Where's Harold?

If I wait until I have time to write I'll not post again for days, so I'm dashing off a post while waiting for the raspberry sherbet to coalesce. I just made a pot of grits for the grandchildren -- four of them -- because they were still hungry after a healthy meal of peas, green beans, artichokes and elk sausage. I'm not trying to make them turn green; some of them like peas and some green beans. The elk sausage disappeared fast. I got drawn for elk this year. I told my daughter. She was appalled.

"You're going to kill an elk?" she asked. And then she went into a routine:

"Hey, where's Harold?"

"He was murdered. An act of random violence by some maniac."

I'm not sure it makes sense myself. In the past month I've had meat only twice. I had an elk steak one night, with a glass of red wine ... just thinking about it causes me to get sexually excited. The other time was on Thursday when Linda and I went to Tempe for a spring training game between the Angels and the Rockies. We sat on the top at a patio lunch hosted by Chase Bank, which was a business lunch for Linda. I watched the game and collected swag. I also had a hamburger, even though I had sworn off factory farmed meat.

It made me slightly ill but that's because my mind listens to what I say I'm going to do, or not going to do, and I find that it's hard to break my will once it's set. So I have to be very careful when I say I'm going to stop doing something. It was just a warning shot over the bow. Once when I was a newspaper reporter a public relations man from Standard Oil took me and my wife to dinner in Paradise Valley, at an expensive restaurant, and I let him buy me a steak.

An hour later I had to throw it up. It made me sick to take something from a PR man who wanted to influence what I was writing.

I have to be careful when I make a promise to my Self. Ah ... Kierra just brought me homemade raspberry ice milk. She and Derrick are the children of Linda's son and his wife.

Brad and Cody are brothers, and adopted grandchildren. We think of them as family. We actually think of quite a few people as being our children or grandchildren.

People say, "Cody is a funny kid." They don't quite get him. He says unexpected things. "Cody?" Kierra asks, "Do you want to drink out of a cup that looks like it has water in it?" (It is a cup with liquid inside the plastic.)

"No," he says, without missing a beat. "How would I know if I spilled?"

He and Kierra like each other because they're both really smart, and charming, at seven.

The two older ones are boys at the gates of puberty. They are on the cusp of bad skin and ungodly appetite.

Linda and I find it's easier to have four than two, because they keep each other occupied. Earlier in the day we went to Camp Verde to visit my parents. Dad is 90, and he wanted to take his old blue Nissan pickup out to haul some junk to the dump. When I say old, I mean old. I think it's a 78 but I'm not sure. It's one of those really small Japanese pickups that we expect him to get rid of every year. But he never does. He has to prime to carburetor to start it, it has no power steering, and it is generally not the vehicle of choice for a 90 year old man.

"I'm getting a new carburetor on it and I'm going to have it repainted," he said, as I accelerated onto the highway. I have to admit that when it's at speed it runs pretty good, though it hits on three cylinders at low rpm. But that's why it needs a carburetor.

I know dad pretty well in one respect: he has no particular interest in status. Before he quit smoking he smoked the same pipe for years and years, and he would never wear Levis. He wore light brown workman's pants and white t-shirts. In some ways he reminds me of the old men in some African tribes, whose spirituality takes over past mid-life, and they lose their taste for materiality. I am thinking specifically of scenes related by Malidoma Patrice Some in, "Of Water and the Spirit"

Mother moves around in a wheelchair most of the time, though she can walk a bit on a walker. They sometimes start trading verbal punches, arguing about which of them is meaner. I think it's a toss-up. I guess a dose of meanness is necessary if you're going to accommodate old age.

Sometimes I look at this old man and wonder how he made it to 90, after two heart attacks, either of which might have killed him. Once he was close to death and he saw his mother. She was wearing a blue dress. He hadn't been able to go back to Tennessee for her funeral when she died. He called his sister and asked what color dress they buried her in, and she told him it was blue.

He isn't interested in the logic of the situation. He knows she was there in the room with him. After that he seemed to change some. He is no fan of death and he has a burning desire to keep living. He still looks after his acre of land and just got a new German Shepherd. He looks after his wife, bathes her and cooks for her and fights with her.

I don't give him more help than he asks for, and he doesn't ask for a lot. I haul off the garbage, change light bulbs in ceiling lights, and do any heavy lifting. He still works in his wood shop. Today I saw a black walnut table top. He does beautiful work.

He bullies mother into going to physical therapy three times a week. She's rather stay home and watch her programs on television. But she gets dressed and makes it down the ramp and into the car, and they drive to Cottonwood, a half hour away, and do their exercises under hospital supervision. When they're home he keeps his pistol loaded in case anybody comes onto his property.

It brings back a memory of when I was in my early twenties, and my college roommate and I drove up to help him build the fence around the property. We went out drinking and ended up at two with noplace to go, so we parked in the yard to get some sleep in Larry's car. Dad didn't know that car. The front door opened and there he was, with his pistol in his hand. "What do you boys want?"

"Throw out your wallet," I said, and we were drunk enough we thought that was hilarious.

"Is that you boy?"

Now I'm older than he was then, and I have an easy tolerance for the children, who are at this moment chortling with laughter, their little bellies full and their voices rich with energy.

Posted: Sat - March 29, 2008 at 09:29 PM