He was using his grandfather's homemade plane to smoothe an irregular, weatherbeaten board when I walked into the garage that morning in March. He turned, gave me a glad smile and a nod, then bent back to his planing.
"Hey, Pop, I could run down to the lumberyard and buy you a better piece of oak. Save you a lot of time and work."
"That's nice of you, son, but this here is a floorboard from the hayloft. White oak. Lots of it around here when the Shakers built that barn. When I get the weathered wood cut away it'll look brand new, and it's already seasoned. Doc said Mother'll be home in a week and will need plenty of bed rest. This will be her bed tray...For servin' meals, you know? Your mother will love it. "
"Mom always likes things you make for her, Pop. Finally coming home! It's been a long time.Where will you put her? The downstairs bedroom?"
"Yeah. She can't climb stairs.In these Victorian houses that room was intended as a sick room. She'll be able to see people in the street, watch things growin' in the front garden , and, of course, tell me what I'm doin' wrong. If you stay around a few days, Mike, you can help clean out that room. Maybe we'll surprise her with new shades and curtains...?"
"And wash the windows, too? Be glad to help, Pop. I'm here for two weeks at least. Only commitment is a meeting in New York this Saturday morning."
"Geez, I wish you had a regular nine-to-five job."
"Well, in the words of the immortal Duke: a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do." Any reference to John Wayne usually got him laughing, but he was pursuing his own thoughts.
"Y' know, we kept this big house and barn figurin'our kids would visit, bring their kids, but it hasn't worked out that way. We haven't seen the grandkids in two years. It's 'specially hard on your mother. I watch her face when she looks at the kids' photos."
"I know, Pop. They're all so far away."
He thought for a moment, then changed the subject."If you're goin' into the city on Saturday, maybe you can pick up your Aunt Florrie at LaGuardia? She'll be on the 9:00 A.M. shuttle from D.C."
"No problem. I'll phone and warn her to expect me. And where will you put her?"
"She can have one of the spare bedrooms on the second floor but, if I know your aunt, she'll want a cot in the sickroom, or she'll sleep on a couch in the living room, where she can hear your mother if she calls."
"Then one of our first jobs is to move the TV out of there; otherwise Auntie will have it on all night and keep Mom awake. I don't think Florrie ever sleeps."
"Yeah, but your mother will rest easier with her in the house. Florrie will do her hair and makeup, and change her, and keep her company, even if they do fuss at each other once in a while.
"You and I will be kept busy cookin', cleanin', gardenin', runnin' errands..."
"Whoa, Pop! Did you just volunteer to cook?" He looked at me questioningly. "I ask because Aunt Florrie can't cook. When I stayed at her place for a week, during the summer vacation from high school, we ate nothing but pancakes or hot dogs. While I'm here, I can handle breakfast eggs and bacon, and fix sandwiches for lunch. But gourmet food, like chili,or spaghetti and meatballs, or tacos, that's on you, Pop, okay?"
Home fries, too. You do make the best home fries in the State of New York."
He shook his head. "I'll cook dinner but she'll be on a bland diet. For tonight, though, if you run out for a coupla steaks, I'll barbecue. And the makin's for a salad, don't forget."
" Some garlic bread, and a couple of six packs? Budweiser, right?"
"Now you're talkin', boy!"
"Something just occurred to me: With Mom in the hospital you've been your own boss here. But all of a sudden, two women will be running you ragged. Can you take it?"
Now he laughed heartily, although his eyes were moist. "You may not believe it, son, but for six weeks I've been kinda lookin' forward to just that."