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Navigating the Sandwich

Hookups in Senior Living

How should a daughter handle her 90-year-old dad becoming the new BMOC?

By Mel Miskimen

It would be my father’s first night in a strange place.

He had made the decision to sell the house he and my mother had lived in for over 60 years and move into a senior living apartment after he had “Damned near fell on my ass!” while going down the basement stairs to do his laundry.

His apartment has all the amenities he had at the house, but with additional safety features like a stacking washer and dryer, pull cords to yank in case of an emergency, and a walk-in shower with grab bars. Conventional wisdom said I didn’t have to worry about him falling or shoveling snow or being alone during the long, cold, Wisconsin winters, but my worry switch was stuck in its ‘on’ position. Would he have trouble falling asleep? Would he wake up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and walk into a wall? Stub a toe causing him to bleed out because of the blood thinners he was taking? Would he even be able to reach the pull cord?   

The moving company had replicated his living room — the Iwo Jima sculpture was in the same place he had had it back home — center stage in the bay window. The picture of my mother, smiling from the passenger side of his truck, was stage left. The mantel clock she had insisted he buy, despite their lack of a mantel, was stage right.

He had picked out the carpeting — something with a loopy pile so it wouldn’t show the tracks made from his walker — a faux-stone countertop, stainless steel appliances. He had never cooked on an electric range before. He was a natural gas man.    

“You have to clean this with a special cleaner,” I said.

“Why can’t I use cleanser?” he said.

“It’ll scratch. You have to get one specifically made for cooktops.”

He rolled his eyes, convinced I had been conned by the cleaning industry into buying something I really didn’t need, like all those miracle mops I had purchased from the pitch person at the state fair. Four years later, I was still waiting for my miracle.

I worried about him getting used to a new routine. “Your mail gets delivered to your mailbox in the lobby,” I said.

“I know!” he said.

“They don’t serve breakfast on Sundays, they have brunch.” I pointed to the weekly menu that had been delivered via electric scooter driven by a lovely little woman who had almost run me over in the hallway.

“I’m Bev,” she said. “Are you moving in?”

Me? Did I look that old? “My father is moving in.”

“Oh?” Bev didn’t seem in any hurry to dispatch her flyers. “Is he married?”

“Well, he was married. My mother died five years ago —”

The usual response to this kind of information would have been an expression of sorrow. Bev didn’t seem moved. Perhaps, living here, this kind of intel was status quo.

“I’m sure we’ll run into each other, later.” She winked then took off, her scooter speed set to pursuit.

What was her game? I had seen the fluffy heads of white hair turn when my father wheeled his walker into the dining room.

Add a new worry to my list.

Would Bev and my father meet, like in those romantic comedies? Perhaps they’d collide with their walkers? Then my father would claim the accident was all his fault and Bev would say it was all hers, and they’d get to chatting and before I knew it he’d be calling me telling me he’d met someone, her name is Bev, and she’s going to be my new mother?

“I’m worried about my father,” I said to my husband Mark. “Do you think he’ll, you know, make friends?”

“Of course he will! He’s very charming.”

“Exactly,” I said. I had been concerned he wouldn’t meet people, but now? I was concerned he would.

It had been two days since he moved in. We were meeting in the dining room for lunch. His appetite had grown. He sounded brighter. A spring in his step. “So, how’s it going so far?” I said. My pulled pork sandwich had just the right amount of tang to smokey sweetness.

“Not too bad,” he said. “There’s kind of, like, not really too much stuff for men —”

It was a sad fact. Women made up the majority of the residents, and most activities were old-lady-centric. Knitting. Trips to see musicals. Shopping. I didn’t see any postings of lectures about World War II. No John Wayne film festival or James Patterson book club. Should I call the person who is in charge of those kinds of things? Suggest they look into more manly pursuits? Maybe send a survey around to the few men who are there? See what they’re into?

“I bumped into Tessie,” he said. She was his first cousin and had been living there for close to 10 years. “At first she and I got to talking about the old neighborhood, living upstairs from our grandpa’s tailor shop, and then she starts in with the gossip —” He wrinkled up his nose like he does whenever he is presented with any cooked vegetable.

“Ooo! Gossip? Like what?”

“Ailments. Who had to move into assisted living. Who died. They have a happy hour Tuesdays and Thursdays.”

I thought about what kinds of things places like this would have to offer in the near future for the likes of people like me who are not quite old, young old, yelderly? A bar, for sure. With big screen TVs. A coffee shop. Free Wi-Fi. Spin classes? Spa services?

“She started talking about hookups —”

“Hookups?” What did he mean, hookups? Certainly not hook up hookups? Please let this be about cable TV or the internet.    

“People are —” He didn’t have to lower his voice (everyone in the dining room was hard of hearing), but he did. “— getting together.”

I had heard a piece on NPR about the uptick in STDs in senior communities. My father doesn’t listen to NPR. Would I have to have The Talk with my father? About using protection? The universe wouldn’t do that to me, would it? Payback for all those times I had tested the boundaries of parental rules and regulations? Oh, how the tables had turned!

He asked me if I was going to finish my sandwich, because if I wasn’t, he’d take it back up to his apartment and heat it up, later. I told him to take it. The tangy-ness had gone out of it.

I rode with him on the elevator. It stopped on two. A woman got on. She wore a sweater with a stars-and-stripes motif. “I don’t know whether I should say ‘hello’ or salute?” he said.

She chuckled. “Are you new?”

“Yeah, just moved in!”

This is the eighth installment in a series Mel Miskimen is writing for TheCovey about the drafty empty nest she shares with her husband, who is on the fast track to sainthood. Miskimen is a writer based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and author of Sit Stay Heal.  Her previous articles for Covey include installment  Breaking My Family Holiday TraditionsDreams from Her MotherNo Guns for Old MenCall Me. Maybe, Divide and Conquer? and Dad and the DNA Kit.

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