What Papa Told Me. Yes, There’s More
“How was your vacation?” asked a friend.
“What vacation?” I said.
“Weren’t you just down in Florida?”
In the last year or so, visits to my grandfather are no longer a holiday. His mind is still sharp, but these trips have become more to “papa-sit.” He’ll be 94 in August and life has become cruel to him once again. There are moments he forgets that his body aches, that he still misses Nana or that he can’t do anything for himself. But those moments are precious and few.
“How I feel? How my enemies should feel,” Papa says.
The irony of his life is palpable. During his five years in the camps he barely had enough to eat, so when he came to America, is it any surprise he owned a grocery store? And now, even though his fridge is stocked, his taste buds have turned on him.
“I have everything,” Papa says, shaking his head. “And I can’t eat.”
He has a daily homecare aide, but on my visits I do the overnights. I have the routine down. After dinner, mostly a protein shake, he watches TV in his special chair, me at his side ready to get him water, a warm compress for his eyes or to assist him to the bathroom. Every day is a struggle, every basic human need requires help.
“Sometimes I think take me away,” Papa says. “It’s enough. It’s enough.”
At nine we check his sugar one last time before bed. These are the nice moments, quiet, another day done. One evening, the two of us were in the kitchen, him slowly eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream to raise his sugar before sleep, and me pointing out the window.
“Look Papa, there’s a full moon.”
Without turning around, Papa continues staring into his bowl of melting ice cream. “It’s looking down here, how the people are,” he says.
“And how are the people?” I ask.
We sit a little longer. Papa, squinting through eyes that are beginning to fade, scans the refrigerator of pictures of his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, his “dividends,” he calls them. I watch his expression and a hint of a smile appears. I know that smile. He’s proud.
“Without education, without college, I did it,” he says. “I did it my way.”
Yes, Papa, you certainly did.