As The Wife is heading back to the terminal after shepherding Elmer to the gate and onto his flight she pulls out her phone and calls sister Dale. “Tag; You’re it!”
There’s still a flurry of logistical shenanigans to come at the receiving end of the flight, involving two daughters, one granddaughter, two cars, and a mid-state hand-off, to get Elmer all the way to his destination for the day, but our part of the logistical labyrinth is almost over. All that’s left now is for me to make the white-knuckled journey from cell-phone lot to terminal, retrieve The Wife from the clutches of desperate travelers, over-smiling airline employees and grim-faced, blue-gloved TSA agents, then get ourselves out of this jittery city and back to the quietude of the property.
Oh yeah, tomorrow we also have to retrieve Elmer’s sick car from the hotel parking-lot where we left it, forlorn and sad looking with its coating of caliche dust and a handicap tag hanging crookedly from the mirror, and transfer it, with one operative headlight, completely inoperative windshield wipers, and a dash lit up like Christmas with brake, ABS and skid-control warning lights punctuated by a randomly flickering left-turn indicator, over to the second Ford dealer in a month in a last-ditch effort to see if it can be brought back from the brink. So I guess we aren’t quite as done yet as we’d like to pretend, but for tonight we’re going to pretend because it has been a hectic week.
It’s hard to say when this particular round of Move-Elmer actually started brewing. (Hey! Maybe we can turn that into a game app and make a fortune off of it!!) It could have had its origins in those two weeks Elmer was without car while the first dealer unsuccessfully attempted to banish the out-of-season Christmas-lights special in the dash, forcing him to walk more than usual or sit in his recliner and brood about the injustice of age-related infirmaries. It could have started just after the car was returned to Elmer when he fell down between the bed and wall, a narrow space, as you would expect in a travel trailer, that had him trapped for a while as he figured out how to extract himself, all of which aggravated his bum leg which was already showing signs of compromised circulation. It could even have started way back before Christmas when Elmer fell into the highly questionable waters of the Bay and ended up with a case of foot-rot that took shelves full of drugstore products to bring under control. Not banish mind you, but at least get it under control enough that people weren’t horrified when Elmer pulled off his caked and yellowed sock to display the mess. (I don’t know if they had show-and-tell in second-grade back when Elmer was working through his 8 grades of school, but he sure seems to enjoy participating in it today. . .)
Whenever it started, Elmer, who tends towards either bouncing between floor-dragging lows or zipping around on soaring highs, started spending more time in the region of the lows, driven there, and into his recliner, by decreasing mobility and increasing pain. When he did finally agree that a visit to his long-time Missouri doctor was in order (Hey, I can’t fault him since I’m also of the walk-it-off school of medicine.) things kicked into high-gear. There was a flight to be booked, (Dale to Elmer, ‘No dad, I’m not flying down there to drive you and your broken car 1200 miles to Missouri!’ Elmer couldn’t see the issue and got into a bit of a snit over that. . .) suitcases to be bought, transportation to be arraigned, and since Elmer, not knowing just how much effort and cost goes into moving the trailer, insisted that he wasn’t going to pay to leave it at the RV park on the off chance he wanted to turn around and come back in a few weeks, there were tires to be bought, (by now both the spare and one of the tires on the ground were flat due to side-wall rot) fridge to be emptied, (Dad, you are NOT going to just leave that stuff in there to rot!) clothes to be bagged and carted off, (No Dad we can’t just leave that stuff here it because it will become mouse-nest material) a slide with a rotted floor to be very carefully nursed into the retracted position, a 400 lb. porch to be disassembled and stowed, and a permit to be bought. (Elmer, who by now in this process is feeling pretty useless, which made him persnickety, in an aside to The Wife, ‘greg’s the only person I know that would mess around with that goddamn permit crap just to move this goddamn trailer to a spot behind Danny’s barn just 8 miles away!!’ Dad, the permit costs $10, the fine is $400. . .’ But that’s OK, because I often got the same sort of comments about my obsessiveness with processes and procedures from my team-members when I was working so I’m used to it. And I’m not saying there’s any direct correlation by any means, but the electrical plant at the office didn't explode until some months after I retired and wasn’t there anymore to insist [OK, nag] that all the checks and balances were kept up with. . .)
While I worked outside and The Wife worked inside, the two of us prepping the trailer for this move, we propped Elmer up against his car where he could greet the parade of visitors that were dropping in from all over town to say goodbye. While this helped distracted Elmer from his inability to help with the chores of prepping the trailer for its move and his frustration of not being in control, at this point he was feeling low enough that he was sure he’d never be healthy enough to come back again, (‘I’ll tell ya greg’, he says to me, ‘if I’da known I was going to live this long I’da waited until I was 13 to start smoking instead of starting at 5!’) so it was also pretty emotional, and guys raised in the 30’s and 40’s by tough, hardscrabble parents do not do emotional easily.
On his own initiative Elmer had arraigned what day Ike would be coming to move the trailer over to Danny’s. Since his flight wasn’t until two days later this created a logistical hole that had to be filled. Originally – and repeatedly – Elmer insisted that he could just sleep in the trailer there behind Danny’s barn and he wasn’t at all happy when we kept pointing out the impracticality of that, (no water, no power, the recliner he’s been sleeping in unusable where it’s stowed in the retracted slideout and a whole porch-system taking up any available floor space) and even less happy when he found out The Wife had booked a motel room for him a hundred miles away where it would be much easier for us to entertain him the next day and collect him the day after that for the ride to the airport.
