“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa!” This was Dad in the emergency room, large hands out in front of him as if to push away a charging bull. “No one asked me if I was okay with a girl doctor.”
I smacked him on the head with a magazine I’d taken from the waiting room.
“I’m just saying,” he continued digging his hole. “They oughta have you sign a paper or something. You know. Giving them permission.”
This was the exasperating dad of my adulthood.
– This Dad provoked me by telling his friends not to worry about their spills because his maid (me) would clean it all up.
– This Dad fed a week’s worth of the meals I cooked for him to the dog.
– This “dieting” Dad left wrappers from Big Mac’s and Sonic burgers on the counter for me to pick up.
– This Dad had plopped himself in his rocking chair after Mom died, giving up on…well…everything, letting his home literally fall down around him.
More often than not, our visits ended with me stomping from his house and driving away, leaving him in his filth until the next Saturday visit.
My childhood dad was tall and lean, his skin a mahogany brown from the tips of his fingers to just above his elbows, where the sleeve of his t-shirt rested, his shoulders and chest as pale as a ghost.
– That Dad hauled hay bale after hay bale, stacking them to dizzying heights.
– That Dad survived having the zipper of his jeans [and the body parts behind it] twisted into a piece of churning farm equipment and then managed to sire six more kids.
– That Dad lay at the edge of my bed at night with a chipped ashtray on his stomach. One hand under his head, the other held a smoldering cigarette. His soothing voice relayed made up stories about Stinky and Slim, a skunk and a scarecrow, who got into all kinds of mischief but were saved by Stinky doing the right thing.
– That Dad taught me that girl’s can grow up to be anything they want.
Now, eighty-five year-old Dad and I were in the emergency room because he’d slipped off the “step” he’d made for his tractor. Earning his family title of World’s Laziest Man, he’d tied one end of a rope to a plastic egg crate and the other to the base of the steering wheel. That way he could haul it up or drop it down as the need arose.
The crate/step had failed to work properly owing to several factors; he wasn’t twenty-five years old any more, there was an inch of ice on the ground, and he no longer tipped the scale at 150 pounds but weighed in at close to 300.
I’m not proud to share this with you, but when I stood over This Dad spread-eagled on the ground, it took every ounce of compassion I had to not get in my car and drive away.
He crawled on his hands and knees up the handicap ramp he’d had built — he wasn’t handicapped, he just didn’t like to walk up steps — and propped himself against the back door. I sat down next to him and we argued, in the freezing cold, over the benefits of calling/not calling 911. I was a proponent and, as usual, he held the opposite view.
“There’s no sense making someone go to all the trouble to drive out here from town when we can drive in.”
I pulled my car beside the ramp and he crawled back down. Using upper body strength I assumed he no longer possessed, he pulled himself to a standing position. He hopped a bit to turn around and dropped himself blindly, barely landing on the edge of the car seat. Unable or unwilling to expend any more energy, it was my job to turn his body and lift his feet into the wheel well. Sweating and cursing, I ran around to the driver’s side and jumped in.
Two seconds after I shifted into drive he shouted, “Wait a minute!”
I slammed on the brakes “What? What’s wrong?”
“I’m hungry. Could you get a sandwich from the fridge for me?”
I put the car in park and ran inside. Dozens of leftover containers crowded the shelves, shoved helter-skelter on top of my well-packaged healthy meals. The first three containers I opened reeked, the mysterious items covered in mold. I finally came across a half-eaten club sandwich that looked edible and delivered it back to the car.
This time I made it to the end of the driveway before he asked, through a mouthful of food, “You got any salt? This is kinda bland.”
I plunged the accelerator to the floor and we fishtailed out of the drive. By the time we reached the hospital in town, I’d managed to find a bit of sympathy.
In fact, I survived the waiting room without stabbing him with the pocketknife he’d removed to carve his thumbnail. I tolerated the
two days time it took for him to explain to the insurance clerk that he had no idea why his mama had spelled his name Lewis when every other Catholic spelled it Louis.
I’d made it through the x-ray process where he coached the confused young man pushing his wheelchair that there are two kinds of jobs in the world; dirty dirt and clean dirt, and you’d go far in life if you stuck with the clean dirt.
We were back in the exam room when a woman in a lab coat walked in, looked at the x-ray and told him his ankle was broken.
He said that maybe he’d just wait and see what the doctor had to say.
Then she said she was the doctor and next thing I know, I’ve smacked him on the head with a magazine.
Dad finally agreed to let her set the break but asked, “Is this going to hurt much?”
“More than it needs to,” she replied. “More than it needs to.”