I wake up and decide that today will be a day without Alzheimer’s.
My Father wakes up, uses the restroom, washes his face and heads to the kitchen. He’s hungry for pancakes, so he lines up the ingredients on the counter while the pan is warming on the stove. Mom is nursing a cup of coffee while Dad beckons me over and shows me two different pancakes. Handing me a fork, he smiles as I taste them and asks me how they’re different. This is the Father I miss. The engineer, always putting things together and gauging outcomes. He proceeds to tell me that one pancake contains eggs while the other does not. I don’t have the heart to tell him I don’t like eggs in my pancakes, so I just smile and spread the pieces around my plate.
After showering and shaving, he goes downstairs to his workshop to finish fixing a lamp. He can’t finish the project because he’s missing a part, so he announces to Mom that he’s headed over to the hardware store. I decide to tag along. He pulls out his car keys, adjusts his rearview mirror and heads out the driveway.
“Dad, tell me a story about when you were growing up.”
He laughs with an impish grin on his face, clears his throat and then tells me about stealing a watermelon from his grandfather’s watermelon patch. He remembers everything ~ how his friend helped him pick out the biggest one and carry it down to the creek to hide it for three days to cool it off. He recalls how their excitement quickly turned to disappointment when they cut into the melon, only to find it was green through and through.
We talk some more and I ask for his advice about something that’s been on my mind for a while. He listens carefully and when I finish, he waits a few minutes. At first glance, one would think he wasn’t paying attention to me. But when my Father is asked to give advice, he always tastes his words before he speaks them. Inevitably, he brings up a point I hadn’t considered. He won’t tell me outright what I should do because he wants it to be my decision. But if I’ve listened well, I will choose wisely.
At the hardware store he smiles at everyone and strikes up a conversation with a guy looking at gaskets and hoses. Within a minute, he’s cracked a joke and procured a laugh out of this stranger. As we leave the store, he winks at me and says, “I bet you I can get 9 out of 10 people to smile.”
“More like 10 out of 10,” I respond.
Back at home we sit down for lunch and the prayer rolls off my Father’s tongue as it has for decades. He speaks clearly and concisely and I realize just how many things in a person’s day are really gifts. He digs a cookie out of the cookie jar after lunch and settles into his recliner to pick up reading a book by Ravi Zacharias where he left off.
Next, we watch a movie about astronauts and he shares stories of when he worked at Cape Canaveral on ground communications during America’s great Space Race. He can’t finish the story without telling me how thankful he is that God gave him so many opportunities in life. Stationed at Ramstein AFB in Germany while the Berlin Wall was being built, touring the wall and being haunted by the faces of those confined to East Germany, risking their lives in search of freedom. He tells me of Sgt. Nishodka and Sgt. Mangum and how the latter could send a ridiculous number of words a minute in Morse Code.
Then I bring Dad his guitar and ask him to play. He tells me how rusty he is and that it won’t sound good, but he tunes it and strums, searching for chords and singing folk songs and hymns. After a few songs, he remembers to call his grandson so they can make plans to fish together at Lake Lanier. Dad dials the number by heart and soon they’re talking about rods and reels and the best fish bait for their expedition.
After they chat, Dad walks downstairs to the basement and carefully pulls down his fishing rod from its perch. He digs around for his tackle box and this takes some time because he never throws anything away and must cull through toolboxes, coffee tin cans of screws and nails and notes he’s penned of things to repair.
In the evening, we decide to ride our bikes to work off dinner. He asks Mom if she wants anything and she jokingly answers, “A frosty from Wendy’s.” He winks at me and we pedal off. He’s so aware of everything going on in front of him that he notices cars before I do. We bike past neighborhoods, a couple of churches, an elementary school and a meadow with a horse grazing. Once we arrive at Wendy’s, he divulges his plan. He’ll get Mom a small frosty, put it in his shirt pocket and we’ll fly home as fast as we can before it melts. I just laugh at him, imagining the look on her face. Minutes later, we’re standing on the front porch and Dad rings the doorbell. When Mom opens the door, Dad offers her the frosty as if it’s a bouquet of roses.
“How did you…?” and then she sees his shirt pocket.
We sit on the front porch to catch our breath and I wish I could freeze this moment forever. The crickets are chirping, the lightning bugs are glowing and the sun settles behind a cloud. I think back over the day at all the things my Father was able to do.
Using the restroom, washing his face, cooking breakfast, changing up a recipe, showering, shaving, fixing a lamp, driving a car, recalling stories from his youth, giving me wise counsel, striking up a conversation with a stranger, counting how many people he could make smile, praying, reading, telling me Air Force stories, playing the guitar, remembering to call his grandson, dialing a phone number, chatting and making plans, preparing his fishing gear, riding a bike, balancing a frosty.
So many commonplace things I took for granted. So many things I miss.
And then I wake up.