I call my father most nights to read him the "funnies," his expression for the television schedule. He lost his 90% of his vision about ten years ago and while he still cooks and does his laundry, he's dependent on other people for such niceties. His housekeeper in Arizona is wonderful and my brother as faithful as molasses, but when I'm with him I come in for heavy duty reading -- he wants to look up something in Merck? You ask the English major rather than the Costa Rican or my rather unschooled brother. I read him the best of the catalogues, the grocery store aisles, eBay, the Missoula obituaries, liner notes from his CDs, the contents of his desk. Whether I'm with him or not, most days I end up reading to my father.
He's trying out assisted living in Missoula for some six months just now. The food, he says, ranges from awful to very good. He eats dinner at an assigned table of taciturn men. He spends his evenings with football or baseball or one of the science channels, and he spends his days listening to books from the Library for the Blind. Losing his vision turned him from a sort of free-thinking Republican into a raving progressive because one of the first subscriptions he got was The Nation and he discovered he likes spending an hour or two waking up with NPR.
Mother's Day I refused to do. She is not his mother. She is not the mother of his children. She has sons in the Phoenix area who would most likely give her flowers so Daddy's gesture would be lost. I sent them on the Thursday after Mother's Day.
My father has never picked up the phone and called me but he calls Lois each Sunday.
I think this is fine. She's an old friend; her husband was one of my father's lab partners in medical school. There's a best man/maid of honor thing in there somewhere. She's small and pretty like my mom but possibly, in some ways, more of a lady where Mom had a touch of the dame. When we had a small get-together in Sun City after Mom died, it was Lois I turned to. She has so much joint-history, you see.
One of the godmothers of my gray mood has been a consciousness that on Wednesday the 29th, it will be a year and a day since my mother died. I miss her a lot. I had new author photos taken and one of them is really gorgeous. I feel sad that she's the only person for whom I would have made a print, framed it and sent it to. Daddy would appreciate it but he couldn't see it. The sense of a safe haven left with my mom because she always wanted to hear about my deepest thoughts and feelings. That's not how my father operates and that's fine, too. I couldn't talk about Sibelius or 15th century England with my mother.
I called Dad tonight with the wonderful news that there is boxing on TV and a couple of college football games until then. He said he'd been watching football and then 60 Minutes because he was resting up from his big day yesterday.
His big day had gone right over my head. Actually, I think it went over his head as well until today when everyone in the complex had something to say. It seems they had a dance yesterday. Dad put in an appearance because he didn't want to disappoint the recreation director. Said director pulled him out on the floor for the rhumba. "It's been twenty years since I danced," he said. "I didn't think I knew how any more."
One of my favorite phrases from the movies is Woody Allen's aunt in Annie Hall confiding to his kid-self that once upon a time she "was quite the lively dance-ah." My parents courted on dance floors. They collected Glenn Miller 78s. As a kid, I remember how much I loved/hated their dancing club nights. I loved them because I hung out on the bed in their room and watched them put on their formal clothes. The smell of face powder and Channel No. 5 and a waxy kiss goodbye are physical sensations even on this warm Sunday night ten days before the first anniversary of my mother's death. I hated dancing club nights because my brothers were "babysitting" me. I never knew what that would entail except that I would either be used, hurt or told to get lost.
In the mysteries of a marriage, my parents were a united force when it came to dancing. I saw them dance once, in a taverna in Rome when I was twenty. The band struck up "In the Mood" and they were there, swinging and moving to the rhythm in such a circle of knowledge of how to dance to that music that the other dancers fell back and watched in admiration.
I was drunk as a boiled owl that night but I remember the people parting like a curtain and seeing my mom and dad at it.
Lois is passionate about dancing.
He lost his Ginger but he's got a long career ahead of him.