Sunday, July 16, 2017

Count Your Change

The only thing my elderly father enjoys more than shopping with my wife at one of those members-only warehouse stores is sticking his nose into other people's business. Recently, he got to do both.
     We were in line to pay for our too much of everything, and my father was looking at his box of corn dogs. He was in the mood for ONE, so, of course, my wife insisted on buying him a carton of 42.
     When my dad finally put it down, he looked up and saw the customer standing in front of us, who was very tall.
     "Dang, you're a big one," my father told him, stating the obvious. "How tall are you gonna be when you reach your full growth?"
     "I'm six-ten" the man answered. He was polite, but obviously tired of continuously being singled out.
     "Wow!" our eavesdropping cashier chimed in. "I'M four-eleven, and you're TWICE as tall as I am."
     My father took this in, and then leaned forward and confidentially told the man, "You better count your change."
 
 
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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Big Tree

I’m driving my father to visit an old military friend a few cities away. On our way there he decides he wants to visit some family members who live somewhere in between, so I make a little detour to accommodate him.
    "You’re lost," my father informs me.
    I sigh and say nothing. Between you and me, I'm exactly where I’m supposed to be.
    "I’m serious. You’re lost," he continues, as his eyes start to bug out. “This isn’t the right street.”
    One funny thing I've noticed about my father is that his eyes tend to bug out when he thinks I'm lost. Another funny thing is his eyes tend to bug out in direct proportion to how lost he thinks I am.
    But I’m not lost.
    And I’ve got my GPS to prove it.
    Reluctantly, I tell him this. I say reluctantly, because my father is old school. He doesn't understand how a GPS works, so he doesn't trust it. I don't understand how it works either, for that matter, but I don’t care how it works. I only care that it work.
    "How does it know where we’re going?" he asks me.
    I say something about satellites and car positioning, but, since I don't really know what I’m talking about, the fault is probably mine that he doesn't understand. I have the same lack of comprehension when it comes to how airplanes fly. I understand in theory the concept of "lift" and "thrust," but what I don't get is how a metal tube that can weigh hundreds of tons is able to get off the ground and stay in the air.
    In a related side note, my first mother-in-law didn't believe we landed on the moon, because "there isn't an electrical cord that long," she insisted back in 1969. You probably think I'm making that up, but it's true. I'm not saying the mother of my first wife was the dimmest bulb in the pack, but it used to take her an hour to cook Minute Rice. Once, she asked me what came after “X.” I told her “Y,” and she said, “Because I want to know.” I heard she died in a tragic bank robbery gone wrong. When the crooks told everybody to “Get Down!” she misunderstood, and started dancing.
    But I digress...
    "...and that's how the GPS works, dad."
    "Yeah, but how does it know?"
    "Just humor him," was the advice my lovely wife gave me before we left, so I do.
    "I'll check my map the next time we stop," I tell him. A map he understands, so he says nothing for awhile. As long as he thinks I'm going to do something, it's almost as good as my doing it. It appeases him for awhile. Buys me time.
    But not a whole lot.
    "I don't recognize any of these houses," he says. "I know the house. There's a big tree in the front yard."
    "Hey, what's that?" I say, pointing to nothing in particular. I'm just trying to distract him, but he doesn't fall for it.
    Fool me once, I guess.
    I slow down--going slower sometimes calms him down--but, trust me, I know where I'm at. I’m on the right street, heading in the right direction. Still, he continues to look out the window.
    "Nothing looks familiar," he says.
    Sadly, nothing ever does.
    I can see the house just down the block. I slow down even more, hoping he recognizes it.
    "Isn't that it, dad?" I say, pointing.
    "That’s not it," he says. "The house we're looking for has a big tree out front. That tree's not so big."
    "Dad, I think that's the house."
    "Can't be. The tree..."
    "I don't know, the tree looks pretty big to me."
    "I don't think so."
    "I think it is," I say, and come to a stop. "Look familiar?"
    My father shakes his head.
    "I don't think so, son. I know the house, and this is not it."
   I tell him, "Let me check the address," and pretend to look at the map.
    My father takes a good, hard look at the house.
    "Hmm...  ahh...  well..." he says. "I guess it could be the house. Yeah, I'm starting to recognize it. See how big the tree is? I told you it was big."
    We've been parked in front long enough for his niece to come out to see if we're okay.
    "We were worried," she tells us. "Did you get lost?"
    It must run in the family.
    We step out of the car to greet her. The rest of the family come out. Hugs and hellos are passed around like slices of watermelon at a Fourth of July picnic. As everybody makes their way back toward the house, I can hear my father say: "Yeah, I knew this was the house because I recognized that big tree in the front. That's what I kept telling my son, look for the tree, it's big, but he didn't believe me. Yep, I knew this was the house."
    As I tag along behind them, I look up and down the street.
    Every house on this block has a big tree in their front yard.
 
