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.