I found this in my files this morning. The Word document says I wrote it August 18, 2006, just a year ago. I thought I would post it as a memorial to my father-in-law, Jonas Hammack, who died Wednsday, September 5, 2007. He was 92.
He shuffles toward the opposite end of the field, his upper body cantilevered over twisted lower limbs, ever veering to the right. Like an old horse with one blind eye, he steadfastly compensates for the loss of ground and ends up where he wanted to go, the irrigation ditch, where he went to close the weir.
As he bends down, I can see pale skin and bony spine between shirt and jeans. The belt has a few new notches punched in it since I saw him last. Time is taking its toll. Some in the family think he may have had a stroke because he drools now, and when he sits he slumps toward the right.
He would never go see the doctor about it unless coerced, and he sure as hell wouldn’t go in for any of “that therapy business.”
“I’m as good as I ever was, just a little slower,” He says.
There is no forcing this man to do anything he does not want to do. His jaw is jutted forward the same way it has been his whole life as he closes the weir; the sprinklers give a final spurt and then fall silent.
He is too proud to admit that he might need help.
My father-in-law grew up an orphan in North Dakota and came of age during the Great Depression. He was a CCC kid. Most people don’t even know what those letters stand for anymore, but they saved his life. He loves Franklin Roosevelt even though he has voted as a registered Republican in every election since.
Jonas worked hard all his life. Unasked for, he outlived his wife and having survived that blow fifteen years ago he is not about to go down easily. Who are we to tell this man how to live out the last years of his life? Would it really be better if he went into a “home” to rest?
The end is only the same as the rest of his existence and although he may complain about it occasionally, he accepts it. There is nothing wrong with his brains; it is simply the mechanical parts that are failing him.
I watch and am reminded that he is only thirty-five-years older than I. An eye blink in time. This is the first year I have begun to know what it feels like to be thought of as “old,” and I am much more sympathetic to his plight than in years past. I am aware, with my graying hair, that young people now view me as middle-aged or worse, old.
Recently on a trip with my adult children I was looked after as though I might get lost, or not remember the way back to the car. It made me angry. I now understand the evasive answers my own parents and my father-in-law used to give me when I asked about having someone come in to help around the house. Suggestions of incompetence I’m sure they felt were implied.
All of us know who we are. We have lived in our skins for all of our existence and even if we aren’t always comfortable with who we are, we are at least familiar with the terrain.
We must hang onto that dignity and carry ourselves to the grave fighting to retain as much of who we were as humanly possible.
All the older members of my family seem to be doing that with as much class as they can muster. I hope I can live up to their example.
There is not that much time left.