I entered the lobby yesterday to find the mailman on his knees by the radiator.
“Bill, what happened?”
He sheepishly looked up.
“I lost my keys. There were 40 on that ring to every building on my route and my cars. My wife is going to kill me.”
It was a day for losing things. My sister Lisa lost track of my father who was on his way in to see his eye doctor. At 91, we play a game of catch. My brother gets my Dad ready for the train and reminds him when to get on it. One of us, here in the city, meets him in front of Kmart in the belly of Penn Station. This has been the routine for nearly 15 years. It started when my mother got sick and had to make frequent visits to Sloan Kettering. I offered to drive them but they preferred taking the train. My father has always loved trains and it’s easy buffering here to there with the hum of high-speed travel. Many times they sat on that train digesting news that would have crushed any spirit. My parents are from stoic stock and both like unemotional scenes. I sometimes think they needed the unintended audience of fellow rail riders to keep their hardened masks affixed. They rode that train for 8 years as the news grew worse and her health deteriorated. Finally, they were referred to the Long Island facility when maintaining status quo was the goal. Train rides were now regulated to holidays and the occasional doctors visit.
My father adores his independence. He clings to it with clenched wrists and an attitude of unyielding defiance. I love that about him. His mind is slipping though and small details like appointments or train schedules get lost. We’ve had him to the doctor and it’s normal wear and tear of the brain. Yesterday was different though. I got this text from my sister Lisa.
Dad forgot to meet me. I don’t know where he is. I tried calling but his phone goes to voice mail.
Suddenly, New York’s size seemed so much greater. We called his home, the eye doctor and mostly each other. It was decided she should stay at the meeting place and that I would take the train up to the office of his appointment. I looked out the window at every station to see if he was there. My brother was notified that he may have to leave work and look for my Dad at home.
We were frantic for an hour and a half. Just as Lisa was headed to the police to report him missing he showed up. He had gotten mixed up and took the wrong train. His phone was in his pocket turned off. Constant communication is not a part of my father’s era. He sometimes answers the phone, “It’s your dime so start talking.”
When he first retired, we were in the habit of calling my mother everyday. When she died, we all continued the tradition with him.
“So, why are you calling?”
“To talk Dad. I’m calling just to talk to you. No reason.”
It took him years to get used to the talk for the sake of visiting by phone. My sister Lisa would send out talking points to Colleen and I so that our conversations would go on for a while longer. Eventually, he looked forward to the interruptions and we learned how to trigger subjects that would interest him.
Lisa didn’t yell at him when he showed up at the meeting point late. She’s just as stoic as my parents when it comes to public display of anger. Lisa just asked what happened so that she could fully understand the situation. He doesn’t know it yet but there will be new rules and new safeguards when or if his next trip occurs. She believes what we had yesterday was a fire-drill for a possible future emergency. I’m hoping that emergency never happens.
As for Bill the postman, his keys are still missing.