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His Room With a View
By Paula Shablo
Daddy chose the smallest window in the house as his personal “spot.”
No amount of reasoning would change his mind. He insisted the best view of the yard and the street beyond was from that window, and that was where he wanted to be.
The window was in the small room we had used for storage for years. The walls were lined with Rubbermaid tubs of various sizes, filled with decades worth of photographs, decorations, tools and all the odds and ends that get stored away instead of discarded over a long lifetime.
I recruited my brother and sister, and together we began the process of cleaning out the room for Daddy to use.
“Jeez,” June cried. “How did he even get to the window to look out and assess the view?”
Joe laughed. “It’s not that crowded in here, Junie.”
I sneezed. I confess, I didn’t go into the room often, and certainly didn’t make dusting in there a priority. June and Joe looked at me and pointed to the door. “Face masks! Stat!” Joe ordered, and I went downstairs to get a few.
We are an allergy-prone bunch.
Mamma had given up trying to talk Daddy out of taking the room over as his own, and supervised us as we moved the many containers to a corner in the basement. They probably should have been there all along, but it seemed like a mistake this late in the game. Neither of our parents were any good at negotiating the stairs. They were in their eighties.
“I need a solemn promise from both of you,” I said, “that you will call one of us if you need anything out of the basement.” I used my most demanding tone and shook a finger at them to emphasize the seriousness of my command.
Mamma laughed at me. “Don’t be bossy, Jean.”
I sighed in exasperation. “Just promise me, Mamma.”
They both promised.
We called it a basement, but it was probably more accurate to call it a cellar. It housed the furnace and water heater. There was a finished bathroom down there, and a small spare bedroom, and not much else. Joe had used it as a little apartment during his college years, which was the only reason the bed and bath had been completed. There was plenty of room for the containers, well away from the furnace.
Once the room was cleared out, Daddy’s chair was placed beside the window, strategically angled for the best view. He refused to let us put either curtains or shades on it. Joe offered to replace the glass; it was scratched and old. “No, no,” Daddy said. “I like it. It has character.”
The house was old, and we always supposed the room’s original use was as a nursery, since it was right next to the master bedroom. It’s a tiny space, really, about six feet by eight feet, and has a little closet in one corner. Joe used that space to install a small television and stereo. We brought in a rocking chair for Mamma, so she could join him there at least part of the time.
Daddy’s plan was isolation, really. But we couldn’t allow him to just drift away from us. Yes, we enabled his move into the room, but we refused to let him spend all his time alone in there.
“I just want to look out the window,” he told us, his voice plaintive, almost too low to hear.
We gave him alone time in the morning. He would sit, sipping his first cup of coffee, watching the squirrels and birds in the trees outside. Mamma would join him for his second cup while I cooked breakfast, drinking her only cup while they watched the morning news together and remarked upon the sad state of the world.
As time progressed, it got harder and harder to coax Daddy out for breakfast, but I flat refused to serve him in that room, and I won that daily battle through bribery. “I have grapes,” I told him.
Daddy loved grapes. We never ran out of grapes.
After breakfast—which I worked hard to stretch into at least an hour of conversation and laughter—we all took a short walk with the little Yorkie, Fred. This, too, became a chore. Daddy wanted to go to his “spot.” Reminding him that Fred needed his exercise to stay healthy would eventually persuade him that getting out of the house for some fresh air was a good idea for all of us, but he often tried to get Mamma and I to go without him.
Daddy called it his room with a view. It was his refuge. He was relaxed there. When he was out and about, he was visibly agitated. “I want to go home,” he would whine, mere steps out the front gate. “Is it time to go home?”
“Almost,” I would tell him, and urge him on to the end of the street, where we turned and headed back. Daddy’s mood would shift then to anticipation, because he could see the house getting nearer with each step.
Fred was less enthusiastic, but soon learned that I would take him on a second, longer walk once Daddy was settled back into his chair.
Mamma started to crochet again, a hobby she had abandoned several years before. We would let Daddy sit and look out the window while his favorite music played, and she would fashion pretty doilies and afghans and try to engage him in conversation.
Over time, Daddy talked less and less. Mamma would chatter on and on, getting grunts in response. Finally, one day Mamma became completely exasperated with him and demanded, “What do you see out there, anyway?”
“The Johnsons are having a yard sale,” Daddy replied. “They have a purple sofa. It must be ten feet long.”
“What?” Mamma got up and peered through the little window. The Johnson’s house was on the other side of the street, not remotely visible from that angle. It was February; no one in their right mind would be having a yard sale. The day was gray and cold, and there was a light dusting of snow on the ground.
Mamma turned and looked at me.
I had just come in with a platter of crackers and cold cuts and mugs of green tea. I put them down on the little table between their chairs and went to look out the window as Mamma returned to her chair. “What else do they have, Daddy?”
“Well, the sofa is just ridiculous, Jean,” he replied. “But there’s a nice bookcase. Haven’t you been looking for one for your room?”
“Yes,” I agreed. “I’m about to go get the mail and take Freddie for a romp. I’ll check it out.” I gave Mamma a look, and she nodded understanding.
They say, “Don’t argue. Agree.” Well, what’s the harm in that? He could see what he could see, and there was no point in telling him it wasn’t really there.
