My sister’s writing is more creative than mine, and she enjoys crafting comic poetry. She always composes the invitations for her sons’ birthday parties, and this year, she came up with one for their grandfather, who had a special party of his own yesterday:
How thrilled we are that he’s alive.
He’s turning eighty and that’s no lie.
He still likes to eat his cherry pie.
He wants you to come and celebrate.
It starts at two – so don’t be late!
He’s short in height, but long on charm.
While most of the family – including the guest of honor – found that last line pretty funny, it wasn’t really appropriate for his neighbors in the senior apartments or his church friends, so a substitute line was devised (“His hands are cold, but his heart is warm”), some lines were shuffled, and the invitations went into the mail.
My dad was born on this day, eighty years ago, in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, and given the name Norman Edward. He preferred to be addressed by his middle name, though, and when he converted from Judaism to Catholicism at twenty-one, he was baptized Edward Joseph, and that’s how everyone knows him to this day. And everyone knows Dad – he is not the family introvert. (That was my mom, and I definitely take after her.)
My parents were married for 36 years, but Dad was on his own for the last seven, after Mom went into residential care with early-onset Alzheimer’s – and Dad was really not built for living on his own. For one thing, like many men of his generation, he wasn’t terribly strong in domestic skills – but besides that, he never had lived alone. He lived with his divorced (later widowed) mother until he got married at the age of 34 (to a 33-year-old woman – by 1963 standards, my parents were ancient), and I doubt he had ever given much thought to being on his own, ever. While he did pick up skills at cooking and doing his own laundry – he’s never going to master cleaning, so he’s lucky he can pay someone to do that – Dad is one of those people who need people, and he got lonely. Lonely infected his judgment at times, and at those times, he was living over 1000 miles from one daughter and a continent away from the other, so there wasn’t much we could do about some of his predicaments except stress and argue over the phone. In late 2000, about a year after Mom passed away, my sister and her husband moved Dad out to Southern California and found him an apartment not far away from their home. By 2002, I had moved to the area too, and a few years later, all of us were actually living in the same town.
Dad’s still able to live independently, but we take care of things for him when we need to; my sister does more of it than I do, bless her, but I usually see him once a week. He sees plenty of people besides us, though. He lives in a senior apartment complex where he has poker-playing buddies, social events to attend, and “lady friends” that he sees movies with or accompanies to dances at the Senior Center. He volunteers for Friends of the Library, and he participates in several groups at his church. He doesn’t drive any more, but he’s not shy about asking for rides, and since he’s so sociable, he doesn’t usually have trouble finding an agreeable driver (sometimes it’s even one of his daughters). His collection of prescriptions is relatively small for a man his age. Lately, he’ll doze off if he’s not keeping busy, but he still hasn’t fully retired from his bookkeeping business. Following cataract surgery and lens implants, his vision is excellent, and he’s always reading something. What he’s reading is often sports-related – he was never an athlete, but he’s always been a very engaged spectator, and at this time of year, he faithfully attends his grandsons’ Little League games.
Dad has now reached the age his own mother was when she died, but since he hasn’t smoked for well over thirty years and does not have chronic emphysema, he’s probably got a good shot at outliving her; after all, one of his grandmothers lived to be 92, and an aunt was just a few months short of her hundredth birthday when she passed away. He’s still young enough to have wanted a karaoke machine at his birthday party (he didn’t get it, but he did ask). He’s still young enough that he doesn’t always say the right thing, or really think about how things might affect anyone other than himself, but he almost always means well. In some ways, I think he’ll always be young enough to want to be the center of attention.
That’s what today is for – happy 80th birthday, Dad!
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