This is the conclusion of a class assignment interview conducted by a 26-year-old graduate student (Kahuna) of an 80-year-old retired engineer (Fuzz). The interview was conducted in 1996 for a Life History Project. The subject of the interview passed away nine years later. As you’ll recall, I stumbled across the completed term paper in my files along with quite a few other notes chronicling the older gentleman’s journey from 1920s onward. I synthesized the material and presented it in three parts, this being the third. |
And so to complete this amazing look back into time (at three o’clock in the morning), here I sit on the back deck drinking some kind of herbal tea, reminiscing and remembering. My wife is sound asleep upstairs, and there’s just a hint of a cool breeze, a reminder that autumn is approaching. The only light is from a small LED plugged into my laptop, which allows me to see the keyboard but is too dim to read the reference material. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been over it so many times I practically know it by heart. A neighbor’s dog starts barking as a coyote moves furtively across the yard, probably drawn by rabbits that live under the deck. The feral canine suddenly freezes, startled by my unfamiliar presence. She slinks away assuming I haven’t made her, instinctively (and wisely) giving way to the planet’s top predator. I don’t normally think of myself that way, but know that’s what our species is. It must be programmed into our DNA because I have a fleeting, irrational thought that if I had a gun I would kill the coyote for no other reason than trespassing. I doubt if I would act on it, but the thought is there. Maybe that’s why I don’t own a weapon.
Sometimes when I look into the life of another, especially one who has completed life’s journey, I feel like an intruder. Not this time. It’s like I’m right there, not only observing, but taking an active part. I see the places, hear the sounds, and smell the smells. I become a part of that life. As I read the account I have more questions; questions that will go forever unanswered.
…the end of THE INTERVIEW
KAHUNA: You have three sons. Where were you when the first was born? How did you feel?
FUZZ: Standing outside the hospital with another couple hoping our first child would be born before midnight because it was my mother’s birthday and also my brother’s wife’s birthday. He was. I was happy, but a little scared of the added responsibility; glad that he and my wife were well; glad he was a boy because I could give him my late father’s name.
KAHUNA: You’ve lived through my history books, and as such have seen and participated in many events. What is the one thing that stands out in your mind that is much better today than when you were younger?
FUZZ: It’s pretty hard to pick one, but if I must, I’ll say our homes. We have electricity, indoor plumbing and toilets, refrigerators, and all types of machines that make living much easier. My boyhood home had none of those. Remember I told you about our only heat source in the center of the living room? Sometimes people ask why our water pipes didn’t freeze. I have to remind them there were no water pipes to freeze. Some people had ice boxes, but we had a crock buried in the back yard for keeping dairy products. It kept everything nice winter through summer. We also had vegetable gardens and fruit trees because if you wanted such things year round you had to can them yourself. Only dry goods were available in stores.
KAHUNA: I remember reading about ice boxes. Without compressors how did the companies that sold and delivered ice keep it from melting in summer?
FUZZ: They figured out how to insulate it; usually with straw. It worked. There were these large ponds that would freeze in the winter, and the ice would be sawed into blocks and stored. I remember one summer when I was maybe 10 or 11 a friend and I saw this guy with a horse and wagon pull into the center of the pond to wash the wagon, which was strictly against the law. I fixed him. When he was standing in the bed of the cart I shot his horse in the butt with my BB-gun. Guy took a header right into the pond. You never heard such swearing. Said he was going to tell my dad. I told him “horse manure” because he was doing something illegal.
KAHUNA: What about race relations?
FUZZ: No question they’re better now. Old attitudes and actions were based on ignorance, superstition, self-indulgence, or just not giving a damn. All people regardless of race, creed, or color have good people and bad people. Unfortunately, for all groups, the “bad” either outnumber the “good” or at least get more attention. Humans seem to have a need to find differences and make enemies. I don’t understand it, but that’s the way it has been since the beginning of recorded history. Here’s what I mean: where I grew up there was only one race of people, all from somewhere in Europe. The silly difference we found was religion: Protestants against Catholics. Name-calling, fist-fights… It was unbelievable, but that’s the way we are, and seems the way we’re fated to be. As long as there are differences to “find” there will never be true peace.
KAHUNA: How about one thing that’s not as good today as when you were younger?
FUZZ: That’s a much easier question. Trust in our neighbors and fellowman. In community we helped and cared for each other. We left our homes unlocked, keys in the ignition, and felt safe in the streets. Products we purchased received unconditional backing. There wasn’t the overarching selfishness, greed and avarice that you see—and is celebrated—today. We also took care of our old people. Today they are put in nursing homes to waste away and die. And then there are today’s young people. There are many good young people, but they seem to be outnumbered by creeps and youth who have no upbringing in a home; no roots; no fundamentals; and no foundation that comes from a healthy home life. Manners are absent; the kind that comes from home training when reared by parents who have good morals and sound religious convictions. I wish it were still true that people could believe in one another, trust one another, (and) make multi-million dollar deals on a handshake.
