My father wheezes now –it is sort-of-a deep down in the
lungs hissing, like a train or some white noise that my sister had once mistook
for a radio. This is what is left of his 45 year smoking habit which ended
about 20 years ago – he is 89 years young.
He isn’t as reluctant as he used to be to take your arm when
you walk beside him on uneven terrain. He can’t golf anymore, or read . . . but
the first thing to go was his horseshoe throwing ability. His fingers crippled
in an arthritic freeze – escher-like but not as pretty. He drops things because he can’t grip. His
fingers fail to grasp and his food often ends up in his lap or on the
My mother shaves him, but then she has participated in the
shaving ritual I believe long before he really needed help shaving. I remember his face dotted with bloody
toilet paper even when I was just a little girl, staring at him in God-like
admiration across the breakfast table.
My mother also cuts his toenails. They are an ungodly shade
of yellow – a shade that would look much prettier on a wall and less pretty as
a growth underneath the bed of the nail of a small pinkie toe. But then, he has also been fighting this
growth of fungus ever since I can remember. There was always a can of athletes
foot spray near the base of his lazyboy.
This was the place where he would also kick off his running shoes, put his feet up and snooze in between golf
tournaments and Laker’s basketball. My
mom would bring him coffee or something
cold to drink. A sandwich. Anything he
wanted because that was what she did in between her 50 hour a week job as a
bank officer, cooking all our meals,
baking on Saturdays, watching us play basketball and softball. It was just what
she did. He asked and she served. And
she never complained or asked for anything in return. Even when she lost a
breast to cancer – hours out of the hospital, I imagine her still bringing him
his sandwich and a glass of cold lemonade. Maybe not.
But the thing I notice more than anything else on this trip
– this trip to Mesa to celebrate a 60th anniversary – is his shoes.
His shoes irritate me. Everything else looks the same. Same tall slender frame,
slightly stooped, but not too much. His colorful Scandinavian print sweater ,
khaki’s cinched around his tall skinny frame with a brown leather belt and
reading glasses that hang on a cord around his neck – the same glasses he is
always looking for. But the style of his shoes has changed. No longer does he
wear a favorite pair of Nike’s or New Balance, a colorful athletic shoe with a
swoosh or logo – he is now wearing black patent leather nursing type shoes with
Velcro enclosures. Old man shoes with the Velcro straps that little boys wear
before they learn to tie their shoes or old men wear when they can no longer
master that art that they learned when they were little boys. Either their
backs don’t bend as far or their fingers are no longer limber enough – it’s
like we start with no hair. We end with no hair. We start with no teeth. We end
with no teeth. Our first shoes have Velcro enclosures – and so do our last.
Later on, though, I watched my father – the same man who
looked horribly wobbly and imbalanced walking across the lawn, play pool in his
Velcro shoes. Muscle memory, I imagine, years of balancing with feet wide
spread across the expanse of that green table came back the minute he picked up
that cue. He couldn’t tell a stripe from
a solid. Sometimes he couldn’t tell the cue ball either but somehow, some way,
he made his shots. Not shaky or teetering. His arthritic fingers found
themselves at home around that stick – and he shot with conviction as that of a
young man wearing shoes that laced with a swoosh that could still kick off an
easy two mile run before throwing the ball around with me and my sister in the
My father wheezes now. He can’t read or play golf or
horseshoes or . . . but for now he can
still play pool and for now that seems to make him (and me) feel a little bit better
about those Velcro shoes.