Fickle Fate

In spite of an early childhood illness, my father lived to the age of 93 and as far as I know, managed to avoid medical doctors until the very last of his years, when cancer reared its ugly head. Dad’s cancer manifested in his esophagus but it was never-the-less most likely related to his having been a heavy smoker until well into his 60’s.

My parents came to live in the States the first time in the 1980’s, taking a home in St. Petersburg, FL.

Having taken out citizenship in the United States, I was able to apply for permanent residency for my parents, although it was a long and arduous task. Paperwork has always been something I detest, finding it excruciatingly boring, and it is consequently a task I am not awfully good at.

My father had no patience for it either, but we slugged through it and in due course “green cards” were issued, although by the 1980’s the cards were more multi-coloured than green. Their correct name, of course is Alien Residency Card.

Life in the Sunshine State was a bit of a disappointment, in main because our friends from Cambodia days lived there and the idea had been to settle near them. But it was not to be.

Sadly, Mr. F died of cancer and his wife, not a fan of Florida, moved to Washington DC. Mr. F was the kind man who had so gently cleaned and dressed my infected mosquito bites in Cambodia when I refused to allow my mother to touch me.

Having lived for many years in Barbados, my father found the climate of Florida to be deficient. Too cold in the winter and too humid in summer. The garden was problematic. Mole crickets destroyed the lawn which, when replaced, was in itself a problem. The grass was too dense and hard to mow.

We did not learn this latter problem until I had been charged with driving the length and breath of St. Petersburg to locate an old-fashioned manual lawn mower. Which, needless to say, my father couldn’t push. Finding a suitable automated replacement was even less fun. I knew nothing of lawn mowers and had no advice to give but was expected to overcome this difficulty.

Procuring the right lawn mower was just one many ways in which I disappointed my parents, now that they had switched roles and become semi-dependent on me.

What a shock it had been, that day, leaving Barbados.

It was sad enough, seeing my parent’s long lives together packed up, into just 13 items of baggage.

But what shook me was the transformation of my father, who had trotted smartly around the garden that morning, in his shorts. As he dressed, hours later, for the flight, he turned into an old man. His waist had expanded over the years, but he had not had occasion, for a long time, to wear a belt, so my mother was obliged to tie the buckle together with string.

Dad’s old, moth-eaten hat was dragged out, and stuck on his head. It seemed to have shrunk.

We looked like boat people. My friend Tim (bless him!) had come to assist and typically saw humour in the whole situation. My parents were always referred to thereafter as The Boat People.

As our BWIA flight rolled down the runway and I looked down, for the last time, at the beautiful island of Barbados, it was only I who shed a tear, which was also typical, of course.

Had I known what I was in for I may well have shed a few more!

My parents moved to the States in the full knowledge that medical insurance would be un-affordable and after not very many years my mother was in agony with arthritis in her hips. A replacement was recommended. Instead of paying for the surgery in Florida, which I only much later discovered they could easily have done, they pushed me to find a solution. There was only one alternative, which was for them to return to England, which they did. I found out afterwards that I was blamed when they were not happy with the outcome.

My parents were then into their 70’s and it did not occur to me that they would be travelling any further, so I did not discourage them from abandoning their hard-earned alien resident’s cards.

I should have paid more attention to the reading my friend Neil got for me from a fortune-teller. How accurate the reading turned out to be. It’s a little creepy.

N.E. Australia. Not my pic

As previously mentioned, my poor Mum did, in fact, get dragged off on one last journey and died not long after. Whereupon, Dad went to visit a local travel agent and got himself organized to spend his winters in Australia. It was wonderful for the first two years. 2000-2001 however was a disaster.

God bless forever the wonderful people of Cairns who helped me deal with my dad having a total meltdown when things went wrong. It was a week from hell. That ended with my father returning to the USA. He came to live in a condo not far from mine.

Only, his Alien Resident’s Card had expired and now we had to start all over again to get a new one. It took months, but finally we were given a date to appear at the INS Office in Seattle. My dad, who was always very prompt, for some reason that day couldn’t get his act together and I was in a panic that we would be late. I grabbed the only parking I could see which was at the bottom of a hill.

Fortunately, I had invested in a collapsible wheelchair for Dad and it was obvious that this was the time to use it. He would never get up that hill in time. So I broke out the chair and shoved him in it. Dad weighed a good 200 pounds and that hill was steep.

It’s a wonder I didn’t have a heart attack, between the pushing and the anxiety. Then, of course we sat. And sat. And sat some more. Dad moaned about a draft blowing on his neck. Well of course. There always had to be something to moan about.

Next morning, the moaning continued. The neck was sore. It was that “damn draft” that did it. I think I could be forgiven for not paying much notice.

A day later, when I called, however, Dad asked about a doctor. WHAT?

Alarm bells rang, so I went running over to have a look at the sore neck. He had a lump the size of a large cantaloupe. It turned out to be a secondary manifestation of esophageal cancer.

From then on, Dad got to spend quite a bit of time in doctor’s offices and if I heard once about the Spanish ‘flu, I must have heard it fifty times. It was almost the only thing he could offer as health history but my father spoke very slowly and he spoke very old fashioned English, with an accent people in Seattle seemed to have difficulty understanding. It got a little tedious.

Dad was 6 when he got the ‘flu. His mother had it as well, but not my grandad. It is estimated that 50 million people died of the disease, 3% of the earth’s population. It makes me realize how capricious fate is. How easily I might not have existed.

During the war my dad was on a ship that sank. He returned to England after surviving the siege of Malta and spent the rest of the war in London that was being bombed nightly. My mother spent the entire war in London. Easily, I might not have been born. But I have a friend who has way more experiences with fickle fate.

His whole life has been an adventure.

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