I have a funny story that’s about trust, though I’m not sure it was well-placed. As a teenager I helped out at the local barbershop sweeping floors and doing all around handiwork. One day the barber stepped out to run some errands. He told me to keep an eye on the shop. It was a time of day when nobody ever came in. Except that day. A farmer walked in and asked for a shave and a haircut. I told him the barber was out, and the farmer said why don’t I do it. So I did; a full haircut and a straight razor shave. Being an artistic guy, I did a good job; a little slow but good nevertheless. A green teenager with a straight razor at your throat? That’s trust!
KAHUNA: What’s the smartest thing you’ve ever done?
FUZZ: Marry my wife. She had a brilliant mind. (He looks away and tears fill his eyes.) I miss her so…
KAHUNA: Had? She’s still with you.
FUZZ: We’re experiencing a long funeral. Ten years ago she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Sometimes I wonder if when you’re smart you can use up your brain; I’m so ordinary I haven’t used mine up. I know that sounds silly, but I don’t know how to rationalize it and stay sane. My greatest fear is that I may be hospitalized or die before my wife because she would have no one to care for her. She needs me. …I wish my wonderful wife still had her brilliant mind and we could still do all the wonderful things that we enjoyed so much. AUTHOR’S NOTE: She died three years after this interview. She was 82, but physically looked 20 years younger.
KAHUNA: What do you expect from yourself in taking care of your wife due to her condition?
FUZZ: I don’t know that I’m sure what my role is except we promised to love and care for one another in sickness and health, until death do us part. The problems change from day-to-day. It takes a lot of readjustment. You lose your cool many times then are ashamed of yourself. I just hope and pray for the courage and strength to see the job through. I’ve learned about the 36-hour day of a caretaker.
KAHUNA: Do you think about being alone?
FUZZ: I can see it two ways. First, in my present situation being alone, even for a few minutes sometimes, is a great blessing to an Alzheimer’s caretaker. Thank God for those few minutes once in a while. Second, if I can’t live with my wife I prefer to be alone.
KAHUNA: How is your health?
FUZZ: Pretty good for a guy who’s smoked—mostly pipe—since 12, consumes scads of red meat, potatoes and gravy, and enjoys cocktails. I have arthritis creeping in with some pain in the shoulders and hips. Coated aspirin helps me deal with the aches. I also take three types of blood pressure medicine. I get semi-annual check-ups and everything looks good except I have an aortic aneurysm that’s been expanding for 20 years. Probably have to do something about it one of these days.
KAHUNA: How do you see death?
FUZZ: It’s a big, black door, which when opened you pass through into eternity with God.
KAHUNA: What are your plans for the future?
FUZZ: I don’t plan for tomorrow anymore. I have to deal with problems when they come. I take it as it comes, if it comes.
KAHUNA: I have no more questions, but I do have an observation. Your father and my father have exactly the same name, and your middle name and my middle name are the same, which are our fathers’ first names.
FUZZ: I know. (laughs)
All was relatively well with Fuzz for the three years after this interview. After that he received surgeries for aortic aneurysm, cataracts, gall bladder, and had some stones “nuked” in his bladder. The dominoes started to fall; the chain reaction that leads to the end had begun. Philosophically I suppose one could say it started much sooner; that is, at the moment of birth we’re spanked into death.
I recall him telling of his wife’s merciful passing freeing her from the grip of dementia. He said she went softly like the Frank Sinatra song, “Softly, As I Leave You”. That’s more accurate than he imagined. The song was not written about a lover abandoning his partner in the usual sense. It’s about a bed-ridden man near death whose wife is keeping watch over him. She falls asleep just before he departs life. When she awakes she finds a note that says: I’m leaving you softly because it would break my heart if you would wake and see me go.
I was there when Fuzz was on his deathbed, but stepped away for a while. While I was gone death came gently, softly…
Copyright by Gene Myers, author of AFTER HOURS: ADVENTURES OF AN INTERNATIONAL BUSINESSMAN (2009), Strategic Publishing Group, New York, NY – a hilarious account of the author’s overseas travels; and SONGS FROM LATTYS GROVE (2010), PublishAmerica, Fredericksburg, MD - a mildly sinister, but amusing work of fiction. Both are available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and available in Amazon Kindle and Nook formats. Watch for SALT HIS TAIL, a catch-me-if-you can crime thriller.
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life history, homes, race relations, trust, Alzheimer's disease, caretaker, death,