Friday, July 21, 2017


January 1, 2000
Last night I called Ed to tell him I wouldn’t be coming on this extraordinary day, the dawn of the new century, because of the traffic.  “That’s all right, I understand.  Why don’t you call me in the morning.”
 This morning I call early, thinking that at least I can help him tune his TV into the remarkable world-wide coverage of the emergence of the year 2000.  He’s convinced he can get only one station, because no matter how may buttons he pushes, he never gets away from the first station that comes on.  In fact, for a while, he thought it was part of the nursing home’s conspiracy against him that he could view only one channel, which, undoubtedly was viewing him right back.
“Channel 5 is having a millennium special, showing what’s going on all over the world,” I tell him.  “It’s one of the most exciting things I’ve ever seen.  People are people, no matter where they live or how different from us they may look.  I do wish you’d watch it.  Can you reach your clicker?”
There’s a pause, and I can hear him scrabbling around in the background.  He comes back on the line with the remote.  “Okay,” I say, “Now to get any station, you have to push the zero first, then the number.  So push zero and then five.”
A moment’s pause.  I hear his TV, but it isn’t on Channel 5.
“I hit three four five, but it’s still the same channel.”
“You have to hit the zero first, Ed.  Try hitting the zero with one thumb, then right away hit the five with your other thumb.” (As I write this, I realize his thumbs are too big to carry out this procedure.)
“Okay, I’ve got it.  There’s a woman on, right?”  Wrong.  I advise him to ask the next person who comes in to put on Channel 5.
This afternoon I call Ed’s number, and Aliceann answers.  In two seconds, she has Channel 5.  “They’re showing The Stock Exchange, right?”  Right!
And now I must mop the kitchen floor, which has reached the stage where it clings to my shoes, looks at me dully, and begs Wash Me.  Then back to the millennium and a great new book, Endurance, “An Epic Polar Adventure.”  Endurance.  That’s what we’re all going to need in the year 2000, especially my sadly confused ex-hubby, once so strong and confident and vigorous.
 Ted calls me to say he’s meeting with Blake, and is there anything new concerning the Florida controversy that should enter the discussion.
“The latest is that Aliceann insists she could find a place to rent for $1000 a month—a place that would accept the pets.”
“That’s great!   She can go down there any time she wants and start looking.  This is what I always thought they should do—live off their income instead of buying a house and reducing their capital.  Tell her she can go down tomorrow.”
“But Ted,” I say in alarm, “we need Aliceann.  When your father is discharged and goes back to Westwood, we need her to do all the things she’s been doing for him.”
“ I thought you had volunteered to be the care giver.”
What hair I have left stood on end and fainted.  “Oh no, Ted!  I only meant that I was willing to relieve Aliceann from time to time so she could have some outside interests.  I couldn’t possibly cope with being his full-time caregiver, especially with all those damn cats winding themselves around my ankles. I’m pushing 80, and it’s hard enough for Aliceann to help him and she’s only 65.”
I call Kathie to tell her about the misunderstanding with Ted.  She agrees we shouldn’t encourage Aliceann to go to Florida right away, but says Ed has an airline ticket available for a February visit to her mother.  “That would give us a month to see how Dad and Aliceann get along when he’s back in the apartment.  They may both want to consider other alternatives if she finds it too difficult to take care of him.”
“Kathie, he’s incontinent.  Aliceann does the laundry every day, his clothes, his sheets and towels.  If she leaves for a couple of weeks, how are we ever going to manage?”
Kathie says no problem, she and Frank will just add Ed’s laundry to theirs and do it in the apartment’s new washer-dryer combo; this will be easier than doing the laundry in the basement.  Frank has been in charge of this chore ever since the construction started several months ago, necessitating the removal of their washer and dryer to an area unreachable by Kathie.
“But what about Dad’s breakfast and his lunch?  I don’t think he’ll be able to get his own meals.”  
“I’m on sabbatical until May,” Kathie reminds me.  I can give him his breakfast and invite him over for lunch and dinner.  I’ll also let the dogs out in the pen a couple of time a day.”
What a positive twist our first-born has put on the paternal pertinacity she inherited.   No matter what happens, she persists in trying to step in and take care of her father, unlike his ex-wifeA major reason for keeping my distance is the menagerie.  It appalls me to see the cats walking around on tables and counter tops and assuming they would be welcome additions to anyone’s lap.  Kathie’s, yes.  Mine, no.
