Friday, September 19, 2008

It's All About Family

It was well worth the hours of boring highway driving to see my 89-year-old uncle Rodger and to hear the family stories again. In many ways he is so like my father, but there are some wonderful differences.

After learning that his wife died recently, I decided to drive down and see how he was doing and take him out to lunch. It’s 170 miles each way, so that’s a lot of driving for one day for me. (I hear my friend KC, who drives by herself to Omaha, laughing at me.)

Rodger had skipped his morning coffee at the Chick-Fil-A with the guys so he would be sure to be home when I arrived. It was clear from the beginning that he was going to do most of the talking because he was not wearing his hearing aids and he simply couldn’t hear much of what I said.

He showed me boxes of his wife’s music near the front door, which I just assumed he was going to offer to me. But I soon realized that he was more interested in selling it to a paying customer.

He took me through every room of the house, pointing out all his wife’s clothes, things, and toiletries that still lay undisturbed. What a sad reminder of her. He said she kept everything, so that’s why there was so much. (It’s easy to blame her, now that she’s not around to defend herself for the piles of a lifetime that covered every surface.)

In the dining room he played the old phonograph that uses discs instead of records. Rodger is a mechanical engineer, so everything still works perfectly.

Although the house was filled with things, it was fairly clean. I asked if he had someone coming in to clean, forgetting that he doesn’t pay anyone for any services, and he said he vacuumed once a week. He also still mows his own grass and it’s not a small yard.

He showed me his Republican shrine, sporting photos of John and Cindy, W and Laura. I jokingly said, “You wouldn’t consider voting for Obama, would you?” to which he replied, “But I’ve always been a Republican.” It was hopeless, so I just accepted it and we moved on to the kitchen.

He showed me a Mason and Hamlin grand piano in the garage and asked if I wanted to play it. So I whipped out my music and played some Grieg among the tools, right next to his Mercedes.

He asked if I wanted to play the spinet back in the house. There was a big picture of Pat Robertson on the music stand. I told him I simply couldn’t play with that face staring into mine, so I turned it over and then played some Brahms.

As it got close to noon, I asked where I could take him to lunch. He said he really liked the Red Lobster, but it was pretty expensive. I said I thought I could handle it, so he actually put his hearing aids in and we went off in my car.

He got the “sailor’s special” and I had crabcakes. The best part of the meal was those greasy cheese biscuits that make you want to eat them all.

We then took a ride through downtown Hampton so he could show me a retirement home he was considering. I can’t imagine him forking out the down-payment to go to one of those places, but it would definitely be a good reason to have a huge yard sale and get rid of all those antiques he no longer needs.

By this time, I think the batteries in the hearing aids were shot because he was no longer responding, so I took him home and headed on up the road.

It was good to know I still have family and it was good to see how well he is handling being alone and old. I’ll probably go back down in a few months to check on him again.


Blogger Adrianne said...

Sounds as if you had a lovely visit (except for the Republican shrine/Pat Robertson part)! (: )

9:47 AM  
Blogger Kristin said...

Sounds like a very interesting visit. It's funny how families can be so different.

10:23 AM  
Blogger Kellyann Brown said...

I loved the photo of the piano next to the car, there has to be a story with that one!

It sounds like the guys at the Chik a file are good company for him. I have a group of good friends that eat at the same restaurant for lunch every day and during the summer, I meet them a couple of times a week. One of the guys was Duane. He was 86 and lonely since his wife died. I found him fascinating, because he had had every job known to man from bowling pin setting to electrical linesman to long-haul trucking. He read a weekly news magazine to keep up with issues, was staunchly Republican (no one's perfect) and was always talking about how to win at the slot machines in Reno. He had a great sense of humor and we could talk for hours and often did (in spite of his wearing hearing aide, like your uncle). I was sad when he decided to move 150 miles away to live with his daughter and son-in-law, but I know he's much happier now that he has constant companions.

I loved your pictures, Barbara! That's quite a fireplace insert that he has in the family room!

11:45 AM  
Blogger bulletholes said...

Good job on the Pat Robertson. She truly did save everything.
You crack me up Barb!
Hi Barb- have a Brahms bikin' Weekend!

12:16 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

I wonder what Pat Robertson would inspire one to play on the piano? "Onward Christian Soldiers"?

2:19 PM  
Blogger lettuce said...

it must be so hard to adapt - impossible to imagine

3:57 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Adrianne -- It was good to re-establish my relationship with my uncle, even if we see the world somewhat differently!

Kristin -- My uncle still seems to have a joy for living, whereas my father was just going through the motions of life after my mother died.

Kelly -- My uncle's house is sort of like an antique shop because he collected old things for so many years. He's the one who at one point owned 150 typewriters. He's down to a mere dozen or so now.

Bulletholes -- The truth is the BOTH saved everything and that amounts to a lot of stuff. But he seems to know where everything is.

Steve -- Perhaps, or "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God," my Lutheran grandmother's all-time favorite. There would have been some element of struggle for sure.

Lettuce -- If you mean hard to adapt after losing a spouse, I quite agree. Disposing of her things would probably seem like experiencing her death all over again.

5:05 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Kelly -- I did ask about how the grand piano (which they acquired in 1985) ended up in the garage. He said his wife preferred the upright in the house, but she would come out to the garage and play sometimes. There was a handwritten sign on top of the grand piano that said, "Don't put anything on top of the piano." Probably a good thing since there were many piles of "things" in the garage.

5:14 PM  
Blogger mouse (aka kimy) said...

thanks for bringing us along on the visit with uncle rodger! I bet he'll be talking about his wonderful niece for weeks during the morning coffee gathering with his buds!

thank goodness he has friends that he 'hangs' with I'm sure it's helping with his grief over the loss of his wife.

it sounds as if he's keeping active and keeping house - excellent coping skills uncle r!!

great photos...and the brahms was a good choice

5:44 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Mouse -- I would love to be a fly on the wall at the Chick-Fil-A where the guys have their free coffee every day (they all bought a mug for $15 which entitles them to a lifetime of refills). If they are all as deaf as Rodger, it would be an interesting mix of conversation.

5:50 PM  
Blogger E. said...


I loved the pictures and the fact that your uncle cares enough and still has the ability and desire to keep the place relatively picked up and clean. He also has buds and a place to show up everyday, and people who would notice if he did not. When I worked in a senior day program at an addictions hospital years ago, most of the people I saw were alone and had none of those things and most were clinically depressed. We took them on outings and did fun things with them just to remind them that life can still be worthwhile, something your uncle has apparently not lost sight of. It's too bad that we as a society don't see the positive aspects of aging and intergenerational involvement. It sounds like you had a good time, despite Pat Robertson (and good for you for putting him face down!)

3:09 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

E -- I have a lot to learn about how to deal with old people, especially those who can't hear well. But I'm anxious to learn as I slowly move into the category myself. I'm already wondering who is going to take an interest in me when I am 89!

4:27 PM  

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