Dad had Alzheimer’s. We never figured this out until well after he stunned us all by selling the farm. A few years after he did that, he came across the yard to my back door. “Do I have my clothes on?” he said as he stepped inside.
“Well yes,” I said.
“People get awfully upset if you don’t,” he said. Then he warned me to be on my toes so that no one would come and take the farm away.
Mom looked after him with endless patience. When we all went out to eat Sunday dinner together, Dad grinned, drew a great breath and let out a noise like a steam engine whistle, reducing the entire restaurant to dead silence. “Harry!” she gasped. “Mercy sakes!”
At three ‘o clock one morning, Mom gave me a ring and sent me out to look for him. I found him in his pajamas, barefoot in the snow. As I led him back to the house by his gnarled old hand, I remembered him tirelessly holding me by the overall straps, ploughing whilst I slept on the running-board. Soon he was making a game of eluding us by hiding in the woods. He was becoming difficult to find.
The last time I ever saw him, I went to the rest home with my banjo to keep him company. He would no longer open his eyes, but they had him dressed and sitting in the common room. I played Camptown Races, Old Joe Clark, Silver Bell, Turkey in the Straw and King’sHead. Dad nodded and tapped his foot in perfect time. Old withered folks shuffled in with walkers to join us. Wheelchairs parked between the davenports. Here and there, frail old voices were beginning to sing.
A minister appeared, pacing about in agitation before coming up to me. “It’s time for my delivery,” he said, shaking his head. “I’m afraid you’ll have to quit.”
I put away my banjo. “I’ll be back in a day or two, Dad.”
He squeezed his eyes tight and nodded.