Joy Gipple — Sometimes it’s hard to tell who’s doing the caregiving

09/10/2013 4:36 PM

09/10/2013 4:38 PM

I eat Oreos the same way my dad did. I put the entire cookie into my mouth, centered perfectly on my tongue, then take a big sip of milk. When the milk softens the cookie to just the right consistency, I chew and swallow it. No crumbs, no dripping, no mess. Delightful.

My husband and his dad are dunkers. They hold the cookie in the milk until it’s just the right consistency, then rush it to their mouths and slurp it down. Wet fingers, drips on table and chin, floaties in the milk. Ick.

There are many things we learn from our parents: minor things like eating habits and choice of leisure activities, and major things like morals and ethics.

Intentional or not, it’s their legacy.

My father-in-law (FIL) came to live with us in April after a bout with pneumonia. By May he regained his health and moved into a rehabilitation center for therapy. In a few weeks he recouped some strength and mobility, but not enough to live on his own, and he returned to our home.

FIL loves being outdoors. Most days, after finishing his coffee, breakfast, sports page and Cryptoquip, he makes his way outside. Using walker or wheelchair, he rolls from spot to spot, sitting and contemplating the house, the yard, the garden, the trees, the wildlife and the sky.

He makes a lot of suggestions.

“We should plant some white petunias out there by the street.”

“We ought to make some deviled eggs.”

“We need to get that Matthew a girlfriend.”

“We need to teach Nickie and Jaker how to play checkers.”

“We need to let that dog inside the house.”

“We should put a medical building on that extra ground at the top of the street — there’s no reason to waste all that space.”

As FIL’s caregivers, “we” try to accommodate his requests, within reason.

I’d never made deviled eggs in my life, but I found a recipe online and whipped up a batch.

My husband (who loathes white petunias, and loathes even more having to make more than one stop for anything) drove FIL to three different garden centers to find a couple of flats of white petunias.

Our son Matt mailed his grandpa a letter, telling FIL about his girlfriend.

We dragged the checkers set from our pile of board games, and Nick and Jake are learning some savvy strategies from Grandpa.

Our daughter, Emily, in town for a visit, let “that dog” in the house to sleep on FIL’s bed one night. (”That dog” being FIL’s dog, the dog that came along with FIL when he moved in with us, the male dog that isn’t house-trained and that marks its territory all over our house and has therefore been relegated, for now, to living outside.) And, for her kindness, “that dog” thanked Emily by leaving a pile on the carpet outside her bedroom door.

Our neighbors can thank us for not following through on FIL’s medical-building-in-the-entryway idea.

One day FIL spied an oak sapling underneath the giant cedar tree in our yard, and asked my husband to pull it up and plant it in a big pot. It was a 4-foot stick, with a few leaves at the very top. My husband gave it a slim chance of surviving a transplant. But he complied.

“I want to take that back to my farm and plant it somewhere special,” 96-year old FIL told me. “Then in 20 years I’ll be showing it to your grandchildren and telling them, ‘I got that tree from the yard of your grandparents in Shawnee back in 2013.’”

My heart melted.

“A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they will never sit in,” goes the Greek proverb.

Checkers, white petunias, cookie dunking, relationships, animals and the outdoors. Minor things and major things.

Intentional or not, FIL is leaving a legacy.

And yeah, who’s the real caregiver here?


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