I wanted him to live forever, but of course that was not to be. The journey of my father’s decline began with more frequent trips to the emergency room–congestive heart failure had hooked its talons into his increasingly frail body. One winter night, I took him to the hospital where the doctor decided that Dad needed to be admitted, again. The familiar routine of exchanging street clothes for the ubiquitous paisley hospital gown and slippers began.
“What do you think of your designer gown, Dad?”
“Lovely,” he answered with fake gentility.
Always the gentleman, my father endeared himself to the nurse who had apologized for how long it was taking to get him admitted and settled. “That’s why they call us ‘patients,'” he answered.
The nurse handed me a plastic wrapped package of slippers that were hallmarks of hospital fashion: grey yarn knitted into a facsimile of a foot and bearing cracked rubber stripes across the soles.
I took my time to slide the hospital slippers over Dad’s blue veined and knotted feet. I felt incredibly blessed by the opportunity to serve him, and I was overcome by love for the man who had been such a wonderful father.
His feet had carried him for over ninety years. They had toddled down the wooden staircase of his childhood home on East Vine Street, helped him spring upward for cheering on First Ward School, nervously stood at the altar for his marriage, walked the deck of the USS Jacob Jones during WWII, and survived my childish glee as I “danced” with him on his toes. His feet led me down the aisle at my wedding, and they carried him down the aisle for the funerals of his parents, his brother and sister, and his beloved wife.
I’m sure my father had no idea that my simple task had invoked so much love and so many memories. But I didn’t say anything; I just helped him with his slippers.
“There, Dad. You’re all ready,” I said.