The Kindness of Strangers: My Old Dad
My elderly dad lives with us. Most days he sees only me. Sometimes, he converses with different folks on our mundane errands to the grocery store, dry cleaning, or post office. He treasures the time he has one-on-one with people. I think he misses male companionship most of all.
So when my dad had to see the cardiologist, I suggested my husband take him. Dad enjoys his son-in law’s company. My husband gets a kick out of the old guy and his wisecracks. Upon getting home, I asked my husband how it went. Byron said, “Your dad is a real card. No one knows what to make of him.” My hubby then related the visit blow by blow or joke by joke.
The nurse entered. “How tall are you?” she asked my stooped over short father. He gazed up at her.
“Seven, two,” he replied, deadpan.
The puzzled nurse led the little guy down the hall to the echocardiogram room and hooked him up. The machine made a swishing noise, due to his heart murmur. “Sounds like something needs some grease,” Dad commented.
“Maybe some WD 40 would help,” answered the nurse.
“I had in mind some barbecue.”
She rolled him over. “There must be some padding there,” she joked.
“That’s my wallet!”
“It must be full.”
“Full of moths!”
“Something besides moths in there?”
“Just George Washington.”
“George must be squinting because he never sees any light,” cracked the nurse.
“He’s squinting all right! He’s looking for Abe and can’t find him.”
Accidentally, the nurse hit Dad’s foot. “I didn’t mean to catch your foot.”
“I thought you were taking my soul (sole) away.” Dad winked. He loves to pun.
She placed the EKG electrodes on his chest and said, “Remind me before you leave to make sure I take off all the stickers. Sometimes, people go home with them.”
“That’s all right. Just make sure you’ve written your phone number on them.”
She laughed at his flirting skills.
“Are you left or right handed,” she inquired.
“The school teachers made me right handed when I was really left. I’ve been messed up since 1924.”
“That happened to my dad, too.”
“Where did he grow up?”
“Your father must be around my age,” remarked my dad.
“Where did you grow up?” she inquired.
“New Jersey but I went to school in Massachusetts.”
“That reminds me of when these young girls asked me and my buddies that same exact question; then, we were walking down a street in Cambridge, and these girls offered their services. They told us they were used to Harvard students. They asked us where we went. ‘We go to a trade school in Cambridge,’ we told them.” Dad laughed at the memory.
“A trade school?” the nurse asked.
“I wouldn’t call that a trade school,” she said, chuckling.
“So, you’ve heard of it?”
“Once or twice,” she retorted. Dad smiled at her witty repartee. And then he launched into his story about a famous stripper who came to perform at Harvard, but the MIT boys met her at the depot first and told her they’d heard of a plot by MIT guys to kidnap her so she couldn’t perform for the Harvard students. They whisked her away to protect her from those MIT chaps. She performed at MIT before she learned the true identify of her saviors. She thought it funny and then did another show the next night for the Harvard boys who had contracted with her. Sally Rand’s escapade was written up in the paper, and she was quoted as saying that if she had to be kidnapped by anyone, she would prefer being kidnapped by those polite MIT lads.
“There was a rivalry between the two schools?” the nurse asked.
“Always. My first day at college the dean said: MIT is a place where men come to work not a place where boys go to play. That place is down the road.” He pointed, as if toward Harvard Yard.
The exam came to an end and so did Dad’s comic routine. He had thoroughly enjoyed his visit, and my husband said it was the most entertaining medical examination he’s been to. Dad came home in high spirits.
Simple pleasures make Dad’s life fun. He doesn’t have to take a fancy cruise down the Rhine Valley to enjoy his life. There was a time for that. Now at this time of his life in his 89th year, he likes best the interaction with other people. He is open to meeting strangers, striking up conversations, and appreciating the impromptu camaraderie.
So often in life we don’t practice hospitality. Often, we are suspicious, wrapped up in ourselves, and so busy that we don’t jawbone with new people. And sadly, some folks never learn to do this even when advanced in senior years. My dad has shown me to live in the moment, to find fun where we can, and give a little fun back, too.
Caring for my old dad has opened many doors showing me how to appreciate strangers and their simple kindnesses. They say you can tell a lot about a person by the way he treats animals. I think you can learn a lot about a person by the person’s interaction with the elderly. I have come to recognize the inherent goodness in strangers who smile at dad, open the door for him, kid with him, and give him the time of day. I appreciate the conviviality of these souls! To be a caregiver teaches you compassion. It’s a lesson and an ability that can’t be mastered in classes. It takes patience, selflessness, and understanding. The rewards a caregiver receives in return are more satisfying than any exotic trip, deluxe purchase, or prestigious trophy a body can be given. Taking care of an elder will awaken in you the realization of how kind most folks genuinely are to strangers in need. It’s a valuable lesson.