Mon 24 May 2010
it ought to be perfect.
there are steel rails installed, by the toilet and the shower. the LaZBoy throne has been replaced by a marvel which – at the touch of a button – deposits him from its egg-carton-cushy-foam seat onto his feet, and gently. there is a hospital bed in the master bedroom. nurses come daily, to take his blood pressure, check for bedsores, make sure he is nourished and cleaned and supported.
my grandfather is home. after almost four months of hospitalization and convalescent wards, he has come home well enough to stay.
he ensconced himself on the fancy new recliner and with an ancient Zippo, lid aflame like an Olympic torch, lit up the cigar that he kept in his bedside drawer the entire time he was gone.
and then he asked for the keys to the truck.
during the long days of January and February, when he lay in bed, one arm swollen to the size of a football, and his skin and circulation breaking down faster even than his heart appeared to be, he was confused a lot of the time.
i would visit, and he’d ask how my father was, even though my father was there every day. he asked his own room number over and over again. he seemed unable, a great deal of the time, to hold his moorings: the day-to-day that had been his life for years appeared to slip from him. we did not talk about his house or his job.
what we talked about was the Lysander.
my grandfather, a farm boy from PEI, was a British agent from 1939-1949. he spent WWII and the early years of the Cold War between Camp X and Bletchley Park and occupied Europe, with homebase in NYC.
he spent half his war in planes.
in lumbering matte-black Lysanders, unmarked, navigating by moonlight, they flew perched on trunks of plastic explosive. they smoked as they flew. they made their way over enemy territory, readying themselves to parachute behind lines to Tito’s resistance, to the Free French.
the Lysander was an ungainly thing, but it could take off on ten feet of runway or less, a hulk of engines and fabric rising into the sky like a fat bird. during WWII, its main role was with intelligence, dropping agents and doing photo reconnaissance. it was no good for bombs, too slow for fighting. but it was steady, reliable. it could be flown by any agent who made it alive to the pre-agreed point of takeoff. and a Lysander brought my grandfather home safely.
in June, an airshow on PEI will feature a reconstructed Lysander, air-ready. before the heart attack in January, my grandfather was contacted by the organizers. would he like to fly in the plane? he would.
he thought, i think, that he’d like to fly the plane again.
and so all through the confused days of the winter it was the Lysander we returned to. he did not worry – aloud – that he would not make it to see the plane, but rather that he would not be able to climb in. that he would not be well enough to go up in her.
mostly, though, he told me that he could fly her.
he last flew a plane only three years ago, with his equally octegenarian buddy. the event made me wonder if i ought to warn the whole of Prince Edward Island to take to their basements while the cast of Grumpy Old Men ruled the skies.
but it is different now. for the first time in his life, his body has failed him, showed its vulnerability. he knows he will not fly the Lysander, ever again. and he curses being old.
there is a service that brings meals, as do i, and my stepmother. but the restaurant he ate at daily for 21 years – the one that burnt last spring – has reopened. my father brought him back the first time, while he was still on the convalescent ward, frail but triumphal. he was welcomed like a prodigal.
the diner is down the road from his house. and he drives. when we arranged last week to meet there for supper, he said, “i’ll meet you there!”
i balked. we can pick you up! i chirped. we have extra seats in the new car!
“oh, i’m good.” his tone brooked no argument. “i drive down most nights.”
he is perhaps no more dangerous a driver than i. i do not know. i know the idea of him behind the wheel still makes me terribly nervous, Cassandra attuned to all the doom the horizon can hold. it is not him i fear for. it is the someone else the candy apple truck could run into: the lives – theirs, his, all of ours – that such a tragedy would eat away at. if he is no longer independent, then we are all complicit.
this week, he will take his provincial driving test again, for the first time in seven decades. they have endowed family doctors with the capacity to order driving tests for seniors, finally. after having watched the fierce struggle between my mother and my grandmother fifteen years ago, when it became clear that at eighty-nine, the latter was no longer safe to commandeer her Datsun through the streets of Charlottetown, i am grateful that my father does not have to fight the same battle with his father.
but i fight it in myself.
i fear he will ace the test, come home with a bright, shiny license and no place for any of us to stand and caution. and i fear what will happen to him if he does not. i grieve the idea of him trapped in his house, waiting for others to wait on him.
he is ninety. he will never fly his Lysander again.
i know there is no such thing as perfect. and still, i feel cold and cruel for wanting to take his truck too.