first trip in 25 years here, alone.
I believe that he cried all the way down. But it isn’t his first trip down by himself.
A month before my son was born my husband and I moved to our first house. My mom — who battled depression and anxiety — wasn’t going to make two trips. She would come when the baby was born and that was that. Dad came down and helped us move.
I was convicted that my baby wasn’t going to live in an apartment, so a few months before his arrival we purchased a house for $73,500 at eight point something percent interest on a thirty year fixed. It had to be a thirty year fixed; we Hoosier farmers are just too damn conservative to do much else. Our mortgage payment was sky high on that little 1,600 imitation front-hall colonial.
So my father came down and packed the china and precious pieces from both my grandmothers that were in the cabinet in our townhouse, and moved them all by car to our new house.
There, he unwrapped each individual piece with his big hands and carefully and gingerly set them on the glass shelves in the china cabinet. Some pieces came from his mother; some from my other grandmother. Some came from my husband’s family. All little treasures kept safe from harm on a lighted glass shelf.
In some ways, my father didn’t know what to do with me. My mother was like that precious dish, always needing to be protected and kept safe from harm.
But not me. From the time I was born I was an independent cuss, not wanting much help or direction, in fact preferring to give it. When I was just able to talk he was helping me wrap a holiday present. I told him, “I wrap it myself.”
As he cared for my mother during the ten years of her declining mental state from dementia, we came to an easy peace and understanding of each other, fully aware of how much we are alike.
He’s worried about me. I caught a bad Upper Respiratory infection overseas and it’s lingering on. I have asthma and the infection has settled in my chest. On some days, the cure has been worse than the ailment, but I’m getting better. He worries, and cares for me in the best way he knows, which is sometimes just quietly helping, and other times shouting out, “The timer went off for the potatos” in a voice that would shatter glass.
We shop at Sears and Penneys for new winter corderoy pants for him, and he tells me about going to the store with four of his high school friends to buy red corderoy pants for basketball season in 1948.
“Are these pants too long,” he asks me, coming out of the dressing room in a pair of tan cords.
“I don’t think so,” I said.
The clerk says, “I don’t think so.”
And then Dad sends me back to get the shorter length, and that’s what he buys.
We are comfortable together. Sometimes I take his hand when he is unsteady. Today we explored Angel Mounds, a local Mississippian native American site from a thousand years ago. He is interested in everything and asks a million questions.
But we look at each other sometimes with an uneasy peace, not sure where we fit in each other’s lives anymore. Neither of us quite precious china that needs to sit on a shelf, yet grateful for the hands to help.