I went to see my dad to help him out with some tasks that involved talking to other people, making phone calls, and filling out paperwork, things that, at 91, make him uncomfortable.
I found him an attorney because he wanted to have his will and estate papers checked out and when I drove him to Madison to see her, past all the dead deer, she gave us a laundry list of statements, deeds, and policies we had to unearth and send to her. Dad's records were in good order and he only got slightly flustered trying to fish out the right documents. We copied them off at the town library and mailed the envelope at the Lake Mills post office. Then we went to see a Brewers game against the Cincinnati Reds. The Brewers lost 2-1.
Dad really shouldn't be driving, with blind spots all over his field of vision and his moments of confusion and irritation, but he still does, weaving through heavy traffic to see his sister, Aunt Eileen. He already had one minor accident on his way home from one such visit. "Somebody clipped me," he says. I called around to see if I could find him a driver. There's a limo service right in his town but it would cost a fortune. Then I found an elder services place in Madison that would drive him for $24 an hour and run errands for him while he spent time with Eileen. It sounded great to me. I took him to meet the woman who ran the agency, but she was touchy-feely and tried to put him at ease by speaking to him in a calming, reassuring way. I knew he would hate that. Afterwards he said, "she was screwy." I don't know if he'll use her services, probably not, but I tried. It would be good if he did.
Aunt Eileen (93) lives at a Catholic senior's village in the Northwest corner of Milwaukee. She suffers from trigeminal neuralgia, a nasty condition, and other health problems that keep her bouncing back and forth between her own room and the intensive care unit. Her hearing is shot and her hearing aids never seem to work. Dad's voice box is shot so it's impossible to hear him even if you're not deaf. The visits are frustrating. This time she was doing well, walking, and pulling one of those carts with the oxygen tank in it. Eileen was always elegant and cool and her snarky wisecracks and lilting voice are exactly the same as they were when I was a little kid. The little old lady shell she lives in just doesn't seem to fit.
We ate in the dining room. When it was Dad's turn to order he got a panicked look and couldn't decide what to have. I got exasperated. Dad said, "You aren't used to hanging out with geriatrics."
Eileen is sitting on a million dollars. A lot of the money was inherited from their other sister, Aunt Lorraine, who died last year, and some of it came from saving every spare penny she ever earned. Eileen's money is spread out all over Milwaukee in banks, investment accounts and annuities. She is incapable and uninterested in managing her affairs and Dad and my sister Joyce don't know what to do about them. Us Dangles are genetically indecisive to the point that picking a restaurant is a monumental task, so deciding how to control somebody else's money is nearly impossible. The three of us spent all of Sunday going through boxes of Eileen's records trying to get a handle on what she owns. On Tuesday, Dad and I went to the bank to look into a safe place to park $800,000 that's sitting in a checking account. The investment adviser at the bank tried to sell us on a 7-year CD scheme that would pay up to 6% if ten companies outperformed their value on May 24, 2012, otherwise it would pay 0.3. Dad, in a decisive moment, said, "We don't want any of that crap."
Ever since Oscar was a baby he's referred to Dad as "the grandpa who lives in the woods with the deers." He lives alone in a large three bedroom on a woodsy acre. After mom died he moved back to Wisconsin and bought a house bigger than he needed. He got a place so big because that's how much furniture he had. It would cost a million dollars in California but in rural Wisconsin it's barely worth a quarter of that. If Dad had a mortgage it might be underwater, but he bought the house with cash. Financial success skips a generation; Oscar will probably own a chain of liquor stores. Dad keeps the house clean and there's always some Johnsonville bratwursts in the refrigerator. He says that places like Eileen's retirement village foster a culture of dependency. "Old people start thinking they can't do things for themselves," he says. As Tom Waits would say, independent as a hog on ice.
|I was in the Kansas City airport for the historic news.|