I've spent a lot of time this week with my father-in-law. A whole lot of time. All-day-every-day-lot of time. More time than those kids who are joined at the hip going steady in high school, locked lip-to-lip behind the lockers until the last possible moment before each bells rings, then rush out after class to find each other as if they'd been separated for years rather than a fifty-minute class. Grampie and me? We're just like that--other than the lip-lock stuff, of course. Our conversations go something like this:
Grampie: What is today, Wednesday?
Me: No, Grampie, it's Thursday."
G: What time is my appointment today?
M: You don't have an appointment today.
G: I don't have a doctor's appointment today?
M: No, your doctor's appointment is Monday at 4.
G: What day is today, Wednesday?
And around and around and around we go. Last night as we listened to the Squalicum boys' basketball team (Beve's place of employ for those of you just tuning in) play their first game at the State tournament, Grampie became quite confused. Beve, Grampie, a couple other teachers (both named Mark, which will either help or hurt Grampie) and E are going across the suddenly snowy mountains to catch the next few days of action this afternoon. Grampie asked so often about another game for 'the Storm' that we pulled out the Tournament bracket to help explain. "I've never seen anything like this," he said.
This reminds me of my mother telling my sister that she'd never seen anything like fondue, when the fondue set RE was using that night had actually been Mom's. Mom was insistent that RE was mistaken. This basketball stuff is like that with Grampie. More so.
Beve's father was a basketball player. I mean a player. At Bremerton High School he was 'the man'-- the horse, as some might say. Surrounded by ponies. The one who pulled the team to a State championship--in this very State, back in about 1942, I think. Then Grampie went to the University of Oregon, where he was again, 'the Man.' There is old footage of Grampie playing--even I've seen it. Then Grampie left U of O to join the Army. He just had to. He was that kind of man. And his first job in the army? Playing on the Fort Lewis basketball team--one that traveled all across the country, raising morale during those bleak war years. He was 'the man' then too. He finally shipped out to the India-Burma theater, where he built roads, and, in his off hours, used his road-building skills to build a hoop court. Played there too, called it something like Mudison Square Garden. Filled the arena every night. Because he was a star. Yep, imagine one of the best college athletes of our day deciding to cross the ocean to fight, and, when he wasn't working, lace 'em up with the boys. Every place he went, Grampie could fill arenas. Every place. Just because he walked onto the court.
Then there's a very famous story about being drafted by the NBA, but turning it down because he about to get married, had been also offered a teaching/coaching job out in little Bend, Oregon and thought it would be more stable for a family. Better pay too. A well-known, athletic senator from Massachusetts (who later had a better job, but didn't live to finish his first term) called Grampie up, asking him to reconsider, but Grampie refused. Never regretted it, either.
All this to say, that my father-in-law is a man who knows his basketball. Really, really knows his basketball. So for him to say he's never seen a tournament bracket, never knew how a State tournament works, never seen a better high school team, says everything about his brain, and almost nothing about these boys, as amazing as they are (State Champs last year, ranked first in State all year, having lost only one game each of the last two years and those to nationally ranked teams).
Yes, Grampie's brain is definitely full of the same kind of holes Mom's had a few years ago. Going steady with him as I am these days, I have become intimately aware of all his weaknesses. His short-term memory is like ancient lace, brittle and fragile. He has a better command of words than Mom had at the same point, though he did ask Beve the other evening after Beve had talked to SK, "How's Leslie getting along?" Now Leslie's a very nice name and all, but has nothing whatsoever to do with our youngest daughter's name. Both Grampie and Mom misplaced things with great alacrity. The new Squalicum cap Beve gave him he was convinced someone had stolen. His checkbook, his glasses, three different combs, his coin-purse. That's just been this week. No wonder Thyrza says she spends all her time looking for things. Fortunately, Grampie is now staying with 'The finder of all lost things.' Yes, that's right, folks. I found them all--or almost all. The cap? At the restaurant where we ate last week. The checkbook? In his banking drawer in his apartment. The combs were right on the bathroom counter where he'd left them, and his coin-purse was simply under a handkerchief on the dresser. Glasses in plain sight in his apartment, he found himself.
I love my father-in-law. As we were driving toward the medical clinic for a blood test yesterday, and he was asking me where we were going for the fifth time since we'd left our house ten minutes earlier, I was thinking that--thinking of how much I love him. But also how much more I love my husband. I really, really love my husband. And this man, this stooped, confused, old man, was once the big strong man who carried my husband on his shoulders. When Beve was little, Grampie was such fun, all the kids in their neighborhood used to climb on him, loved to play with him. Beve and his siblings would go running in to their mom, complaining that they couldn't get near their own dad. Grampie is the man Beve helped in the garage when Grampie worked on some project with his tongue sticking out the corner of his lips. The older brothers had quickly found reasons to disappear when Grampie had such projects, leaving Beve holding the bag, so to speak. But it was time with his dad. And Grampie's the man who stayed up late to feed Beve after away games, to talk over the game at 1AM, when he knew a boy was starving. Grampie's own dad never--NEVER--saw Grampie play. He thought Grampie was wasting his time with such trivial pursuits. But Grampie was a great dad to my Beve. And now that dad is gone. And I miss him. I miss him for my Beve. I love Grampie, and I love the man he raised. I'm grateful to him. I told him that yesterday.
What are the chances he'll remember?
That's what I thought. I'll tell him again today.
Here's the other thing. I don't want this to happen to him. I know what's coming. I really, really know what's coming this time. And it breaks my heart that we have to do it again. That Beve does, that our kids do. Yes, that I do. It was one thing with Mom, because our complicated relationship created a distance within me to keep it from hurting--except for her. And, truthfully, there's peace in ignorance. But we aren't ignorant this time. We're armed with too much knowledge. And it hurts. Scares the heebie-jeebies out of me, to tell you the truth. But it's a one-way street, and he's already a long ways down it. All I can do is hold his hand and walk with him, repeat answers I've given 100 times (I always think he'll remember he just asked, and he never does!), and love him, the father of my Beve, the grandfather of my children. The old man in my life.
"What day is today, Wednesday?"
"No, Grampie, today is Thursday."