Using his left hand he gently pried his right—frozen in a semi-claw shape due to the stroke– from the handle of the walker. I tried not to cringe. My dad had always been an iron man, the embodiment of strength and virility, and to see him this way hurt me as much as I knew it hurt him to be seen. The incongruity of it all felt a bit like taking sandpaper to silk…the abrasive destruction of a daughter’s image of her never-faltering dad. Taking his elbow I helped him make a slow-shuffled walk to the Perkin’s restaurant booth. My brother, always near at hand to serve my father, parked the walker away from customer and wait staff traffic. My husband helped get him seated, and we all smiled at our moment of togetherness.
No matter how trying and difficult the effort, my dad still loves to eat out. He has always been a social man, and one of the cruelest symptoms of his stroke has been the isolation caused by his physical limits. Steps become mountains when only one side of the body responds. Chairs are evaluated for firmness and ease of use. Foods that were once relished become thought-out plans of attack. Does it need to be cut into tiny pieces, mashed, smashed, or pushed together? I watch the choreography my brother and Dad do with grace. Dad says, “Chuck, I want…” and before he finishes his sentence my brother discreetly places a Minnesota Vikings towel over his shirt front. I smirk at the idea of a purple and gold sports-style bib being subtle, but Dad seems at ease with it. We fall into conversation patter and catch up on family, friend, and local gossip. We talk about the serious health issues of an acquaintance, and then fall silent.
Looking serious, my Dad launches into a story about a time he was driving home from Minneapolis. “Do you remember Woods Corner, Gail?” he asks. I nod that I do. “Well, it was spring time and the highway in that stretch near Woods Corner was horrible. Lots of big pot holes. I checked the rear view mirror and saw an ambulance coming up behind me with its lights on, so I pulled over to let him pass. Just as he got around me he hit that stretch of pot holes and the ambulance bounced like a ball dribbling down the road. The back door opened a bit from all of the jolts and a cooler fell out. The ambulance driver, unaware of his lost cargo, kept going and I had no way of flagging him down. I walked over and took a peek at what was in the cooler. It was a large severed toe sitting on a bed of ice!” He stopped to take a sip of coffee and seemed to be remembering the moment. “So,” I ventured, “what did you do with it?” He took another sip of coffee. “I called the toe-truck.” Even my brother, who is with my dad 24/7, burst out laughing. “I was wondering where you were going with that story because I’d never heard before.” My husband and I looked at each other and shook our heads at our gullibility.
At eighty-three years of age, and racked with physical limitations, my dad the titan restored my image of his indomitable strength of spirit in one perfectly performed joke. Maybe that silk I mentioned will be just fine after all.