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Sunday, June 25, 2017

Where There's Smoke...

Reluctantly, my lovely wife and I had to leave my father alone for more than a few minutes one morning. We don't usually like to do that, but some things can't be helped.
     "I'll be fine," he assured us, waving us off, "I'll be fine."
     Hmm, I though to myself, I wonder what he's up to? I'm not saying my father's as much trouble as the average toddler or teen.
     I'm saying he's more.
     Fortunately, our house was still standing when we got back home, and we found my father sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of hot tea.
     "How did it go, Dad?" I asked him, cautiously taking a look around. Everything seemed okay.
     "It went fine," he told me.
     "That's good," I said, letting myself relax a bit.
     "Except for the fire alarm."
     "Fire alarm!" I sputtered. "What ABOUT the fire alarm?"
     "It went off."
     "It went off?"
     "Yeah."
     My wife decided this would be a good time to leave. "He's YOUR problem," her rapidly exiting back was telling me.
     "Why did it go off?"
    "The kitchen," he answered, as if that would explain everything.
     "What about the kitchen?"
     "It was full of smoke."
     "Why was the kitchen full of smoke?"
     "I burnt the toast."
     "You burnt the toast?"
     "Yeah."
     Getting information from my father was like pulling teeth.
     "Then what did you do?"
     "I stopped the alarm."
     "How did you stop the alarm?"
     "I got rid of the smoke,"
     "How did you get rid of  the smoke?"
     "I ate the toast."
 
 
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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Hmm... Smokers

Whenever I'm asked if I smoke, I answer, "Only for the first 18 years of my life."
     My father was a smoker, you see, and the amount of second-hand smoke I inhaled could have choked a horse, assuming that horse was a non-smoker.
     When I was about 10, my father was out of cigarettes and drove me to the store to buy him some. You could do that in those days.
     The problem was, it was POURING. It was raining so hard when I looked to the other side of the street I saw animals lining up two by two.
     So we get in the car, pull out of the carport, and my father drives to the nearest convenience store. I get out and immediately get soaked.
     Umbrella?
     My father didn't believe in wasting money on things you rarely used. If he bought me an umbrella, what would he have to buy me next, a personal lightning rod?
     Before I could run off, he opened his window a bit and called out. I had to double back in the rain to hear what he had to say.
     "Be sure to put the cigarettes UNDER your shirt," he said, showing me how.
     He couldn't have told me that while I was still in the car?
     I shook myself off as best I could when I entered the store, and gave the clerk my order.
     "Buying cigarettes for your dad?" he asked, handing over a pack of Marlboros, unfiltered.
     "What makes you think they're for my father?" I said, handing over a dollar and waiting for my change.
     "Because," he said, "your mother never would have sent you out in weather like this."

   
 
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Sunday, June 11, 2017

Well, That's ONE Way To Do It

Reluctantly, my lovely wife and I had to leave my father alone for more than a few minutes one morning. We don't usually like to do that, but some things can't be helped.
     "I'll be fine," he assured us, waving us off, "I'll be fine."
     Hmm, I though to myself, I wonder what he's up to? I'm not saying my father's as much trouble as the average toddler or teen.
     I'm saying he's more.
     Fortunately, our house was still standing when we got back home, and we found my father sitting at the kitchen table, drinking a cup of hot tea.
     "How did it go, Dad?" I asked him, cautiously taking a look around. Everything seemed okay.
     "It went fine," he told me.
     "That's good," I said, letting myself relax a bit.
     "Except for the fire alarm."
     "Fire alarm!" I sputtered. "What ABOUT the fire alarm?"
     "It went off."
     "It went off?"
     "Yeah."
     My wife decided this would be a good time to leave. "He's YOUR problem," her rapidly exiting back was telling me.
     "Why did it go off?"
    "The kitchen," he answered, as if that would explain everything.
     "What about the kitchen?"
     "It was full of smoke."
     "Why was the kitchen full of smoke?"
     "I burnt the toast."
     "You burnt the toast?"
     "Yeah."
     Getting information from my father was like pulling teeth.
     "Then what did you do?"
     "I stopped the alarm."
     "How did you stop the alarm?"
     "I got rid of the smoke,"
     "How did you get rid of  the smoke?"
     "I ate the toast."
   
