Blowin’ in the Wind
Against the wind
We were runnin’ against the wind
We were young and strong, we were runnin’ against the wind
— (Bob Seeger and The Silver Bullet Band)
Recently, my mother and I were trying to figure out how to get my step-father to the hospital for his vaccine. He’s 93. He’s frail and has COPD. The wind chill is, currently, negative twenty-five degrees.
My parent’s building is encompassed by a wind tunnel on the corner of a street. Even when it is not windy anywhere else in the city, there’s a breeze there. I think it’s haunted. Because it’s a university neighborhood, chock-full of Nobel Prizes, I think, that some disgruntled scientist, spun up some mad science around their building.
Maybe, some woman who lived in that building did him wrong. Maybe, he had a terrible childhood in that place. There’s something going on in that corner, and the wind doesn't let you forget it. Maybe one day the science experiment curse will expire and that corner will become still.
But not before Sunday. Sunday is the day that we take my stepfather to get his much-needed vaccine.
My mother and I take turns being nervous about the logistics of getting him there. I’m the youngest of three sisters. My older sisters, twins, took turns being the oldest. I was the baby, who got bossed, but never the one who took the reins. In the recent past, my physical proximity to my mother has changed that. My sisters moved across the country.
Now, only half an hour from mom, I’m the go-to kid. Secretly, well only as secret as a blog can be, I think it bothers my sisters that our roles have changed. Mom and I haven’t been a functioning team for very long. We’re still adjusting. I think that a part of us expects one of my sisters will swoop in and take over. But, the pandemic has prevented it, and so our relationship continues to evolve.
“It’s so windy by your house,” I say.
“I know,” she says. “But we’ve got this.”
“We do,” I said. “Whatever happens, we’ll work it out.”
“Can I do anything to make you less worried?” she says.
“I’m not worried,” I say, “but can you make a backup plan in case the Mayor shuts down the highway.”
“I will,” she says.
Mom is a snowbird. She has not spent a winter in Chicago since 2001. Now, she is forced with bringing her 93-year-old husband to get a vaccine in a pandemic during an arctic blast.
“How should we do this?” I ask. “With the wind?” I’m thinking about how small my stepfather is. I’m picturing those maniacal gusts that circulate their building.
“I have the wheelchair,” she says. “We’ll fold it in your trunk. He’s pretty light.”
“Light but rigid,” I say.
“I can bring Sam’s Ergo,” I joke. The Ergo is my son’s baby carrier when I use to carry him everywhere with me.
She laughs. “If only,” she says.
Suddenly, it feels like a brilliant idea.
“Mom, I’m really strong.”
“Can’t we just put a mask on him and I’ll carry him through the hospital.”
“Why not?” She says, shaking her head.
We’re laughing. The image is too viable. Here is this brilliant scientist we are discussing like he is a child. We’re laughing for the same reason my friends who are nurses laugh. Because they see up close, every day, how unfair life is.
In the dictionary, the opposite of entitled is the word ‘nurses.’ They do not expect things to go their way. They see tragedy daily and it gives them enormous perspective. They learn through sadness and grief, that they can handle anything. This is what I think of when my mother and I are laughing at the image of me, carrying this renowned scientist, now a tiny old man, in a baby carrier.
My stepfather lived older than any of the men in my family.
My grandfather, who we called Papa, kicked butt and took no prisoners when he was young, and hated aging. “It’s humiliating,” he said. “No one should have to experience this.” He died at a ripe old age, pissed off.
My other grandpa died young. I ruminate on the pieces of him that I remember so I do not forget. His coin collection. Him teaching me how to use a slide rule. Watching old war movies with him at the end of his life, reminding him of his days of being a doctor in the war. He died calmly, but too soon.
My Zayde, my stepmother’s father, lived with my stepmother and dad at the end of his life. He was enormously grateful to my father for being invited to stay with them. He remembered his own childhood, where his parents were murdered in the Holocaust, like it was yesterday. Age condensed his time, and his youth and his old age were tethered into one.
My father did not live long enough to be an old man, so for his old age, I use my imagination. He is suspended in time. I am almost as old as he was when he died.
My stepfather has outlived them all, numbers-wise. This has allowed us to have moments that we wouldn’t have had, had he died as young as the others. When my step-father turned ninety, we started talking daily, something we hadn’t figured out how to do for decades. My stepfather and I have a rule that we have to end the call on a good note. If one of us says something brilliant, we acknowledge it then hang up. If one of us makes the other one laugh, we laugh then hang up.
Age does not discriminate. Age does not care if you are a big fish or a small fish. To age, a fish is a fish. If you die young, people keep you alive through memory. If you live to a ripe old age, you shrink, you wither and you forget. If you are fortunate to live old, your wife and your daughter consider carrying you to the hospital in an Ergo. Life is funny. Nurse funny, not clown funny.
Tomorrow is the day. I will drive down to my mother’s building in an arctic blast, with a man who has lived a long good life, to a hospital where he will receive a vaccine, during a pandemic. His age is not how old he is tomorrow. His age began at his beginning, and his endpoint is always changing. I may not be carrying him in an Ergo, but I will definitely be carrying him in my heart.