“As is the generation of leaves, so is that of humanity.
The wind scatters the leaves on the ground, but the live timber
burgeons with leaves again in the season of spring returning.
So one generation of men will grow while another dies.”
In the 3-1/2 years since my mom died, my younger brother and I share the bulk responsibility for my dad. My brother works in the Bay Area, but his home and his family are in Chico; when he is in town, my brother keeps my dad company, walks with him, brings homemade meals to him, and helps around the house.
I am my dad’s “Girl Friday,” handling the mail, taking care of the bills and finances as well as the taxes. I make appointments for him and coordinate travel arrangements. I also take walks with my dad, join him for lunch or dinner, and keep him company as much as my schedule allows.
This partnership between my brother and me has been working well for us: my dad gets the support and attention he needs and he still maintains his independence.
On his weekly commute to Chico, my brother will call me and fill me on the events of his time with our dad. We chat about things that concern us: people who may try to take advantage of him or his insistence that he won $25,000.00 in the Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. While our calls are productive, I also know it helps make my brother’s long commute home a bit more bearable.
My dad will be 82 this week, and although his health is good, he continues to become more forgetful, which leads into conversations about his memory; we know that at some point, he will require additional care.
A few weeks ago, on his way back to Chico, my brother suggested having our dad go up to Chico for a few days. My dad is very social and loves to be around people but when duck hunting season ends and fishing season is three months away, my dad has nothing to do. My parents used to travel between February and early May, and now this period of time is quiet and lonely; he misses my mom’s companionship and their adventures.
“It will be good for Dad to get away,” I told my brother.
“Yeah, I agree. We will keep him fed and busy,” my brother assured me. “Do you think you can make time to clean out the pantry and the hall closet?” he asked me.
My brother and I had been removing items that no longer served a purpose in the house; the two of us were very similar: if something’s not being used or not needed, get rid of it.
“Definitely!” I told him enthusiastically. “I’ve been meaning to do it but Dad is always home.”
My dad and my brother rolled out of the driveway at 10:30 AM last Tuesday, I rolled in at 10:45 AM.
The text banter started a few hours later; I love how my brother and I have become allies over the past few years.
Me: I filled up his recycling bin and got rid of some junk in the yard. I’ll do the hall closet tomorrow.
Bro: Thanks. (Includes a picture of my dad sleeping in the recliner).
After my dad’s last visit to my brother’s house, my brother mentioned a small hole in the carpet near the wood-burning fireplace. My dad had been shoving wood into it, and while he doesn’t have proof, my brother suspects the hole in the carpet was caused by my dad. I’ve been ribbing my brother about it for months.
Me: “Is that a hole in the carpet??”
Bro: “Really funny”
Me: “Yeah, I thought so”
Later that evening, my phone dings. My brother texted a picture of my dad sleeping on the sofa. “He’s testing all the seats in the house to see where he sleeps the best. We fed him a big home-cooked meal. He’s happy as a clam.”
The next day, I went back to the house to clean out the pantry and the freezer. I discovered a box of microwave popcorn with a 13NOV12 expiration date. I snap a pic and text it to my brother along with “Ugh.”
“No surprise” is the reply.
I respond with “Is Dad napping?”
I am instantly rewarded with a picture of my dad, fast asleep in the recliner. “Yep. Zoom in,” my brother texted.
“I can still see the hole,” I send back.
“He said he won’t move up to Chico. Said he wants to stay in Burlingame. He figured he can live with you since Kev will be going away to school,” my brother responds.
“Ha!” I reply.
We exchange similar texts over the next few days; my brother tells me how he’s keeping my dad entertained, I tell him I’ve cleaned out the hall closet, parts of the garage, the freezer, and the pantry.
I am surprised about some of the things I find. In the hall closet, a new package of adult disposable undergarments in size small, purchased for my mom, when she was home with hospice. In the garage, broken pieces of garden pottery that will never be repaired. And in the freezer: Kirkland butter – four packages, each package containing four one-pound boxes of butter – for a total of sixteen pounds of butter. Sixteen pounds!!
My dad is from the Silent Generation, a generation that tends to be thrifty and always looking for ways to get their money’s worth. Many people from this generation hold on to items – regardless of the quality, quantity, or cost – just to avoid being wasteful. The butter, the packages of paper napkins – over 3,000 paper napkins still in their plastic wrap on the bottom shelf of the pantry – and over 6,000 ft of plastic wrap – Costco checked the “frugal” box of my dad’s generation.
As I emptied and cleaned, I was grateful my brother had invited my dad to stay with him and his family for a few days: my dad’s generation also relies on human interaction for daily entertainment, valuing their relationships with others; recognizing this, I realized how much more of an impact it had on him as a widower. After my mom died, it didn’t take long for me to really see how much my dad had relied on my mom – she handled all the cooking, the cleaning, the shopping, and the household finances – the traditional gender roles of their generations – my dad was lost and wasn’t quite sure what to do.
As I cleared out some of my mom’s clothes and folded them for donation, I thought about my own generation, Gen-X, how different it is from my parent’s: we are more independent, resourceful, and self-sufficient; we are more adept to collaboration and focused on tasks and results.
Loading donation bags into the back of my car, it dawned on me that while my parent’s generation is vastly different from my own, the work that my brother and I were doing together to help my dad allowed us to bridge the generation gap.
Before backing out of the driveway, my phone dings. “He lasted a long time without a nap” my the text says with a current picture of my dad asleep in the chair. I’m tempted to send a picture of sixteen (sixteen!) pounds of butter in the freezer, but I don’t. Instead, I appreciate these moments of cementing the sibling relationship with my brother, and tell myself “Mom would be proud.”