I remember as a kid everyone’s parents were like your own parents as far as having to do what they told you to do. I learned very quickly which of them to avoid because people like Mr. Kelly would draft a kid into slave labor in an instant. There were other parents who didn’t care for other kids, and Miss Dot was one of those. Her kids could go over to other kids’ houses but we weren’t allowed to play in her house. She didn’t much like us in her yard either. Her husband drank himself to death but that was going to be years later.
But there were years later. Suddenly I was trying to navigate parents again, this time in the social realm of dating, and it was difficult to sit there and have a conversation with two people whose daughter I would try to undress after a movie. Then there was a period of time when parents of the people around me became more or less irrelevant; we were all adults and everyone did their own thing.
But there were years later.
Now I find myself going to the funerals of parents. This morning I helped a friend move her mother and father-in-law into an onsite cottage at a nursing home. The father-in-law is ninety years old and it’s odd seeing him like this. I walked up to him this morning and asked him how it was going and he said, “I’m blind, I’m deaf and I’m losing my mind” and there really isn’t anything to be said past that. He sleeps most of the day and he keeps telling people he just wants to die and maybe he does. But his wife still wants him around and she doesn’t want to live in the country alone with him anymore. “Assisted Living” is what they’re calling it these days and as far as I can tell it’s a very good thing.
They put Mr. Kelly in a nursing home because of his temper and his drinking problems and he fought them all the way down. Two male nurses tried to put an IV in his arm and he fought them off of him, at age seventy-five and they finally had to sedate him. His kids couldn’t do anything at all with him. Back in the day when he was the father and father knew best, it was socially acceptable for him to cuss and raise hell at people thirty years younger than he. But now those people are the people who have to take care of him. He spent his entire life talking down to young’uns and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stop now just because one or two of them went to medical school.
My closet neighbor is 95 and she still gets out in the yard and works. Even on the hottest days she’s out there puttering around and there are a lot of younger people who freak out when they see her out there but this is the way she has always lived. Air conditioning has ruined a lot of people but she’s resisted using it. She and I both have our windows open right now and I am willing to bet we’re handling the heat a lot better than most.
It’s odd hearing about Mr. Kelly being old and out of control. Not that he was ever in control, mind you, I watched him brutally beat his son one day for no good reason and that same day he threatened to shoot their dog in front of his son and myself just to watch us beg him not to do it. His son did beg, of course, but I told him it was his dog and he could do anything he wanted to do. I was very surprised he didn’t shoot the dog, really, but that was what life was like in South Georgia during the late sixties; dogs and children were not that far removed from one another in the social order.
I buried a man who was my age this year, a man I had grown up with, and it was odd to see some of the people I had not seen in many years. We traded small talk but I also heard about parents growing old and parents dying. We once listened to those same people talk about how quickly we were growing up and how big we were getting and that was nonsense to us, just as some of this talk about growing old is nonsense to some of the older people. There are parents who are gone now and there is no denying that there are very few people my age who still have a grandparent left alive. Some people have lost children and no loss I will ever feel will come close to that horror. That is the Universe in disorder and whatever else those who we are planning for and caring for now, at least they haven’t outlived us…yet.