Yesterday, during my visit to the nursing home, Aliceann told me one of her feline friends jumped up on her shoulders when she was in the bathroom, combing her hair.  “He likes to chew on my ear,” she laughed.  If one of them ever jumps up on my shoulders, he’ll need a parachute for his trip back down to his favorite scratching post, my ankles.
Ed and Aliceann enjoy describing what it’s like to sleep with eight animals on their bed.  “Oh yes, one of them is always moving about,” Ed says, in answer to my question.  “We go right back to sleep.”  So speaks the man who complains that he never gets a decent night’s sleep and raises the issue with every doctor he visits.
“Ling Ling always drapes herself around his neck,” Aliceann says.  “She’s his cat.  If he doesn’t keep petting her when she’s in his lap, she turns around and nips him!  Calvin loves Ed, too.  He curls up between us.”
I say I couldn’t stand having even one animal sleeping in my bed
“I thought you were an animal lover,” says Ed.
“Not by the dozen,” I say.  To myself I say, If it’s a case of love me, love my dog, my dog, my cat, my cat, my cat, my cat, my cat, my cat, I’m not up to the task. 

When I visit the nursing home, I continue to bring with me my folder of  “Things to read to Ed.”  Lately, I’ve been arriving around 2:00 so I won’t have to drive home in the dark in nerve-wracking traffic.  This means Aliceann is still there (she appears at around 11:00, faithfully providing Ed with his favorite daytime drink, a strawberry shake from Friendly’s), then leaves at 4:00.  She, too, has had alarming experiences with darkness and rude, impatient, horn-blaring drivers.
 So Ed, Aliceann, and I watch grade B black-and-white movies, while he tries to stay awake.
Edward, don’t fall asleep,” says Aliceann.
“Oh, let him sleep, Aliceann, he’s so logy he can’t keep his eyes open,” says Wife #1, as if it were any of her business.
“Then he won’t sleep tonight,” says Aliceann, who is tired of his complaints.
“That’s because it’s so noisy,” argues Wife #2.  “He’ll get back on schedule after he’s discharged.”  Aliceann, not being an arguer, says nothing. 
The reference to my being an animal-lover reminds me that among the “things to read to Ed” is a letter to my mother about Reinette and Miette.  I thought it would amuse both Malleys, so I pull from the folder the story of Reinette, the outcast.
February 27, 1967
             I have found a woman just around the corner who clips poodles.  For Reinette, I figured she’d need a lawn mower.  After months of neglect she was beginning to disappear inside her coat—if she hadn’t barked once in awhile, we wouldn’t have been sure she was there.  I dropped her off at Mrs. Maire’s early Monday morning and several hours later picked up an elegantly beautiful animal who seemed to know me, although I certainly didn’t recognize her.  I decided to keep her, anyway.
That night at bedtime Ed said, “Don’t forget to put Stupid out.”
He was referring to Reinette, who is more restless than Miette at night and is therefore not allowed to sleep in the bedroom.  She doesn’t understand this favoritism and never gives up trying to win acceptance.  Sometimes she crawls under the bed, hoping she won’t be noticed; other times she rolls up into a small ball on the boudoir chair, trying to look like a discarded towel.
(”Edward, are you listening or falling asleep?” says Wife #2.  “I’m listening,” he mumbles drowsily.)  I look at him, wondering if he remembers how restless canines once annoyed him. 
Reinette usually sleeps in the living room, but on this particular night I spotted her in the corner next to Ed’s bed.  “Come, Reinette,” I said.  “You know you keep Daddy awake with your snoring.”  (She doesn’t bother me because I am still sleeping in the other bedroom.  Ed isn’t happy about this, but he knows I need my sleep because of daily commitments to Kathie, who is still learning to manage from a wheelchair. Now that she is working toward a degree at BU and doesn’t have access to the library, she depends on me to search for textbooks, among other more domestic errands.  
Reinette looked up with a soulfully pleading expression, moving nothing except her tail, which thumped the message, “Have a heart!  If that little twerp can sleep on Daddy’s bed, why do I get kicked out every night?”
