My father bought a house a few months ago in the town where he was born. He still has quite a lot of family here; his mother and her two sisters (cancer survivors, all) and countless cousins, and then the people who remember Dad from when he was a kid.
On Monday, I took Dad to get a much-needed haircut. We went to a barber shop that is only twenty years old, but the barber has been cutting hair for decades and is now assisted by his son, who must be in his forties himself. Unfortunately, the son seems to be attempting to keep his lost youth through a spectacularly bad haircut, bringing to mind Rod Stewart circa 1979. Eventually, the inevitable conversation began:
"Are you from around here?" asked Rod Stewart, peering down his nose through his eyeglasses.
Dad smiled. "Yes, my family's from Ellis Crossroads, my mother used to play with your father."
The older barber took a closer look at Dad. "I thought you looked familiar! You're Army's boy!" I couldn't help smiling at the mention of my grandfather's nickname. "And this is your daughter?" he asked, waving a comb in my direction. "Did she get a chance to know her grandfather?" I didn't know if he was alluding to family history (my grandfather left my grandmother and started a second family) or was genuinely curious, since he did once cut my grandfather's hair, but since I did go to the same college as my grandfather and have become accustomed to fielding questions about him in this town, I simply smiled and replied, "Yes sir, I knew him very well."
Dad picked up the thread again. "Well, I've just moved back, I've been gone for about forty years."
"Well, where ya been?" asked Rod Stewart as he worked around Dad's head with an electric razor and a comb.
"Been all over the place. Up north, down in Texas, Florida... but no matter where I was, this was always home."
Home is such a funny word.
After Dad retired in October, he struggled for a good while about where he wanted to retire to. He had great friends and family in Florida, he had the town where he spent many a summer at his grandmother's house, and he even toyed with the idea of buying a little place in France to be near me, at least part time. Eventually he chose to move back to the town where he was born, to be close and to help his mother, who turned 86 last week.
Now his mother comes over almost every day to make sure he gets enough to eat and bathes him if he doesn't feel strong enough to do it himself. Believe me, the irony is not lost.
Meanwhile, Dad is slowly getting his strength back. When we arrived, Dad couldn't even sit up in bed without assistance, and now he doesn't even need help to get out of chairs and can move around much better. Steph gave him a shave and he looks as close to his old self as I've seen yet. Our goal is to get him as self-sufficent as possible, because the stronger he is, the longer we'll have him with us. The most difficult thing is that it is impossible to know when he'll peak; it could be months and it could be a year from now. I can't predict the future, and I'm not sure I'd want to, but we are celebrating every little victory. Instead of lying around weeping all over the place, we are encouraging Dad to fight. As long as we treat him like an invalid, he's going to be one. There's some fight in his eyes. I'm hoping it will be there for good while yet.