>When my 31-year-old son, Jonathan, (the one who flies helicopters for the Army now) was about four, my parents lived on the Ross Barnett Reservoir in Brandon, Mississippi. They had a pontoon boat, and we loved to ride it across the lake at sunset to eat catfish at Cock ‘o the Walk Restaurant, and then ride back across the water in the moonlight. And Jon loved to swim off the pier behind Papaw and Granny Effiie’s house. And he could swim by the time he was three, but he also loved to play with plastic floats, so one day Granny Effie bought him one, and of course it fell to Papaw to blow it up. (I’m posting from a hotel room in Jackson, or I’d scan a photo of the event from an old album….)
My dad was only about fifty at the time… In his prime, running marathons and getting ready to open his store, Bill Johnson’s Phidippides Sports, which he and Mom owned until cancer (and discount shoe stores) closed them down in April of 1997. So yeah, Dad had incredible lung capacity, but was short on patience, so blowing up that float was a greater challenge for him than the twenty mile marathon training runs he led on Saturdays.
The way Mom used to tell the story, Dad would blow for a while, and then stop and pout, or get another cup of coffee. To encourage him, Jonathan would give him a hug and say, “You’re making progress, Papaw!”
Dad died in July of 1998, and ever since then, when I’m with Mom and working on something that tries my patience, like doing her income taxes or cleaning out some of the clutter she’s cultivating in her apartment, she will get this misty look in her eyes, smile and say, “you’re making progress, Papaw!” It always gets to me.
So today, when I got the phone call at 9 a.m. from Lakeland Nursing Home, saying they had a bed for Mom in their transitional unit (for people like Mom, in rehab for her broken hip) I was thrilled, but then they said I had to be in Jackson by 3 pm to do the paperwork, or pay $165 (private pay rate) to hold the bed until tomorrow. I was on the road by 11:45 am and at Lakeland by 2:45 pm. By 3:30 the paperwork was done and I was pulling away from the nursing home when I saw it.
I had forgotten that the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum was right next door, so I drove up to the building to “visit” the plaque on the patio—the one dedicated to my dad, to “Papaw.”
The security guard stared at me while I took pictures of the museum, and the plaque, and I’m sure tried not to stare as I burst into tears and kissed my fingers and touched them to the picture of my father on the plaque. It felt strangely like kissing an icon at my church… and like a prayer, when I said, “We’re making progress, Papaw, but I could sure use your help. If you could just put in a word for Mom tomorrow when I go to move her to Lakeland. It’s the best place for her, but you know how she is about change.”
About then the guard asked me if I needed anything, and I said yes would he please take a picture of me and my Dad? He looked around, but no one else was on the patio, so I said “that’s him—the one on the plaque,” and I told him Dad’s story because he was new to Jackson. (Which I thought was kind of weird, that people actually move to Jackson, but that’s a story for another time.)
So he said sure and here’s the picture. It’s been raining and my hair looks awful and for once I actually don’t care. Some of you know how huge that is. The rest of you can think what you like.
Dad seems to be everywhere in this city. On the calendar of events at Lakeland Nursing Home, I noticed that every Friday at 10:30 am there’s a devotional and hymn singing, led by folks from Covenant Presbyterian Church. Dad used to do that, in the 1980s when my grandmother was at Lakeland. He had a gorgeous voice… my favorite Christmas memory is of him and my Uncle Dan singing “O Holy Night” while Aunt Joy played the piano. Dad was a baritone and Dan had an amazing tenor voice.
So, back to the progress. Tomorrow morning I’ll pack Mom’s things at the nursing and rehab center where she’s been since October 15 and move her to her temporary room at Lakeland. Then I’ll have 2-4 weeks to decide if Lakeland will be her final home on this earth. I’m just not sure her mind is going to recover enough for her to function well in assisted living again. If she stays at Lakeland, they’ll move her to the long-term when her rehab is finished. Oh! I forgot to mention that it’s been 5 days since I took Mom to the surgeon and returned her to rehab with DOCTOR’S ORDERS for her to have a walker and portable toilet in her room, and to begin “gait training,” which means using the walker, but only putting weight on the good leg. I’ve called her current rehab place every day since then, but still no walker and no toilet.
So, today, when the social worker at Lakeland took me around the corner to see Mom’s new room, I almost cried. At the foot of the bed was a walker, and in the corner, a portable toilet. Just waiting for her. Who knew that the day would come that the site of those two pieces of equipment would bring such joy. And yes, I couldn’t help but think, “we’re making progress, Papaw.”