Over the next few months we all came to agree that the room was good for him. He engaged with us, regaling us with stories of the scenes he viewed through this magical window.
The Millers had a spectacular fight one snowy afternoon. (It was July, but who cares?) They slid and fell in glorious slow motion, and Mrs. Miller impressed Daddy with her amazing triple-axel spin lead-in to the knockout punch that left Mr. Miller covered in three feet of freezing snow. Daddy invited us to call and report the abuse, and June faked a 911 call from the kitchen to save poor Mr. Miller from freezing to death.
The Andersons got a new puppy, one of Marmaduke proportions, sometime in May. The gigantic fellow made friends with tiny Yorkie Fred and visited often.
The Johnsons repeatedly tried to unload that ten-foot-long purple sofa. I bought the bookshelf. (I ordered one from a catalog and Joe put it together before I moved it to my room and showed it off to Daddy.) Then they added a pink-and-purple leopard-print easy chair that Daddy threatened to buy for Mamma. She laughed long and hard over that.
“I thought you liked purple,” Daddy teased.
“Not on easy chairs!”
“You’d look so cute sitting in that chair. I better go make an offer before it gets sold.”
“Jim, don’t you dare!” Mamma giggled.
Daddy looked at me. “Don’t you think your mother would look cute in that chair?”
“My mother looks cute in everything,” I agreed. “But that chair wouldn’t match anything in this house.”
“We could buy the purple sofa,” Daddy suggested, grinning.
“It’s too big,” I reasoned.
We never knew what we were going to get when we asked what Daddy was looking at. Sometimes there were scenes from the past: a wedding; a family reunion; a fishing trip.
Mostly it was our neighbors, acting silly.
It became my habit to sit with him for that first cup of coffee, and then go out to fix breakfast when Mamma joined him for the morning news. He was most “with” us during those early hours of the day, but drifting by the time we returned from our little walks.
His gait had begun to falter, and as summer faded into autumn, I was beginning to accept that he’d be unable to join us for walks once winter set in. He fell often. I called a home health service for physical therapy, hoping to build him up. I fed him numerous times a day, even breaking my own rule about breakfast in his sanctuary on those days when it became too much of a fight to get him to the kitchen.
He was losing weight, mostly muscle. My Daddy was shrinking.
He spent most of his time in the room now, and we no longer insisted it was too long. He was clearly most comfortable there. He had music and his magical window. He had company most of the day and evening. June and Joe and their families visited most days, and Mamma and I took turns sitting with him as well.
He didn’t make much eye contact with us anymore, but instead told us what was going on outside and shared anecdotes of the past in between. “Oh, look, Jill!” he cried one evening. “A Studebaker. Looks just like the one your grandpappy drove.”
Mamma obligingly looked out and exclaimed over the antique car. “Is it the same color?” she asked. “The light’s not good.”
Daddy squinted. “Nah, it looks like a lighter brown,” he said. “I wonder who it belongs to.”
“I don’t know.”
I was standing in the doorway, praying he wouldn’t see my mother’s grandfather get out of the car.
Luckily, the car drove away then, and Daddy never saw the driver.
One morning we saw the first flakes of snow. Winter had arrived, earlier than any of us cared to see it. Daddy remarked on it when I brought him his first cup of coffee. “Jeannie, it’s gonna be a rough one,” he said. “That’s a heavy snow, and the leaves haven’t dropped yet. Not a good sign.”
“Hmm,” I said, watching sadly as the snow piled on supple branches and caused them to sag under the weight. There would be no gradual turning of the leaves this fall; by morning they would be black and dead. Ugly. It was depressing. “I think I’ll make us some cinnamon rolls,” I announced. “That should cheer us up.”
“Sounds good to me,” Daddy said.
I could hear Mamma in the shower as I prepared the rolls and got them in the oven. She was getting dressed when I went back to Daddy’s room to ask if he was ready for a second cup of coffee.
At first, I thought he was sleeping, which was unusual for him at this time of day. His chin rested on his chest, his eyes were closed. His hands were neatly folded in his lap.
His coffee mug was on the window sill. The coffee in it was still warm enough to steam the windowpane into near opacity.
“Daddy?” I could feel my mother behind me. I could hear her sharp intake of breath. Still, I repeated for the third time: “Daddy?”
Daddy was gone.
He was right—the winter was a rough one, and in so many different ways. There were freakishly cold temperatures and much more than average snowfall.
We all go in the room from time to time, and sit in Daddy’s chair. We look out the window. We can see the trees in the yard and the road out front. We can barely see the Anderson’s front lawn where it meets the sidewalk. We can see a small patch of the Miller’s yard next door, and we can’t see the Johnson’s place at all.
But Daddy saw everything. A giant puppy. A purple sofa. A Studebaker. A triple-axel knockout snow fight. He saw it all from his room with a view, and all of us long to see it too, through his eyes and his storytelling.
Mamma wouldn’t let me move the coffee mug. It sat there for days, near the cold, cold glass. It sat there through the viewings and the services and the endless visits from friends and neighbors and family.
Finally, fearing a moldy mess, I snuck into the room after she was asleep one night and emptied the liquid from it, washed it and returned it to the spot Daddy had left it in.
It is still there.
Please visit Paula on her blog: https://paulashablo.wordpress.com/