I got to be 84 recently (not sure how that happened) and started thinking about my father when he was 84. I’m physically active. He was not. He was slim. I’m not. He was a good looking, handsome man; never looked his age.
He had back problems for many years. They said it was arthritis. Since I’ve had back problems too, I’m sure his problems were more complicated; but in those years, they had neither the technology to diagnose nor the treatments to alleviate the discomfort.
A year or so ago before the problems started, there was a family gathering in Arizona. When he arrived, he seemed to have a lot of trouble walking so we got him a wheelchair. It was a blessing for him, but he never wanted to walk much after that.
He had always liked to have a little “Schnaps” (a thimble of whiskey) before dinner. He said it prevented him from getting a cold (a likely story). At 84, he was now having a second or third shot and it sometimes made him woozy. He would fall and my mother couldn’t pick him up, so she had to find one of the building people to come and lift him up.
One episode was worse. I don’t remember exactly why. They took him to the hospital and the doctors said he was suffering from malnutrition and when he drank he didn’t eat much. He was teetering on being drunk now which caused the falls.
He was also showing signs of dementia.
It was decided that he should go to a nursing home to rehabilitate. He went to the Villa Maria, a Catholic facility in North Miami, where he stayed and prospered somewhat for seven years. It was certainly one of the best nursing facilities in the area, but he didn’t much like it, mainly because he no longer could have his Schnaps.
My mother visited every day, I think mostly to keep peace between him and the nurses. He wasn’t terribly nice to them. To get to Villa Maria, my mother took two buses, rain or shine. As some of you know, when it rains in Florida, it rains. The only time she wouldn’t go was when my sister or I were visiting.
To help my mother avoid the two buses and the 45-minute commute, I set up a charge account with a taxi company. After much cajoling, she took a cab, but only twice. When I asked why she didn’t keep using the cabs, she said she didn’t like the way they went.
My father’s dementia came and went in no order or fashion. Sometimes he would seem lucid and other times the cloud descended on him. He spent most of his time at Villa Maria complaining and sitting in his wheelchair outside staring at the traffic.
He developed a clever way of greeting people—including me. My mother would say, “Henry, so and so is coming to visit today.” He would say, “Okay” or “Isn’t that nice.” When so and so arrived, he would say, “Look who’s here.” That covered all the bases very nicely.
In his early working years, my father was a printing broker. That was how he met my mother. She was working at a savings and loan he was calling on to solicit their business. He always went to bed very early (I thought) but was in bed so he could read, I later learned. He loved classical music and, of course, I didn’t (then).
At the start of World War II, the printing business faded dramatically. He worked in a defense plant or two; and then after the war, he went to work for his older brother, Fred, who ran a small tile jobber called Ocean Tile. It was a two-man business that sold old-fashioned small hexagonal tiles for bathrooms and kitchens, too small contractors.
When my father’s back got bad, they hired a young, strong kid to do the lifting. The business lasted about 22 years or so. I went to my Uncle Fred somewhere in the later years and asked if I should come into the business and take it over. He kind of chuckled and said the business was almost dead. Glad he turned me down. My father retired and moved with my mother to Florida. My uncle went to work for an import/export firm.
Villa Maria was designed to be a temporary rehab to get him back on his feet, but it lasted over seven years. I’m not sure he found his life happy or fulfilling. He passed away at age 91. I think finally at peace.
Somehow, he left me a legacy that allowed my life to be interesting, adventurous, happy and very fulfilling. I thank him for that.