“I love you, Bud. Thank you,” he says to me as I open the door to leave.
“Love you, too, Mac. Call me if you need me,” I reply.
When the phone rang an hour before, I was standing at the kitchen window sipping from a cup of coffee, admiring the dawning day and trying to decide whether to plant yellow crook-neck squash or zucchini.
My father-in-law, Mac, was on the other end of the line calling out Love-Weasel’s name over and over again.
“She’s not here!” I yell, knowing chances were almost 100 percent he wasn’t wearing his hearing aid and, even if he was, it was turned all the way down. Mac, well into his 90s, says the hearing aid makes him look old; not to mention, the fact he claims he’s already heard everything he needs to hear.
He calls her name some more, then mine a couple of times, and then he says he’s fallen and is on the floor and thinks he might need some help.
“Hold on, Mac!” I tell him, and then drop the phone; it not even entering my mind to call the front desk at the retirement home where he lives and have someone go to his room. I don’t know why.
Then I’m in the truck and the 10-minute drive to his place takes only five minutes. When I get there, I realize I don’t have my wallet with me — or my phone or my ever-present ball cap. I did remember to put my shoes on, though, and clutched in my hand was the key to his room.
When I barge through the door, the first thing I see is the aluminum walker on its side in the middle of the room; a few feet away is Mac, sitting on the floor, propped up against his easy chair with his legs splayed out in front of him. He’s surprised to see me.
“What are you doing here?”
“You called. Remember? Said you needed help.”
“Oh, yeah. I crawled over to the phone,” he says, holding it up to show me, kind of proud. “You didn’t have to come, though. It’s pretty comfortable down here.”
Then, he starts laughing.
Shaking my head and laughing a bit, too, I help him up and into his chair and then start firing questions at him and going through that visual inspection for injuries anyone with elderly loved ones in their lives is familiar with.
Physically, he’s fine but I can tell a little embarrassed about his body not working the way it used to work. Mac’s a big man still. He was born in the 1920s and lived through the Great Depression before joining the Navy the day after he graduated from high school. He spent WWII as a submariner in the Pacific. He walked a beat as a Detroit police officer for a few years after he returned and was then selected to become a member of an elite force of bad asses known as the United States Secret Service. Mac had a front-row seat as a witness to history during his tenure protecting the likes of Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy.
So, I doubt he ever imagined he’d one day be calling on his baby-boomer son-in-law to help him up from the floor.
As with most of his generation, self-reliance is a virtue, “being a bother” is akin to a sin and their reluctance is obvious when asking for help, even when they need it most.
A few minutes later, he’s regaling me with the tale of his great fall, describing every twist and turn of his body as he tumbled to the floor on his way out the door to breakfast and then the arduous crawl to his phone a few arm-lengths away.
“Hey,” he says, suddenly, “did I ever tell you about the time I went to India with Mrs. Kennedy?”
He had told me, probably 30 or 40 times before, but I tell him “No, I’ve never heard that one before,” and then watch as his face is flooded with the light of good memories as he speaks of those days. Another of his favorites is of how he was almost awed speechless the first time he was in the presence of Eisenhower, and how he stammered a bit when the great man asked his name, and he tells me that story again, too.
He talks for a while more about long ago and then says, “Listen, if I fall again, just leave me on the floor. I think I’m ready to go.”
I’m already shaking my head before he ends the sentence, knowing what he means, knowing that he’s tired now, but knowing, too, that though he may be ready, the rest of us are not.
“Not yet, Mac, not yet. You still have to eat breakfast.”
“OK,” he says and laughs, “but my time’s coming.Hey, you better be taking care of my heart!”
He calls Love-Weasel “my heart.”
“You know I am, Mac,” I tell him as I head for the door. “I don’t want to have to worry about you kicking my butt.”
“I love you, Bud. Thank you.”
“Love you, too, Mac. Call me if you need me.”
That cup of coffee I’d abandoned was cold when I got home, and I pour another and gaze out the window, enjoying the privilege of admiring the dawning of a new day.
A privilege Mac, and others like him, paid for a long, long time ago.
William Carter is a retired longtime Franklin city employee and published author. He may be contacted at