As we watched Ike ease the packaged trailer out of the RV park and on down the road, all the while hoping the slightly rotted old girl would make it in one piece, (it did) we were left standing in front of an empty campsite with three people, one cane, two suitcases plus a carry-on, and two cars. Personally I wouldn’t have minded leaving Elmer’s wounded car parked there beside the trailer behind Danny’s barn, but there were two issues with that. Even in his current basement state-of-mind Elmer wasn’t ready to give up on that damn car yet, (When checking in for his flight The Wife said ‘Dad, show the agent your driver’s license.’ The agent, unable to help himself despite hours of expensive customer-service training, blurted out ‘He still DRIVES?!!’) and with our car stuffed full of compressors, jacks, tools, and garbage bags of Elmer’s leftover personal belongings (You don’t throw Elmer’s stuff in your car unless it’s well bagged and sealed, even after it’s been washed [well doused in vinegar, double-dosed with soap, and on a 2-hour wash cycle] let alone dirty like it was, unless you want the interior to smell like the bottom of an old ashtray!) there was no room for Elmer and his two suitcases, one carry-on, cane and assorted leftovers in our car.
This is why I ended up driving Elmer’s car, along with Elmer and his luggage, on the two-hour trip from campground to hotel-room. For the first half hour I was struggling to reach the pedals. I’m not a tall person but I’m certainly taller than Elmer so I couldn’t figure out why the damn seat was so far back, nor could I find the seat-controls and for the first part of the trip Elmer was in a ‘mood’ so I didn’t want to ask. Eventually I managed to find the damn seat controls (For some reason on the Grand Marquis the 6-way electric seat controls are not on the side of the seat where everybody else puts them, nor are they under your left hand along with the lock and mirror controls. Instead they are on the door just behind your left elbow where you can’t see them when driving.)
Getting the seat moved forward helped with the reach-the-pedals issue but did nothing for the stink. I’ve never been a smoker, so I don’t have the excuse of the reformed smoker for my sensitivity to cigarette smoke but I can sniff out a lit cigarette from a 100 yards away and the residual stink of nicotine and old ashes is enough to make me feel like I’m choking. Elmer is good about not smoking in the car when there are non-smokers there, but, short of driving with my head out the window, I have to have the driver’s and rear-passenger window down to generate a fierce cross-breeze, yet I can still feel that residual poison oozing out of every surface in the car and creeping into my lungs. And the transfer isn’t limited to air-to-lung either. After hanging onto that steering-wheel I can’t wait to give my hands a surgeon-style scrubbing.
Fortunately it didn’t rain (Remember, in addition to needing the windows down there’s no windshield wipers) and both Elmer and I survived the trip. As we’re getting him settled into his room (During which The Wife hovered and fussed to the point where Elmer finally looked at me and said ‘greg, please take your wife home so I can get some rest.') The Wife took me aside and asked how he was during the trip. She wasn’t actually asking after Elmer’s health or state-of-mind, she was asking if I was ready to choke him yet.
I have this theory that children of aging parents have this vestigial anger, or maybe frustration is a better word, no matter how far back in their sub-conscious it resides, this ‘how dare you devolve into something other than my parent’ or ‘how is it fair that I have to take care of you now’, that adds to the challenge of dealing with an aged parent that the in-laws, the wives or husbands that married into the family, don’t have to deal with. I think this is why I, definitely not a people-person, certainly not a nurturer by nature, can deal with Elmer without the stress levels The Wife experiences.
Anyway, by about the halfway point of the trip Elmer got over his ‘mood’ and was talking almost non-stop, which is normal for Elmer. True, I’ve already heard pretty much every story of his at least several times by now, but I don’t mind that so much. After all, life is not one continuous story, one constant movie-shoot. Most of our lives are – well just life, the mundane and the ordinary, it’s only once in a while, sometimes once in a great while, that our lives go from just loafing unremarkabley along to shooting forward, like a short-lived spark ejected from the fire, into something that will eventually become a ‘story’. The result is that each life creates a finite collection, a limited number, of stories, and since we measure our lives by our stories repetition is inevitable, so I don’t begrudge Elmer his stories, though sometimes I do tune him out because I already know the timing of the proper responses (Oh yeah? Hum. Wow!) but on the whole, listening to them doesn’t bother me all that much. Hell, listening to them gives me a story of my own to add to my meager collection. Now I can tell the story of how many times I had to listen to Elmer’s story!
Anyway, the next day was taken up with driving him through the hills, (No hills down there on the coast where he's been since November.) lunch, naps, and the final packing. Then it was off to the airport first thing in the morning. We stopped along the way a couple of times to let Elmer get well stocked up on nicotine and coffee because, with all his other issues at the moment, he certainly didn’t need to add withdrawals to the list!
When we got to the airport Elmer had his door open before I could get stopped. (Was it something I said??) He heaved and huffed himself out one side with his carry-on case and cane and The Wife leapt out the other while I popped the rear hatch. Elmer insisted on getting in the way of the Wife trying to extract the luggage to the point where the lowering hatch hit her on the head while she was trying to sort out luggage and Elmer, (Fortunately she had pushed the lower-button herself so that couldn’t be blamed on me!) and then they were gone.
No goodbyes or nothing. I don’t know if Elmer will be back, if I will ever see him again. Based on how he looked and felt at the time, probably not, but then again I’ve seen him bounce back before so if he does recover enough to return it won’t be a huge surprise. (A lot of work getting that damn trailer back into its slot in the campground, but not a surprise.)
In the meantime I’m doing my part in this logistical mambo by waiting in the cellphone lot.