   
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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Out Of The Kindness Of My Heart

My father likes honey in his tea.
    This morning, out of the kindness of my heart, I went to a farmer's market and bought him some raw honey, straight from the beehive. I even bought him a flavor my wife assured me he liked, Orange Blossom. I didn't know honey came in different flavors, but that's neither here nor there. Well, that's not quite true. The honey's here and my money's there.
    Later, as my wife was making his tea, she told him how I went out of my way just so he could have a local honey to sweeten it with. My father insists local honey is good for his allergies. I don’t suffer from any, so I wouldn’t know about that, but if HE thinks it does...
    "You'll like it, dad," I told him. "The guy I bought it from harvests the honey himself."
    The honey contains no extra ingredients, and it's not cheap. I told him that, except for the "it's not cheap" part.
    My father picked up the jar and looked at it with interest. I wondered what he was looking at. Was he appreciating its dark, rich color? This raw honey is not the clear, amber color you get in mass-marketed brands. Was he fascinated by the honeycomb the harvester includes? It's a pretty cool thing to look at. Kind of like the worm in a bottle of mescal.
    "So,” my father finally grumped, “you couldn't find anything smaller?"
    On the surface, that might sound ungrateful, even rude, but it’s not. Not really. You see, it's not that my father is ungrateful, it's just that he expresses his gratitude with ingratitude. For some reason, it just doesn't occur to my father to be grateful, and when he tries to say something nice about something you've given him or done for him, it comes out, ahem, not so nice.
    Back when my beloved mother was still alive, my wife and I took my parents on an ocean cruise to Mexico. They had never been on a cruise before. Well, my father had, but it was to the Phillipines during World War Two, so that one doesn’t count. It cost us a pretty penny, true, but that was one way to pay them back for all those peanut butter sandwiches my mother used to feed me and my hungry friends back when we were kids.
    As we were walking along the beach in Ensenada, my father looked out over the ocean, took a deep breath of that salty sea air, and said, "You know, I've been to beaches nicer than this one."
    "Honey!" my mother exclaimed, in her I-can't-believe-you-just-said-that voice.
    Criticizing the beach we were on was my father's way of telling me how nice he thought it was. Does that make sense?
    Yeah, I didn't think so either.
    One thing I've learned about my elderly father since he's started living with us, I've learned he likes to have a salad along with his dinner. He especially likes carrots in his salad.
    Unfortunately, we were out of carrots one day. All we had was a bag of those miniature ones. Baby carrots, I think they're called. Personally, I like them. They make for a bite-sized snack without any of the hard work. My dog likes them, too. He’s not particular. All they are, are regular carrots that have a few bumps or bruises on them and can't be sold, not even to Walmart, so the PT Barnum Carrot Company shaves them down to a smaller size and repackages them. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. Carrots are carrots, for gosh sakes.
    So my wife made my father his salad, topped it off with the babies, and set it down in front of him. He looked at them as if he'd never seen a carrot before in his life. He picked one up. Examined it, leaning it this way, then that. Lifted it to his nose. Smelled it.
    Sniff, sniff.
    "Well," he declared, “I don't like these carrots. I don’t like them at all.”
    “Why not, dad?” I asked him.
    “They just don't taste right."
    I couldn't help but notice he had made that last declaration without tasting them first.
    "That's the problem with growing them this small,” he continued, “they don't taste as good as the larger ones."
    My wife and I looked at each other over the salads we were eating. I tried one of the offending carrots. It tasted just like it was supposed to. Pretty good, in fact.
    "Good salad, sweetie," I told my wife. "Thanks."
     That was my way of apologizing for not being an orphan.
    "You're welcome," she answered.
     That was her way of apologizing for running out of carrots.
    Meanwhile, my father didn't hear a word we said. He was still looking at the carrots as if they were what our dog leaves in the backyard for us to pick up in the morning.
     That's our dog's way of telling us he has nothing to apologize about.
    "Well, I'm not going to eat them," my father announced to no one in particular. Then he looked toward my wife. "You should buy the regular carrots," he told her.
    "Yes, dad," my saintly wife told him.
    I thought about explaining to him how baby carrots are made. And then I thought about telling him he should be more appreciative of my wife’s efforts.
    And then I finished my salad.
 
The Duchene Brothers both enjoy carrots, baby and otherwise, and keep a healthy supply of them at RaisingMyFather.BlogSpot.com, or JimDuchene.BlogSpot.com, and @JimDuchene. Broccoli, on the other hand...
 
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Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Story for Memorial Day

I have a low tolerance for bullshit.
     I got it from my father.
     When he was in the Army during World War Two, he was always bouncing back and forth between ranks because when he was asked for his opinion, he gave it. Sometimes when he wasn't asked, too. My father, you see, judged a man by his intelligence and abilities, not his title.
     One time, an officer made the mistake of introducing himself to my father as he was working on the engine of a jeep.
     "I'm your new C.O.," the officer told him. "What needs to be done around here?"
     The officer was obviously talking about the bigger picture of things that needed to be done, but my father was more practical.
     "Well," my father said, wiping his forehead with the back of one hand and leaving a greasy streak, "this workspace needs to be swept out. Why don't you grab that broom over there and put it to work?"
     Offended, the officer stood to his full height and bellowed out in his Army-issued officer's voice.
     "Sergeant," he said, "in case your eyesight is failing you, I am a colonel in the United Stares Army and a graduate of West Point."
     "Oh," my father said, cleaning his hands with a dirty rag. "In that case, I'd better show you how."
  
  
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