Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Difficult Spring

Dear Family & Friends (& especially those of you who are wondering why I never answered your e-mail),

It's been a difficult spring.

(Forgive me if I repeat myself.)

Jack turned 80 on April 7, which is like turning 50 if you've been in your 40s for a decade, or turning 21. A monumental birthday.

The first thing he did was wreck his car. A typical 80-year-old crash. Running late for his doctor's appointment, he was driving 35 mph (almost) on a 30 mph residential stretch when he began to wonder how late he was. His side of the road looked empty except for a white car a ways ahead of him, so he shook his sleeve off his watch and looked at the time. Ten minutes late. He looked up. The white car had stopped dead in the street and Jack couldn't. 

He did turn a bit so the car smashed at an angle. Took out his headlight, etc. The other driver, who had stopped to turn left illegally across double lines into her driveway, wasn't hurt. Nor was her car (not much). Nor was Jack. But his ancient red Volvo station wagon sighed and insisted on a tow truck ride to Dingman's. Dingman's offered to fix Jack's headlight, etc., for more $$$ than he'd paid for the vehicle. So Jack bid his beloved wagon a reluctant good-bye. He had loved the old dump. As for me, I wouldn't drive the boat. Its only virtue, from my perspective, was the passenger seat that could be heated in the winter. I'll miss my seasonal hot seat.

So, BOOM, we became a one-car family.

The next thing Jack did, to avoid a fine for hitting the car, was take a police class on safe driving. As the teacher talked, Jack recognized himself: an occasional runner of red lights, a driver who spaced out and missed Interstate exits, etc. An Unsafe Driver. So he stopped driving.

BOOM, we became a single-driver family. Suddenly I chauffeured Jack everywhere, but especially to doctor's appointments way across town, where I waited in TV-dominated rooms, struggling to read my NEW YORKER. Every time we needed anything from the grocery or the hardware store or the pharmacy, I was behind the wheel again. I became an ardent MOBY supporter, and in time, Jack was okayed to ride that special bus. This helped.

One of his many doctors convinced Jack that being on a low-salt diet did not mean eating humongous chunks of cheese at most meals. So we got serious, eyeballing sodium in deli cooking, frozen foods, and fast foods. (Oh, we had occasionally eaten real food. Jack cooks a mean chicken soup and I can do a now-and-then stir fry.) 

So Jack picked out a couple "good" foods and began eating corn tortillas and no-salt peanut butter. He cried whenever he thought of cheese. I remembered cooking, so I got down my JOY OF and cogitated. We agreed to eat one solid meal (protein, carb, veggie) a day, so I shopped for it and cooked it. (And ate it: pork chop, corn on the cob, and yam isn't too bad.) So now I've become the resident chef. BOOM.

Then about ten days ago, I woke at 5 a.m. feeling uneasy. Eventually I went upstair to check on Jack. He was in the bathroom.

"How are you?" I hollered through the closed door.


I'd never heard him admit to sickness before. "How sick?" I asked. "Bad sick?"

"No, honey, I'm okay." Jack lurched out of the bathroom and staggered to a dining room chair. 

I only half heard him because I'm dialing 911. The ambulance guy tells me, "Contain your pets," so I'm herding cats, opening the front door, dashing downstairs and dressing in street clothes, in the time it takes for the big black-rubber-suited boys to get there, put Jack on a stretcher and head to the VA Hospital.

I'll spare you some of the details. Jack, who has a sub-par immune system, had caught a urinary infection that was about to infect his blood stream. Had it, I might be writing a post-cremation notice. 

But that's not all. Jack wore a pacemaker for a decade. Indeed, he should have replaced it last year, but he didn't notice that and neither did his doctor. So at the hospital, the heart doctors feared that his pacemaker would die--and so would he. 

The doctors wouldn't replace his pacemaker until the urinary infection cleared up, so Jack was in the hospital for nearly a week. The infection did mend, the pacemaker exchange was successful, and he came home.

Until the surgery heals, Jack can no longer move his left arm, so BOOM I take over his jobs: hauling out the garbage, cleaning the litter boxes. I refuse to make pancakes his way.

During all this time, I'm writing--would you believe! Working on a revision of my Dorothy Parker Writing Case piece. Managing to snatch an hour. Taking a 40-page printout to the hospital and editing all 40 pages there. Getting ready for the Saturday reading from MAIL-ORDER KID at the Nebraska Book Festival in Lincoln, NE. 

Friday night, in my peejay's, planning my Saturday morning shower, I notice the toilet running. I call my trusty handyman.

"Oh, I can fix this easy," Jack says. He puts his good arm in the tank, starts squirreling around, and breaks some seal. Now the toilet's REALLY running. Nothing to do but turn the water off for the entire house, he says, and he does. 

"You can turn the water back on any time you need it," he says.


If only I knew how.

Instead, I haul out my great grandfather Zachary Taylor Kemper's thunder jug and use it during my middle-of-the-night run. Saturday morning, I wash my hair with my special No Rinse Shampoo, used by NASA's astronauts on their space flights; makes me feel so modern. I don't tell Jack how sleepy I am for fear he'll talk me out of driving to the book festival some 50 miles away. Instead, I gulp many cups of coffee and challenge Fate.

Now that Jack's turned 80, we're talking marriage.

WHAT? I hear you say. PUT HIM OUT ON THE ICE, the way any sensible Eskimo would do.

But I can't do that.

Where would I find another like him, big and bushy and gushing with language. Who would sing old 1930s songs to me? Who would laugh at my stupidest jokes? Who would accept hugs and kisses at the drop of any old hat any old time of the day and night? Who would call me his Gracie Allen? Lather me with love?

So we're talking marriage.

And we plan to drive right down to city hall for a license and a judge just as soon as I can gas the car, take the garbage out, clean the litter boxes, cook lunch, put food on the table, wash dishes, do the laundry, drive Jack to the hardware store--and finish my Dorothy Parker piece.

Warm wishes,


Marilyn June Coffey
BitterSweet Rebel


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