Thanksgiving 2008 We are at Sly and Doris', going through the usual. Cleaning their garage. Patching the hole in the patio screen. Scraping the mildew off the front door. Taking everything out of the refrigerator and washing the crud off the shelves, throwing away the rotting food. Dusting the ceiling fans. Vacuuming the closets. Cleaning the cat poop off the floor around the cat box. Pulling all the weeds out of the very neglected garden. Repairing the garbage disposal.
Of course these are things that two older people in poor health cannot do.
The question to ask is why are they things that 1. the gardener cannot do, 2. the cleaning lady cannot do, 3. the grandchildren who want to earn money cannot do, or 4. the son who lives one hour away cannot do?
Primo repairs the garbage disposal the day before Thanksgiving. We haven't tested it. Thanksgiving, after we have eaten, as Stephanie starts to do the dishes (Sly mutters something about how she doesn't know how to load a dishwasher) and is scraping food into the trash, Sly tells her just to put the scraps into the disposal.
"No, don't!" I tell her. "The disposal hasn't been working."
"Go ahead," Sly tells her as he glares at me.
"What if it breaks again?" I ask. "We'll never get a plumber out on Thanksgiving afternoon."
Sly looks at me as if I've sprouted horns. Who would do something so whacky as to call a plumber? "Primo can fix it," he announces. Because that's why Primo exists: to serve the needs of Sly and Doris.
"Oh that's just how I want my husband to spend his Thanksgiving," I mutter to Jack, who looks like he'd rather be having his fingernails extracted one by one than be sitting in the room with Sly.
Sly and Doris bought this house a few years ago. It is a big house on a big lot. They pay someone else to cut the grass. Sly can barely take out the trash.
"What were they thinking?" I ask Primo. "Why didn't they just buy a little condo on the beach? Their health was bad already when they bought this place."
"They thought they would get better," he answers.
"Ha! Nobody gets stronger at the age of 70! Does your dad really think that he alone defies the laws of aging? Sheesh. Even I knew enough to look for a small yard when we bought our house and we're way better off than they are. What is their plan? They can hardly take care of themselves. What is their plan for the future because they're sure not moving in with us."
I do some research, find the county services for the aged in about three minutes, find some good retirement communities. There are some decent options. Sly and Doris have money*. They can afford help. All they have to do is pick up the phone and ask for it.
Primo talks to his dad. Asks him - what are you going to do? How do you plan to handle this? "This" being code for "your deteriorating health and inability to do basic household tasks that used to be so easy for you, who used to be so strong."
Sly's answer to Primo: "Well, your mother and I plan to have you come down here at least twice a year to help us out."
My answer to Primo: "That is not an acceptable solution."
My anwer to Primo: "This is not China. This is not India. They don't get to make bad decisions about their retirement and expect you to bail them out. It is not acceptable for them to expect you to spend your precious vacation time and our money to do their chores. It is reasonable for them to expect you to visit, but your visits should be visits, not work sessions."
Primo is not happy about the situation, either. He has a conversation with them a few months later about this issue. Doris emails: "I know you resent coming here and doing our chores."
Gee, Doris. You think?
I overheard a woman complaining about her daughter in law keeping her son away from her. I wanted to tell her that maybe she is the one keeping the son away - that maybe if she made if pleasant for the son and DIL to visit, they might want to come.
What would it be like to visit and just visit? Not work. Not be tiptoeing on eggshells wondering when Sly is going to explode. Not wondering what infraction I am going to commit: - bad bacon eating, Sly correcting, not oatmeal offering - that Sly will later complain to Primo about.
Ah. That's crazy talk. We'll never know.
* My philosophy is that if you can afford cable, internet, a maid, a gardener, and booze, there is probably room in your budget for Meals on Wheels and some extra household help. Am I right? Oh. And for a cast-iron cat and $100 pressed wood hummingbird tables, bless Doris' heart.