Darning my father’s diabetes socks

family  My parents are something out of another century.

A gracias a IBM and the Gregorian calendar, I was able to take a four-day vacation this week. I used those days to spend time with my parents and finish a first draft of a short story I am calling “Up Again, Old Heart!”

I planned on staying with my parents from Friday evening until Sunday morning, but as I was getting ready to take off, my father asked me why I had to rush home to an empty apartment. I felt bad. On the one hand, my parents are elderly. My father is 83 and weakened by diabetes. My mother is 79-going-on-30 and is, for all intents and purposes, my father’s savior. In so many ways, the three of us don’t fully know each other. For sure my parents, Polish-born and Holocaust survivors, couldn’t possibly understand me and why I’ve made certain choices in my life. Yet when we are together, I think of us as old friends. I wanted to stay.

On the other hand, working at IBM doesn’t leave me any time other than early mornings and late evenings to write. If my parents weren’t old, I would have taken those four days to be alone and write. Only ten years ago, I squirreled all my free time away to get a Master’s Degree in literature (nobody but my professors understood why I would do something as un-commercial as this), and I used to spend most of Thanksgiving and Passover holed up in my bedroom reading. These days I feel I have to jealously guard my time with my parents. When the day comes, the awful day I can’t bear to think about, I do not want to wish that I had spent just one more hour with either one of them.

My parents made ardent promises that I could sit at the dining room table and work undisturbed.

“You’re going to want to watch TV,” I said.

They said, “No TV.”

“This is your home. You should be able to make as much noise as you like.”

In the old days, my father would have made some whooping-it-up sounds, but joking around the way he used to takes energy. He said, “What’s so bad here? Mama will cook for you all day.”

The only bad thing was the smell of the cherrywood my father uses to feed the wood-burning stove downstairs. It emanates a mossy manure-ish odor. I could take it though.

So, on December 24, I set my ThinkPad up on the dining room table and proceeded to have one of the most productive writing days I’ve had in 25 years. In six hours, I pounded out five pages of first-draft prose.

Where did such inspired productivity come from? Overhead was the hanging light fixture my parents bought from a lighting store in Atco, the little south Jersey town where my parents operated a chicken farm, and where I spent the first eighteen years of my life. On the wood-panelled walls were framed photographs of the six grandchildren, including my son, and a framed piece of shiny gift-wrap, an artless homage to kitschy beauty that touches and embarrasses me at the same time. On a breakfront my parents bought 27 years ago from a Jewish Freemason furniture store owner, my parents also display copies of three old family pictures: My father’s mother, father and sister. While he was in hiding during the War, my father secreted the originals inside his clothing. The pictures survived his internment in a slave labor camp and years of hiding in forests and barns. The Nazis had forced his family to have those pictures taken on Shabbos. The heads of my grandparents and aunt are uncovered — something observant Jews would never consent to do freely. My father is grateful to have the pictures. He understands irony.

While I wrote, my father read The Wall Street Journal, his newspaper-of-choice since the late 1950s. Over the years he also has been a steady reader of Barron’s, The Forward and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and despite his struggling to stay awake for more than twenty minutes at a time, he manages to get through all of these papers too. Ask my father what’s going on anywhere in the world. He can tell you.

My mother spent the entire day on Sunday sitting on the faux-velvet sofa darning my father’s socks. These are special socks for diabetics. They are made out of dyed black cotton instead of nylon so that they don’t cut off the flow of blood. These days it’s all my father can do to walk from the house to the synagogue catercorner across the street, yet his tread is still strong enough to have worn out the heels. Rather than throw the socks away, which is what I would have done, my mother got out her darning needle, some polyester wool and a mayonnaise lid and set about reinforcing the heels.

My mother feels good sitting. She used to go for thirty-minute walks every morning around six, but then she got hit with some kind of restless leg syndrome. She takes a drug called Lyrica to numb the feeling of ants, millions of them, crawling up and down her legs.

Halfway through my work day, my mother fed me baked chicken, pearly rice with bits of meatballs cut into it, sauteed mushrooms and string beans and cranberry sauce. For breakfast she made me a fried egg, coffee and toast. In the evening I had one of her homemade “bilkelakh” — a challah roll — with nova and cream cheese. Every week my mother makes an apple-prune pastry called gebeks. I had that and bergamot tea, which she keeps on hand because she knows I like it.

I always tell my parents that they do not have my permission to go on to the next world.

“What makes you think I want to go?” my father asks me. “I have nice children, nice grandchildren and a roof over my head. I want to stay here as long as I can.”

My father goes downstairs and my mother follows close behind him to make sure he doesn’t trip over his own feet. He hates when she does that. He adds another cherrywood log into the wood-burning stove.  He is wearing the diabetes socks.

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2 Comments »

  1. Andrea said

    I enjoyed reading this. You wove seemingly unrelated details into a cohesive and touching piece, a precious “slice of life.”

  2. Allison said

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful time with your parents. You’re truly blessed to have them in your life, as they are to have you. Happy New Year to you and your entire family!

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