My father, now in his late seventies, fell and broke his hip. He reached up to pick a peach from one of the trees he and my mother had planted years ago, but the branch, as if reluctant to give up its fruit, would not let go. The pull that finally got him the peach also sent him to the ground, prize in hand.
You need to know that my parents are hardy people used to doing things their own way, without anyone else’s help. You also need to know that even though my father is an educated man with a scientific background, he does not trust doctors. The last place he would ever want to find himself is in a hospital. And the third thing you need to know is that breaking a hip has tremendous emotional meaning for my father. His mother broke her hip in her eighties and was never the same again. Against his protests, she was put in a nursing home where she died at the age of 92. We have all spent considerable time over the years assuring him that he will never see the inside of a nursing home.
So it is with this sequence of imagined events in mind – ambulance, hospital, nursing home – that my father persuaded my mother, even though he could not move, that he was not really hurt, that all he needed was to get back to the comfort and safety of the house, some one hundred yards away, and that everything else would take care of itself.
It is nearly ten years now that my parents have lived on what we call “the farm” – a small stretch of land on the East End of Long Island that they truly love. There is very little that can compare with the quality of quiet that precedes the sunrise, or the spectacular colors that announce every sunset. You can barely drive any distance without being undone by the arresting sight of fields disappearing into the horizon carefully arranged as if by an overarching hand – rows and rows of grapes on vines, now corn, now sunflowers turning with the hours – like episodes in an infinite, dramatic series. On clear nights, there is the ritual of looking up at a blanket of stars before giving up the day to sleep.
They’ve planted “the farm” with every fruit and vegetable that you can imagine, and bright, beautiful flowers make it the marvel of visitors and passersby. The prestigious garden section of the NY Times found fit to write an article about it.
The first time family and friends were invited, more showed up than expected. As the planned outdoor lunch drew near, my mother realized that she didn’t have a table large enough to seat everyone.
“Dad,” she said, “you’d better build a table.” And he did. Within twenty minutes, he had cut the planks of wood with his power saw, and nailed them together. Soon, everyone was talking loudly and eating stuffed shells and ziti.
In the same spirit, my mother, half the size of my father, somehow managed to get him off the ground and over to the house. She did it with the help of a wheelbarrow. While I was not there to see it, I don’t believe the image will ever leave me.
The doctors confirmed that he had broken his hip. He began a hospital stay of several weeks during which they successfully placed a pin into his body. I called him every few days to see how he was doing. He was not a pleasant patient. For the first time in his life he admitted to me that he was in pain, and that he planned to ask the hospital staff for stronger painkillers. This kind of thinking had always been anathema to him.
One day, I dialed the number to his room.
“How are you?”
“How’s the pain?”
“Oh, it’s okay,” he said slowly.
“Are they giving you painkillers?”
“Yeah, they are.” His words were slurred, and tailing off.
“Your voice sounds different.”
“Well, they’re giving me a lot of these painkillers.”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m so glad you called me,” he said, uncharacteristically. “Your mother said you wouldn’t call, but I said you would. I knew you would,” he insisted.
All of a sudden I realized that I was not talking to my father. They must have moved him to physical therapy, as they had been promising to do, any day.
“They’re going to take me now,” he said, as brightly as he could muster. “Wish me luck.”
I did not have the heart to disappoint him, so I embraced the deception. I wished him luck.