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July 4, 2012

A Father of Service, A Dad of Smiles

 Debra Ayers Brown's piece is a slice-of-life jewel. It reminds us of the treasure we miss if daily pressures and general stress take over. I wanted to post this story on the 4th of July also because Debra's dad, Delmar Ayers, was a Navy gunner for the United States. He represents a host of men who survived unspeakable events to then come home and become good, gentle fathers to many a child. It's a transition and transformation we too often take for granted--just as we often take for granted the price paid for our independence by the sacrifices of people whose names we will never know. For caregivers, Debra's story will likely strike a chord. How important it is to find the grace note of humor in the midst of the trying circumstances of new responsibilities. And it's important to remember we're never too old to add some style to our lives!


By Debra Ayers Brown

After Papa’s stroke, he lived to watch the Braves on television. Nothing changed when my elderly parents moved in with me. Nightly, Papa planted himself in his recliner I’d bought for his comfort and placed in front of the TV. My mom sat on the sofa with the remote control in hand. That’s when the trouble always started.

“Papa,” Mom shouted to her hard-of-hearing husband, "the Braves are ahead two to—”

“What?” he yelled back.

“Two to nothing.” She motioned with her fingers.

“Just tell me what the score is,” he said, squinting at her.

“I’m trying to tell you,” she snapped. “They’re up by—”  She held up two fingers, but it was no victory sign because Papa still couldn’t understand.

I wanted to scream: their arguing drowned out the loudest sports announcer as the Braves made another run. The saga continued as Mom held three fingers in the air and yelled, “The Braves just made a run! Can’t you see anything?” She hit the buttons on the remote and changed the channel.

Papa was fighting-mad now.

Mom turned to me. “He’s deaf and blind,” she said. “I don’t want to watch the game, but I have to because he can’t see.” She searched for another show. “Why watch a stupid ballgame when he’s—”

“Stop!” I said. “I can’t take this every night.”

“Well, Papa can’t see the television, and he won’t listen to me.” Mom continued with a list of Papa’s faults. Of course, he heard every one of those.

“I can’t see the scores,” he said, “and she wants to complicate it.” His hands flew around, mimicking her earlier gestures, and finally collapsed back against his seat with a sigh of disgust. “All she has to say is Braves three, Chicago nothing.”

“I’ve said that about a hundred times—”

“Stop,” I repeated. “Just stop.”
The next day, I made an appointment to have Papa’s eyes checked. We knew there wasn’t hope for his hearing because he’d damaged his ears as a Navy gunner in the war. But maybe there was a chance for improved vision. He’d been diagnosed with cataracts, but that doctor hadn’t thought surgery was worth it for someone of Papa’s age. I could only hope this doctor wouldn’t think eighty-three was too old. It would be worth it for him to see better for a week, a month, or forever—however long forever might be.

Sure enough, the new doctor said to me, “I think we can get him where he can see the scores.” He smiled at the thin man with the broad shoulders sitting before him with his back straight in the chair, blue-veined hands resting in his lap.

In a few days, we rolled Papa out to my car after a two-hour stay at the surgical center of the doctor’s office. We left the office armed with eye drops, a prescription, and a pair of large black sunglasses to reduce light sensitivity.

That night, Papa rested his eyes. But he was back in front of the TV the next day. By the time I arrived home from work to take him to his follow-up appointment, he was already seeing a lot better.

“Has this TV always been this good?” he asked as he leaned over to put on his shoes. Mom smiled. “And it will be even better when we get your other eye done in two weeks.”

“But now,” I said, “we have to hurry so we won’t be late for your follow-up appointment.” I rattled off the list of things I’d asked them to have ready.

Papa headed to the bathroom. Mom moved toward the kitchen. Pills rattled as Mom thrust Papa’s prescription bottles into the Ziploc bag. The toilet flushed in the hall bathroom.

“Mom, we need to already be in the car.” I tried to control my temper. “We’re going to be late.” My nerves bristled. I’d had to rearrange my schedule to fit the appointment in. Mom moved behind Papa as he put one foot in front of the other and held on to the wall for support.

“Where’s your walking stick?” I asked, searching searched high and low before finding it at the bottom of the stairs.  Dad grabbed it and shuffled to the car while an October sun radiated against a cloudless blue Savannah sky. He struggled with the seatbelt as Mom shouted instructions from the backseat.

I was exhausted by the time we pulled out of the driveway and made our way through lunchtime traffic to get to the doctor’s office across town. About halfway to our destination, Papa said, “At least I got a good pair of sunglasses out of the deal.”

I smiled, thinking only that Papa would like the oversized black shades they provided to wear after surgery. I glanced in his direction. What?

“Papa, you’re not wearing the right sunglasses. We can’t go without them.” I jerked the car around at the next left turn and headed toward home.

Mom leaned up and around the front seat. “Papa,” she cried. “You're wearing Debbie’s expensive Calvin Kleins!”

Indeed, Papa was wearing my splurge buy—my Calvin Klein sunglasses. The ones I saved for special occasions or trips to tropical locales. I never considered wearing them every day.  I was too rough on sunglasses … I scratched lenses … and I lost them.

Apparently, my loss was Papa’s gain. He sat up straight and grinned at me.

“These are nice,” he said and repositioned the designer sunglasses that, even stretched, missed his ears by a good inch-and-a-half.

I shrugged, thinking, “At least they are UV-protective.”

One afternoon when I returned home from work, I climbed the stairs to my bedroom. Mom was right behind me. Papa, fresh from his shower, was making his way to his bedroom. I didn’t want to startle him as I watched him from behind. My dad, clad only in his white BVD underwear, had towel-dried his graying blond hair so it stuck out in every direction. His rail-thin legs and bony bottom wobbled from side to side in the hallway.

“Papa,” I said and giggled.

“You’re home." He turned to me, grinning, and touched his hand to the side of the sunglasses he was proudly wearing.

“Papa,” Mom gasped. “You've got Debbie’s expensive sunglasses again.”
I grinned back at him and said to Mom, “Don’t you know nobody should come between a man and his Calvins?”

And I realized it was true. If my sunglasses made Papa happy, what was the harm?
Now, my prized Jimmy Choos would be another matter.

Text copyright Debra Ayers Brown, all rights reserved. 

Debra Ayers Brown is a writer, humorist, blogger, magazine columnist and award-winning marketing professional.  Her stories have been published in Guideposts, Woman’s World, Liberty Life Magazine, Chicken Soup for the Soul, Chocolate for Women, and Not Your Mother’s Book, among other publications. She is a University of Georgia honor graduate and earned an MBA from The Citadel. "Proud
momma" of daughter Meredith, Debra lives near Savannah, GA., with her husband Allen and mother Sara. Visit her website here.

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