A whimsical look at life growing up in the small town of Waldron, Arkansas in the 1960s and 1970s, plus occasional observations from the present. Want to start at the very beginning? Click HERE.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The Telephone Man

Daddy, and his younger brother Calton
I watched my Daddy being spoon fed his supper last night.  It does something to you to see that, but that's what it's come to.  His tray had three different colors of baby food on it.  Not actual baby food, but the pureed version of whatever was on the menu of the nursing home last night.  The lady feeding him seemed hurried, and I suppose she probably was; there were others needing to be fed.  "He's probably not going to like me," she said.  She was making him finish, and Daddy in recent years has not exactly been a big eater. 

The odds of Daddy not liking anyone are very small.  He may protest, he may say, "I don't want any more groceries," or something like that, but he'll never dislike you.  His food is now pureed; the last of his teeth came out a couple of months ago.  He hasn't really taken a shine to his new dentures.  My sister is doing a good job of convincing him to wear them though. 

There he sat, in his wheelchair last night, at the table with the worker who was feeding him, when I walked into the dining room at the nursing home.  I was struck by his quiet dignity as he sat there, complying with the unwanted spoonfuls of color relentlessly coming his way.  His toothless jaw seemed set in resolve; he would eat because he didn't want to be a problem to anyone. 

He held a crumpled piece of paper towel in his hand.  His nose was running, and he kept using the paper towel to dry it.  He was coughing too, and by the time the lady left him to eat his liquid dessert on his own, he had started sneezing repeatedly.  I could tell he didn't feel well, and I reached over and felt his forehead to see if he had fever.  He didn't seem to; he said he didn't anyway.  I pulled out my handkerchief and gave it to him, and he immediately put it to work.

He didn't eat much of his dessert, which was unusual.  He also said he didn't want any coffee.  When I rolled him back to his room, I noticed that his scalp had shed a layer of dandruff on his shoulder, from when they combed his hair for supper.  When we got back to his room, I noticed a little sign on his door saying he had been recognized for some little honor, I can't remember now even what it was.  He seems to participate in the various activities they have for the residents, which I find both surprising and delightful.  He is and always has been a people person, in spite of his natural shyness.  He was very isolated when he lived at home after Mama died; I think he missed being around other people.  I'm glad he has that now. 

I backed his wheelchair up so that he could see the TV.  We watched the news.  We never talk much; it's never come naturally for either of us.  I wish that was different.  It's just that way for some fathers and sons.  Sometimes I can get him to talk about PT Boats; he served on one during World War II.  But I've pretty much used up all of my PT Boat conversation starters, so we sat in silence, watching the days events unfold as told by Darren Bobb. 

It was time to leave.  I checked his supply of sweets; still okay on soft Little Debby bars and powdered donuts.  I asked him if he wanted to lay down in his bed; no, he would just sit in his wheelchair.  I put the remote to the TV on the bed beside his chair.  "Do you need anything Daddy?"  "Nope," the standard reply.  "I guess I'll head on up the road.  See you next Thursday."

"Okay.  Come back."

And there he sits, the man who used to climb telephone poles with metal spikes attached to his boots, the man who used to fight fires as Chief, the man who could fix anything that was broken, and charge you about five dollars to do it.  The man who stopped his telephone truck  between Waldron and Mansfield on a cold winter night and brought home giant icicles from the frozen cliffs beside the road.

I was glad I was able to give him my handkerchief.

"I will Daddy.  I will."

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