Year before last, Mom and Dad took the train to Nevada to visit with Denny and Bev, my brother and sister-in-law. They stayed for a month. One day, after one “Huh?” too many—or maybe it was a “What?”—Bev told Dad (in a loud voice, I’m sure), “Would you please get a hearing aid?”
“Oh, my hearing’s not bothering me,” Dad answered.
“Well, it may not be bothering you, but it’s worrying the shit out of the rest of us,” Bev answered.
Dad told us this story on the long trip home from the train station in Kentucky. He laughed as much as the rest of us.
We’re not going to be able to say things about Grandpa now whenever we’re within normal earshot. He finally got a hearing aid. Actually, he got two but he only wants to wear one right now.
It’s possible we should have told him, “Whatever you do, don’t wear both of them at the same time. You’d hear too much.” Reverse psychology, you know.
I was afraid to ask how he liked it after the first day’s use, for fear he’d say, “Take it back.” And then he showed up on the porch above as I was cleaning up the rose bed down in the courtyard. He leaned over the railing.
“Hey, Sis,” he said. “What are you doing?”
“I’m pulling weeds and uncovering these roses,” I said.
“It’s a good day for that. Did you hear it’s supposed to be in the 80’s tomorrow?”
“Yeah, and then it’s supposed to turn cold again, isn’t it?” I asked.
“I don’t know about the cold, but it is supposed to rain Monday,” he answered.
“What’s Mom doing?” I asked.
“She’s in her chair, watching TV and napping,” he said.
Mom had a rough week with arthritis. One day the pain was so severe that I wondered if she’d be able to walk from her chair to the kitchen, even with the aid of Dolly, her fancy rolling walker.
“Tell her to come on down and talk to me while I work on these roses. She needs this sunshine,” I said.
He said okay and disappeared into the apartment. Two minutes later, he reappeared to tell me that she was on her way.
“Hey,” he called again just after I resumed digging. “I have a big problem.”
I looked up, with a handful of weeds, and said, “What is it?”
“Well, I can hear birds singing all over the place!”
I laughed and listened for a moment. There were birds singing all up and down the ravine. They dashed and flitted from feeder to tree to feeder. A pair of doves scooted along the ground picking up leftovers.
“Noisy little buggers. So I guess your hearing aid is working?”
“Oh, yeah. I’m hearing you! I can’t believe that everything in this house makes noise. I’m hearing all sorts of things.”
Mom appeared at the top of the stairs. She must be feeling better, I thought. She’s not taking the lift.
“Can you make it, Mom?” I asked. “Need some help?”
“No, I’m just slow,” she answered.
The rose garden borders the patio dining table, chimnea, and teacart, surrounded by six long planters full of Dad’s favorite multi-colored pansies. This year he proclaimed that he chose “too much yellow.” The rest of us, including visitors through the back yard, think they’re the prettiest pansies we’ve ever seen.
I got up from the ground and stepped over the pansies to pull out a chair for her.
“Isn’t it a beautiful day? I thought this sunshine might feel good on your joints.”
“Oh, it does, and I’ll soak up some vitamin D, too,” she said. “We just don’t get enough vitamin D these days, and I even take a supplement.”
“What happened to Dad?” I asked. “I thought he was right behind you.”
“No, he said he went down on the lift to do something in his study. I bet he’ll come outside later.”
She said she was feeling better except for her index finger. She pointed up with an angry red and white swollen finger. I said we better get her an appointment with the doctor to look at it first of the week. We talked of the pretty pansies, bird feeders, transplanting nandinas, and roses. Mom is not as much of a gardener as I am, but she talked about what was on my mind.
“Well,” she said, “You’ve got that side of the bed finished. How pretty! I don’t think the inside stretch is going to be as hard. Or maybe I just can’t see the inside for all the pansies.”
“I was going to say that there are plenty of weeds on this inside, but you know, they’re actually a lot bigger and they’re pulling easier.”
By the time Dave and Dad joined Mom at the table, I was finishing up with spreading pine straw and uncovering the sundial on the ground between Blue Skies and Lemon Spice. Dave finished the installation of two new compost bins between the apartment and the ravine bank.
“Whoever said these things are ‘easy-assembly’ doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” he said. “I’d no sooner snap one side together than the other would come loose.”
“Dave,” Mom said, “You want that beer now? I’ll get it for you.”
“Yes, I do,” he said, “But I’ll get it.”
“Get me one, too,” I said. “Mom, I’m going to get a bottle of water. Want me to fix you one? Dad, you want some water?”
Dave explained that he was going to divide the top layer from the old compost bin between the two new ones to get them both started.
“Ernie, I think you’ll be able to spread what’s on the bottom of the old bin on the garden,” he told Dad.
“I’ve already treated that ground with a commercial fertilizer and manure. I’m not sure I want to add anything else,” Dad said.
So we discussed what we might do with “all that compost” in the three bins if Dad didn’t work it into the ground for the vegetables and berries.
Dad interrupted as I was admonishing him to use the compost. “Okay, now you can quit hollering at me. I can hear you.”
I laughed. “I’ve developed a habit,” I said.
Dad turned to Dave. “You know, it’s amazing. I can’t even feel this thing in my ear. I don’t even know it’s there.”
“Well, that’s good!” Dave said. “So you’re liking it okay?”
“I’m going to wear it to church tomorrow,” he said.
“You might even hear the sermon,” I said.
Dad laughed, but he was ready to talk gardening again. On to blueberries and cabbage, tomatoes—and the Al-Akashi’s new garden next door. Zienab, the wife and mother, turned the soil, tilled, raked and planted a good-sized plot in less than a week with the help of the four oldest children.
“I see her going to look at it a couple of times a day,” Dave said. “She just sort of stands there and stares at it.”
“That’s what I do when I’m trying to figure out where to put something,” I said.
“She already has it planted,” Dave said.
“I thought she planted it too early but then her family’s all farmers over there in Iraq,” Dad said. “She may know more than the rest of us.”
The talk turned to Grandma’s arthritis and which doctor we might try to see come the first of the week. Neither Dave nor I could remember the name of the hand specialist at Premier Orthopedics.
Dad interrupted us. “You know, that woman just spoke directly to me for the first time. In English.” He motioned toward the Al-Akashi house.
“One of the older girls?” I asked. We all accepted that it would be untraditional for Zienab to approach a man, even a neighbor, it seems. Dad always communicated with either Saleh or the children.
“No,” Dad said, “Mrs. Saleh!” (Dad has always ascribed Mr. Al-Akashi’s first name to the wife.) “She was getting out of the van and she hollered over to me.”
“And when did this happen?” Dave asked. “Was this yesterday, after you got your hearing aid?”
“Yeah,” Dad said. “Yesterday afternoon. And she spoke in English. Asked me how I was doing.”
“She’s probably been speaking to him all along,” I said, trying not to move my mouth. “He just never heard her until now.”
“I heard that,” Dad said.
We all cracked up.