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Butch & Twig

By Tom "napping heir apparent" Waters
April 1st , 2006

By five o'clock, he's either picking up dinner on sale from a drive through or re-heating sauce or leftovers on the stove. Then he watches the news and the weather channel. Two more hours in front of the computer and it's time for bed during the witching hour of 7 or 8 pm. It's a nonstop rollercoaster ride of swash buckling action and adventure for my father, but somehow he manages.

It's difficult to think of your parents as old, or getting older, but it's an inevitable fact of life. People age. They're infants, they're kids, they're adults, they're senior citizens, they're worm food. My parents have been retired for four years now and they've fallen into every cliche in the book. And they can't get up. My big brother is having a hard time accepting it, but time marches on and so do the wrinkles, liver spots and rampant sagging. They seem happy, and they're enjoying their golden years in style spending every last penny of my inheritance (a fact I don't neglect to point out to them whenever I see them). I wrote a tirade once about old people after my grandfather passed away and before my folks hung up the time card and traded it in for a napping spot on the couch. Now I'm not so opposed to old folks because they belong to that demographic.

I also wrote about how old people should be shipped off to Florida at the age of 65. Guess what? My folks bought a home in Florida where, like a lot of the couples who live in Buffalo, they live for the winter. My mom and dad went down there to visit his side of the family three years ago and my brother Joe warned Butch (my father) not to buy anything. He came back with double prints of a double wide trailer with thirty different angles of something called a Florida Room. I envisioned a room with a shuffle board spread, oranges, prescription pills, bifocals and flesh colored ankle socks. I wasn't that far off. Ninety percent of my father's side of the family are colonized down there in a retirement community. They cook together, eat together, shop together and they all travel down in one big, white haired caravan every year.

It gives my mom a second neighborhood to get dirt on in the midst of her gossiping duties, and it gives my father a chance to be happy without working non stop, which is what he does when he's up here. They have the time of their lives down there, and then they come back to town for the best of the weather (which isn't saying much) and get caught up on prescriptions, appointments and lunches. I told them that they should have a crack team of eye doctors, blood doctors, heart doctors, dentists, lady doctors and blood sugar doctors waiting on the tarmac upon their arrival back to the Queen City. It takes them two months worth of appointments before they can clear their schedule and begin receiving immediate family at the house. This is one of the things that comes with retirement: a set of ailments and a laundry list of prescription drugs. They pop more pills a day than Keith Richards and Judy Garland on New Year's.

My dad, settling nicely into the role of cranky old man, likes to nap, putter and run errands. Old men putter. It's what they're good at. Butch can make an entire day out of fixing a hinge, changing a tire or mowing the lawn. When you're faced with twenty plus years of unstructured free time, you need something to count out the hours occasionally or you go senile at the speed of light (although they're doing a good job at that, too). This is a typical day: he gets up at the crack of 10 pm and wanders around in his underwear rinsing his dentures and preparing fruit juice and coffee. Then he sits in front of his computer (a new hobby which amuses us all to no end, since he's as tech savvy as a Tibetan monk) and trades chain forwards and bad jokes online with his 8 brothers and sisters. This is all accomplished just in time for the first nap of the day before noon. Then he spends his afternoon driving around shopping at bargain warehouse grocery stores and taking in health appointments. He's got diabetes and heart issues, so there are a lot of tests and diagnostics to run. Around three or four, he's ready for another nap on the couch. That couch gets a lot of mileage, and it used to belong to my grandfather. I suspect that he cast a napping spell on the couch, as I tend to conk out into a two hour coma when I visit my parents there once a week. By five o'clock, he's either picking up dinner on sale from a drive through or re-heating sauce or leftovers on the stove. Then he watches the news and the weather channel. It's mandatory for old people to watch the weather channel, and he doesn't want to make waves. Two more hours in front of the computer and it's time for bed during the witching hour of 7 or 8 pm. It's a nonstop rollercoaster ride of swash buckling action and adventure for my father, but somehow he manages.

My mom tends to rise later than my dad, and even when she does come downstairs, it's a false start. After getting out of bed at 10:30, she collapses on the couch for morning prayers with the cordless phone nestled into her blankets and her collection of tissues. She has a lot of tissues wherever she's sitting, for nose-blowing, tear drying, coughing, food wiping and other purposes. Tissues just spring up around her wherever she sits or lays. By noon on a weekday she's going to lunch in some bumpkin town with her rag tag band of equally retired female friends. They've been to lunch at every restaurant, bodega and greasy spoon in a hundred mile radius. She's got a very busy lunching schedule. This is all done just in time for an eye appointment, tooth appointment or a visit with the crotch doc. In the evenings, she catches up on the daily paper reading issues as current as two weeks prior and watching wholesome syndicated television programs starring Andy Griffith, Dick Van Dyke or a non-threatening but slightly attractive female lead in her mid forties battling modern problems with reactionary values. Two to three times a week she's out at night for social functions like prayer meetings, cocktails with said ladies or the occasional movie with her constantly ailing friend Mrs.Brewster. Amid all this she finds the time to talk on the phone seven hours a day keeping up with gossip; who's kids did what, who's kids are better than her kids, who's had babies, who's dropped dead, and who just bought or sold a house and for how much. She's got her ear to the rail on every family from here to Hoboken. She also takes in walks, which is a once a day or once a week event depending on the season and the beauty of the foliage.

I try to see my folks every Tuesday without fail, but it's tough sometimes. I've been out of the house for five years now and like to touch base and make sure they're all right. That I clean out their refrigerator and steal household items while I'm at the house is neither here nor there. All the brothers run off with what isn't nailed down. That's also a part of life. Bath towels, shampoo, Tupperware, and leftovers. I used to have to sneak off with detergent and silverware, but now they push it on me, which is an unexpected turn of events. I never leave the house without two plastic bags of home cooked food, light bulbs or cutlery. My mom is constantly trying to unload my personal effects on me, but I leave them there out of some psychological need to keep my childhood in the house. They're planning on selling the house and staying at our cottage during the summer, though, so I might have to start taxiing items back and forth.

My folks bicker and argue but it's more an entertaining means to pass the time for them now than anything else. Five hours after the dishes are clean, my father will mumble "Dishes are done, Twig!" from the farthest possible distance in the house and my mom will ruffle her newspapers like a Japanese fan and holler back that she can't hear a damned word he's saying. It's cute how old married couples argue, because they've got no bark and no bite and they're well aware of it. These are their golden years, and they're enjoying them together between short and well mannered arguments. I love my parents to death, and I've come to look at them as adults and people now that I'm out of the house. I respect and adore them for the people they've been, the people they are, and the old folks they're turning into. Even though my mom calls me by the name of a family cat that's been dead for a decade and my father gives me forty five minute tutorials on checking for air in my car tires. This is what parents do. This is what old people do. And I wouldn't miss it for anything.


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