I generally speak with my octogenarian mother on the phone about once per week, and the call reminds me a bit of an amusement park thrill ride. When we drive down to the Central Valley to visit, it’s not much better. I never know when I am going to be turned upside down or have the bottom drop out, allowing gravity to take me into free fall.
Perhaps I am being too dramatic, but the fact remains that every call leaves me with new concerns that trouble my mind and inhabit my dreams.
You may wonder why I rarely speak with my father on the phone, and it’s because he is a Silent Sam. By his own admission, he hates talking on the phone. I think he’d be perfect for text conversations, but my parents refuse to do that. So I tell him what’s going on at work, but it’s a decidedly one-sided conversation. I can’t generally get him to talk about himself. If I start out with what I consider an open-ended question, such as “How are you doing?,” my poetry-loving father is likely to provide me with his standard comeback, “bloody but unbowed.” I try to give him an easy out, as I know that he is grateful to make his escape at the earliest possible opportunity.
When I’m on the phone with my mother and she has to attend to something else in the house mid-conversation, she will set down the receiver of their kitchen wall phone, summarily state “here, talk to your father” and yell for him. Often as not, he doesn’t hear her.
At the age of 85, my father is going deaf. It drives my mother crazy that he can’t hear her when she calls for him, whether it’s some little thing that she wants him to do or whether she has been locked out of the house in the pitch black night out there on the lonely rangeland. Despite my mother’s dunning, Dad refuses to get fitted for a hearing aid. I believe it’s his right to decide what he wants to do with his body, but my mother feels that it’s extremely unfair to her. She feels as if she lives alone, she tells me. She points out that they can’t even watch television together, as he has to sit in front of the TV in the office and blast the volume in order to hear it, while my mother watches the big screen TV in the family room at a more normal volume. Not that they watch many of the same shows anyway. I don’t think Mom would care too much for my father’s opera broadcasts and gory murder shows. And I don’t think Dad would care too much for my mother’s westerns and travelogues. That’s beside the point, my mother would say.
My parents, who have been married for more than 66 years, have for decades honed marital arguing to the level of a fine art. Their long experience has made them true experts at this pastime. When we were kids, their hoopin’ and hollerin’ scared the crap out of my sisters and myself. I’m glad I don’t have to hear it anymore, but anytime we visit, there it is.
About two weeks ago, my wife and I stopped by my parents’ house for a one-night visit on our way down to southern California (one of my regular work-related trips). While we weren’t there long, our visit was just long enough for us to serve as an audience. Mom started yelling about how she is tired of feeling like she lives alone and that Dad is going to get a hearing aid or she is going to kick his butt out and see if he can find someone else. I called her bluff by telling her that she’s full of baloney. She can blow like a gale, but I am 100% certain that my mother would never try anything of the kind. Her late deafened husband isn’t going anywhere. And I’m sure Dad knows it.
Two weeks earlier, my parents were here visiting. Imagine my surprise when Dad stepped out of the car with a large bandage on his head. The story was that he had incurred his injury by performing a bit of amateur plumbing. Apparently, my sister, who has been staying over with my folks a couple nights a week while she does work in the Central Valley, had managed to pull the shower faucet out of the wall. Standing in the tub with his tools to repair it, my father soon finished the job, stepped out of the wrong side of the tub, and proceeded to gash his head on the protruding knickknack shelf. Well, you know how a head wound bleeds, so it’s no surprise that the bathroom looked like a murder scene. My stubborn father refused to go to the emergency room and was quite content to have Mom patch him up.
Then I heard about some of the phone calls my parents have been receiving. I recently read in the newspaper how there are miscreants and malefactors out there who prey on senior citizens by pretending to be family members in need of money. I read about one couple who was bilked out of a quarter of a million dollars via such a scam. My parents, however, are a bit more savvy than that. They are AARP members and have read all the warnings printed in that organization’s magazine.
I guess it had to happen: It was Dad’s turn to get “the call.” The young man on the other end of the line began by whining a plaintive “Grandpa?? I’ve been arrested! I’m in jail!”
“Who is this?!” my father replied gruffly.
“Your grandson,” came back the still whiny reply.
“Which grandson? I have three.”
“Your youngest grandson,” intoned whiny-butt.
“Kevin?? Is that you??” came back my father’s reply.
“Yes, Grandpa, it’s me, Kevin!”
“I don’t have a grandson named Kevin!” my father thundered, slamming down the phone.
Good for him, I thought. Score: Dad 1, Scammers 0!
Then it happened again.
“Hello!” Dad answered the ringing phone, annoyed that someone in Asia was probably trying to sell him goods and services that he didn’t need.
“Grandpa?? I’m in the hospital!” came the plaintive reply.
Dad slammed down the receiver, fuming.
He had no idea that it was my sister, who had just come out of surgery.
Hahaha! Serves her right for habitually calling her father “Grandpa!”