My father asked his primary care physician yesterday,”Did I ever tell you how I came to Cooperstown?”
“I’d love to hear that story,” she said. She wheeled her stool a little closer and leaned it to listen.
“When I was in high school, I worked at a camp in Vermont,” he began. “I met Haile Selassie there. We drove down these winding roads” — and he drew large zig-zags in the air — “to get to the Red Sea. You know, I used to hitchhike a lot of places because you could do that then.”
“Yes,” his doctor agreed, “things were different then. But you didn’t tell me how you got to Cooperstown. You were in Vermont.”
“Oh, right,” he said, and paused to think. “I was in Vermont. I worked at a boy’s, hmm…, I worked at an all-male camp. A man there named George Kempsel asked me what I was going to do with my life and I told him that I didn’t know. He told me, ‘You should go to Cooperstown!’ So I said, why not? And here I am.”
She smiled and thanked him for telling the story.
I wondered what she thought of it, but I didn’t have to wait long. When we left the exam room, she told my father to walk ahead of us so she could observe his walking. He complied and slowly toddled down the hallway with his walker.
“It’s interesting to see the dots,” she said.
“You know there were pieces from about five different stories there,” I said to her.
“Yes, I know,” she said, “and they aren’t connected, but he’s trying to connect them.”
I nodded. I asked her about a few things that were troubling me — his occasional difficulty swallowing, his struggle to dress himself appropriately, his general confusion.
“The thing you need to focus on is that he’s happy. He’s clearly very happy,” she said.
And that’s true.
The very first question she asked him — how are you doing? — elicited this answer. “I love where I live. I’m very happy there. And these fine people” (he gestured toward me) “take such good care of me. I have no complaints.”
But I kept thinking about the connect-the-dots that tell the story of a man. For my father, those dots have taken on a life all their own and are moving around in his landscape.
Realism moving to surrealism.
Maybe I can learn to appreciate the surreal.