Karin Fuller: Popeye without Olive Oyl
This morning, when I drove down the road toward the physical rehabilitation center where my father’s now staying, I wondered if it would be the first drive of many, or one of few. He’d been a week in the hospital following a fall, triggered from weakness caused by infection. He’d broken no bones, but was left depleted. Diminished.
A week earlier, he’d been riding his tractor. Arguing politics. To see him horizontal hurts my heart.
My father is the ultimate tough guy. Six weeks following bypass surgery, he constructed a massive 700-block wall. Six weeks after hip replacement, he was walking unassisted. But logic dictates that at some point he won’t bounce all the way back.
What seems to be hurting him most isn’t his scraped-up side, bruised back or wounded pride. It’s being away from my mom. My parents celebrated their 60th anniversary this past May. The two of them are as perfect of a fit as it gets. To see one without the other is unnatural. Wrong.
Tom without Jerry.
Chip without Dale.
Popeye without Olive Oyl.
One day last week, when I went to the hospital to visit Dad, Mom wasn’t feeling so well and stayed home.
She’s tethered to oxygen all the time these days and traveling with a portable compressor makes her anxious, although it’s being exposed to germs at the hospital she fears most.
With her lungs, a simple cold could be fatal. Dad understands her hesitance.
“It’s hard being away from your mother,” he said when he saw me walk in his room all alone. “Such a beautiful woman ”
Dad’s not really one to drop compliments. He’s a gruff Ed Asner type. A teddy bear that growls more than coos. When he started waxing poetic about Mom, I took notes. And by notes, I mean on paper, with pen.
He talked about how nice her skin is and how she’s so much prettier than other women her age; how her hair is still soft and young. (She has yet to get her first gray.) But it was this next bit from Dad that I believe is one of the most romantic things I’ve ever heard a man say.
“When you get to be our age,” Dad said, “you never know when it’s going to be your time. You can be fine one day and ” He gestured down at his hospital bed. “I need to get out of here. I need to get home to your mother. We’ve been married a long time, but I’m not finished being with her yet.”
Sometimes I think people from their generation knew how to love better. Their marriages seemed to last while future generations floundered.
These days, when something breaks, few try to fix whatever is wrong. It’s tossed aside for something new, with perkier bells and shinier whistles. But the survived-the-Depression generation darned their socks as if they might not ever get another pair.
They understood that when a bone breaks and reknits, the place of the break becomes stronger than the rest of the bone. When skin scars as it heals, the scar tissue is tougher.
I’m good at self-deception, but suspect I know how this story might end. If I was allowed to write it myself, the inevitable would happen at the same time, in their sleep. To picture one without the other is one of the biggest wrongs I can conjure.
To have witnessed a marriage like theirs from the front row, where I’ve been all my life, has been both a gift and a curse. Others might stop believing in Santa, but I know he can be real.
Karin Fuller can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.