Prior to her haircut, when we couldn’t see her expression, it was easier to be firm.  Look at her, Ed!” I said.  “She wants so much to stay.  Does it really bother you that much?”
“Naah,” Ed said.  “Just a little bit.  Let her stay.”
Just a little bit!  What could I do but leap on the bed, even if I did knock the wind out of the old softie, and give him a big appreciative bear hug.
“Poor old Ed!  There are so many things that bother you `just a little bit’— Reinette, my sleeping in the other room, your ulcer, Vonnie, Timmy—sometimes they must all add up to a pretty big mountain!”
“You’re a pretty big mountain yourself,” he said, after refilling his lungs.  “Next time you decide to hurl yourself through the air, would you mind saying `Fore’ or something?” 

At 4:00, Aliceann picks up her sewing (she’s still industriously making little teddy bears, one of which now stands beside the jester-bear she gave me Christmas Eve), kisses Ed goodbye, and goes on her way.  I stay awhile longer, and then I, too, get ready to leave.  Ed and I have a goodbye ritual that means a lot to him.  He reaches from his bed to the wheelchair, and stands up; then, with one arm holding the chair, he turns to me.  While we have a long embrace, he murmurs a familiar phrase: “Come to me, cling to me.” 
I say, “I remember.”
 Oh yes, how well I remember.  Back in 1940, before settling down with Eddie in a tiny apartment in Boston, I returned to Smith, newly pregnant and even more newly married.   I would be permitted to finish my first semester, but that would mark the end of my college career.  
Now, sixty years later, I help Ed sit back down in his wheelchair, massage his shoulders affectionately, and plant a kiss goodbye on his withered lips.
January 2000
This is a momentous day.   Ed has an appointment early this morning with his neurologist.  The question is, can Ed safely use his walker, or is he still as tottery as he was before his knee-replacement operation.  If he has made adequate improvement, he will be able to leave the rehabilitation facility and go home.  Kathie, Frank, and Aliceann pick him up at the nursing home at 8:00 and set off for Boston.
I call at 12:30, anxious to hear the verdict.  Frank answers and gives me an enthusiastic description of Ed’s performance for the doctor.  “He pushed his walker up and down the hall several times without the slightest problem.”  When the neurologist tested him with a slight push in each direction, Frank went on, he didn’t lose his balance, as he had during the visit a month ago.  The doctor was amazed at how successfully the Parkinson’s medication has improved his symptoms.  He will be able check out of the scene of his nightmares and return to the apartment tomorrow, and physical therapists will come to the house to help him strengthen his knee and improve his walking skills.
I call Ed to tell him how happy I am about Frank’s report.  His voice sounds stronger and clearer than it has since he came north.  He tells me he has talked to Ted and Blake and has decided the best plan is for him to stay at Kathie’s until next fall.  Ted is giving him $4000 a month, and he will be paying off debts and saving for a house in Florida. 
But what about Aliceann’s idea of renting?”
“We’ve looked into it.  There’s nothing.”
“Not even inland?”  No, not a thing was available to rent.  He adds that he’d prefer to invest in a house, anyway.  Paying rent is a waste of money.
The next day Kathie tells me Ed says he can afford to give her $500 a month for the remainder of his time in Westwood.  I protest long and loud.   I will be mad as hell if he squirrels away large sums to take care of his debts and a Florida house, leaving her with a whopping credit card burden that costs her hugely in interest and worry.  Having inherited that stubborn streak of her own from someone in the family (certainly not me), she replies firmly that I am not to discuss this matter with Ed.  She doesn’t want our relationship soured by fighting. 
* * *
Now that Ed is back in the apartment, Kathie is able to have more time with him, and enjoys the resumption of their father-daughter talks.  They haven’t had many opportunities for such exchanges in recent years, but Ed has no difficulty donning the well-worn robe of infallible father.  When Kathie was growing up, Ed never had to push her to get ahead.  What with her babysitting, her beach school for neighborhood children, her camp counseling, her tutoring, her athletic teams, her schoolwork, her care taking for her many pets, he worried sometimes that she was working too hard, not taking enough advantage of her childhood.  Indeed, when she went off to college, his fatherly advice was, “Stop working so hard.  Have fun.  Live a little.” 
Recently, he found it necessary to share his wisdom with her again.    Kathie called me and laughingly described her father’s artful dodging when she brought up the subject of her retirement.
