We went to visit my father at the nursing home yesterday. He is 92, but he seems to be slipping back in time. He thinks he lives in Dodge City, Kansas. My mom and dad moved to Michigan in 1992. People who worked with him in the restaurant at McKinley-Winter Livestock are alive and running the kitchen at the nursing home. People we camped with at Cedar Bluff or the sandpit are chasing him down the hall to beat him up. These stories remind me of the stories my mother used to tell me, before Alzheimer’s disease erased every memory she had. Dementia and confusion seem to be taking over my father’s brain. He no longer remembers my brain tumor or my surgery. He no longer asks me how I am doing. It is difficult to walk out of the nursing home without feeling incredibly sad. The following is a true story based on the years 1968-1976. Many of my Dodge City girlfriends will remember my dad and his sense of humor.
Who’d a thunk it? My mother said this to me frequently all through her life. The question began popping up when I was younger, typically when someone we knew achieved some minor goal she seemed surprised by. Minor goals were getting a driver’s license or getting a job. My mother’s comments would range from “Some people shouldn’t drive” (something my mother knew too well) or “She’ll last a week on that job.” She immediately followed these statements with “Who’d a thunk it?” Indeed.
The achievement of major goals received equal consideration, but expectations were higher and usually reserved for relatives or neighbors. My mother was finely tuned into the small-town grapevine. Stories meandered around Dodge City, Kansas, a town of seventeen thousand people, circled the metaphorical wagons, and often propelled the unfortunate main character of the story out of town. Since my parents ran a very popular restaurant at a livestock auction place, they were always aware of the dirt on anyone. We certainly did not need reality television.
To fit into the “who’d-a-thunk-it” range, required either very little (depending upon where someone started from) or a lot if one were considered to have at least a little bit on the ball. To be considered a dimwit was a very bad thing. The term “dimwit” was often used to refer to the guys I dated. My mother would say things such as: Well, Mr. X is a real dimwit. Did you see what he was wearing? Or what’s Mr. Y’s problem? He can’t come to the door anymore? What a dimwit. Isn’t Mr. Z a little too old for you? He should date girls his own age, the dimwit. He’s robbing the cradle. She seemed to be bothered by the fact that Mr. Z was nineteen, and I was fourteen.
“Mom, we met in church camp.”
“Last year it was the blonde in the hearse at church camp. How old was he? Sixteen? You were thirteen?”
I did not fill my mother in on the rest of the stories of my complicated love life with older men although she had a way of looking at me that sometimes made me think she knew. Had she somehow found out Mr. Z had an older girlfriend whose friends threatened me with physical harm because of our clandestine romance during church camp? The blonde’s downfall came when he showed up at my house in a hearse (non-functional), and my father somehow connected his arrival to the popping of the snap above my zipper on belly-button exposing blue jeans. “What the hell?” my father asked before he even started up the sidewalk. I’m sure my mother heard about it, and she probably found the long, love letters he had written to me. Perhaps I was the dimwit.
My mother’s method of dissecting boyfriends contrasted sharply with my father’s method of controlling my dating behavior. If he didn’t like the poor unfortunate teenage boy I was infatuated with, he had a particular outfit he would wear as he sat in his recliner in the living room, conveniently located near the front door. My father could also look out the window and see the car as it passed in front of our house and turned into the driveway. We lived on a dead end road. My father liked to wear his white jockey underwear and smoke a cigar in the evening. Upon the arrival of the boyfriend’s car in the driveway, he would yell, “Hey, throw me the afghan.” I’d throw the damn yellow and brown afghan his way, and beg him to get dressed. Please. Pretty please.
This routine was typically a very good way to get rid of potential suitors. Parents of today may want to try this. Imagine your young daughter is thrilled to be going out with the cool guy in high school (after she has been beaten down in her attempts to date older church-camp-going boys). He shows up. She is wearing an extremely cute mini-skirt, an embroidered shirt, and platform shoes. Her hair is perfect. She has talked about this date for two weeks, until you feel as if the next step in the relationship is marriage. You are the father (or mother, although this could bring up other, larger issues if the mother is waiting in bra and underpants), and you express extreme disinterest as the object of your daughter’s affection stands before your recliner throne, while you puff away on a brown stogie, with an afghan covering your underwear, and you say: “Oh, I didn’t know you were coming.”
If my father liked the young man, wait, I have no idea. It never happened. The only young man I remember my father being fully dressed for, without afghan and cigar, was my future husband, Jim. Of course, my father had to know my fiancée was coming, because we were driving in from Michigan during a Kansas blizzard. If my future husband had been driving in alone, I am sure the conversation would have gone differently, and my mother would have said dimwit, and my father would have stripped down to his underwear.
One last thing: My mother never let me leave the house on a date without washing the dishes. Guilt, guilt, guilt, and we weren’t even Catholic. My dates had to help me finish the dishes if we were running late, and we were always running late. If the poor unfortunate boy showed up early, he would also be forced to sit at the table with us and make small talk. This would happen once per suitor.
My mother stood firm in her conviction. Dishes aren’t done? No date. Dad’s in the living room in his undies smoking a cigar? No problem. I’m surprised teenage boys ever dated me more than once, or that I ever married. Who’d a thunk it?