It has been about a year since Dad’s fall, broken hip and hip replacement surgery. While he has beaten the odds on surviving such a mishap at his age, both his physical and mental vigor have diminished severely. While it’s easy to blame his demise on him for not taking care of himself, it is what it is, as my brother would say. So, now we’re focused on getting him through another winter without him having to get out and drive much, if at all. And, if we’re focused on that topic, he’s obsessed with it. “I sure hope I can stay here this winter,” is his constant refrain. Not that he would take any steps toward achieving that end, other than be willing to wait for occasional visitors to accomplish small household chores and other tasks. “There’s nothing urgent about that,” is another favorite of his, whether he’s talking about feeding the birds, clearing moldy food out of the refrigerator, or getting a quarter-sized basal cell carcinoma removed from his cheek. Urgency really only comes into play if he’s running out of tobacco or gin.
He drives about 45 minutes up to the Indian reservation to buy pipe tobacco and cigarette tubes for his “cigarette factory,” where he spends several hours a week toiling away to support his habit and save about $7 per pack. We figure we can lay in enough tobacco and tubes to keep him supplied for the winter, but it takes a calculator. A pack and a half a day (30 cigarettes) x 30 days in a month equals 900 cigarettes per month, times four months (December-March) for a total of 3600 cigarette tubes. I think they come in packages of 1000, so four packages. The pipe tobacco is a lot cheaper than cigarette tobacco, as the “sin tax” on the latter is much greater. (I wondered whether or not Native American tribes have to pay taxes on tobacco at all, so I Googled the question, and here’s what I found out: https://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/25/Suppl_1/i32). Take that, you grasping, sanctimonious bastards in the federal government! Dad probably goes through two four-pound bags of tobacco a month; call it 16 bags for the winter. So, one of these days when I’m up there, I’ll drive him over to the Indian store and load up.
The gin is easily obtained at the grocery/liquor store. Fleischmann’s Extra-dry Gin in the 1.75 liter jug. “It’s cheap, and it gets the job done.” One per week, roughly. The dry vermouth lasts a long time, since he only uses a few drops at a time “for respectability,” so aa couple of bottles on hand for the winter will do it. Maybe three jars of stuffed olives in the pantry, and he’s all set.
“Eating is just a chore.” Without Mom there to cook for him, and virtually no physical activity to help him work up an appetite, he just eats to stay alive. Dinners from Meals on Wheels twice a week, or frozen T.V. dinners brought in by his once-a-week helper lady or us, or an occasional meal prepared by my brother or me. A year ago, he was doing a little cooking for himself and going out to eat with friends once a week, but he’s no longer doing much of that. It requires too much energy, mobility–and desire. The same goes for grocery shopping. Now he relies on his caregiver or us to bring him groceries. He eats a big breakfast of bacon and eggs when there’s someone there to cook it for him, otherwise just Raisin Bran, coffee, oj, grapefruit and toast. For lunch, he’s happy with Hershey’s chocolate nuggets and root beer. There’s usually a pile of cookies, donut holes, ice cream and other sweet stuff around slowly molding or growing stale. Dad must have a very well-evolved colony of gut bacteria, because I’m sure he eats stuff out of his refrigerator that should have been thrown away a long before. Can’t smell the rot. Doesn’t look for/can’t see mold or expiration dates. When I go to see him, I take my own food. And, I throw a lot of shit away.
Life has really gotten down to the basics for Dad. The food and shelter are covered. What I worry about more is the lack of human companionship, although his needs in that area seem to be modest as well. He enjoys his own company and short visits by others, when he has a minute. As he puts it, he’s awfully busy “winding [his] watch and running to the toilet.” And, yet he reports his self-winding watch no longer winds itself due to lack of activity. So, we plan our visits so as not to interfere with reading the paper, nap time, the news on T.V. or The Wheel of Fortune. It’s okay to sit and shoot the bull with him while he’s making cigarettes. And, if you fill up the bird feeder while he’s there, that makes him and the birds happy.