“Dad, how old were you when you retired?” 
“Sixty-five,” he replies heartily, “and those last few years at the shop were my golden years.  I had my health, I had plenty of money, I could do what I wanted, I didn’t have to work too hard.  It was wonderful.” 
Kathie leaps at this golden opportunity to remind her father of what his radical change in residential plans means for her future.
 “Gee, Dad,” she says, “I was hoping to retire at 65, too, but now I have this big mortgage till I’m 69, an enormous credit card debt, and an apartment I can’t rent.” 
“There, there, dear,” Ed says, patting her on the shoulder with his voice.  “You shouldn’t expect it that early.  Maybe when you’re 67, maybe when you’re 69.  That should be plenty soon enough.” 
“But, Dad,” Kathie exclaims, “I’m not talking about some honor I’m reaching prematurely, I’m not trying to become president of the university, I’m talking about retirement!” 
           Benevolently, he assures her, “Don’t worry, K-K, the day will come.” And then he smirks, she tells me. He smirks! Where did that smirk come from? Does he know he’s smirking? Or is this just some trick his face is playing on him behind his back?
           Wife #1 has another question when Kathie describes this conversation. Are Ed’s cheerful evasions evidence that the Parkinson’s disease is still nibbling away at his mental faculties or is he just fending off facts he doesn’t want to hear? Long experience as Wife #1 makes me suspicious that the blame belongs more on the shoulders of Mr. Malley than of Dr. Parkinson. My mind’s monitor is filled with images of a smirking husband, coming through our front door after being gone several days (and nights) on a business trip. To me, that smirk appeared to be the guilty grin of a mate who has been up to no good during his absence.“Of course I’m going to look guilty when you look at me like that,” he would insist, whenever I commented on his smug expression.    So I began to avoid looking at him on these occasions, gazing instead at the stove, the refrigerator, the kitchen counter, a broken fingernail.   It was sad, not being able to welcome your husband whole-heartedly when he returned from a junket.

Of all days for this winter’s first snowstorm, it had to start yesterday morning.  I called Kathie Wednesday night to discuss whether I should risk picking Ed up after bowling to take him for lunch.  Hazardous weather was predicted, and I was nervous about driving the Dinosaur, despite snow tires on the rear wheels.  I hated to disappoint him, but . . .
“Mom, you’re not going to be able to take him out anyway.  Dad came in to see me this morning and asked me to tell you.  Aliceann has given him an ultimatum.  He is not under any circumstances to go anywhere with you.”
“What?” I can’t believe it.  “But why?”
“Taking Dad to lunch is too much like a date.”  A date?  This is so unlike the Aliceann I know, I’m stupefied. 
“Mom, it isn’t just you.  Dad says Aliceann doesn’t trust anyone in the family.  Maybe she thinks we’re trying to get him away from her.  I know she wants to get back to Florida and she knows we don’t want him to go.  Dad says he’s even afraid she’ll get more and more insecure if we do crossword puzzles alone together every day.”
 And money continues to rear its greedy head.  Today after bowling, I came home to a message from Ted to call him.  “What’s up?” he asks, when I respond to his message.  Ted has talked to Blake, who was stunned to hear Ed has contributed only $5000 so far.  “He told me it was $30,000.  When I asked him about it, he said, `I lied.’” Blake had asked Ed exactly what he wanted in the future. The answer: to buy a house in Florida as soon as he can and move back down there.
 Ted, getting diplomatic in his older years, says he doesn’t want to be critical of Kathie, whose heart was in the right place, but she did bring all this on herself.  Ed and Aliceann should have given their pets away, and then they could have rented a small house in Florida until the financial situation improved, as it already has, much faster than Ted dreamed it would.  Ted’s argument is that Kathie shouldn’t have offered to come to the rescue.  “What would have happened?  Would they have been bag people, out on the street?  No, they would have had to face reality.  Kathie let them off the hook.”
I don’t remind Ted, but I think of it, that after he went to Florida last spring, he was so shocked by his father’s declining health that he thought assisted living was the only solution.  Neither Ed nor Aliceann wanted any part of that idea.  Even Ted had seemed to think that having Kathie and Frank provide the assisted living might be a real lifesaver in the long run.

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