Fools’ (plural) Overture

August 1982

The Smith men, in Utah in August 1985, following the loss of the youngest Smith male.

Heads up. Here comes a whole lot of navel gazin’. Hey, it’s cheaper to puke on this here blog than it is to pay a therapist to get this shit out…

I’ve chronicled the challenges I faced following my mother’s passing in October 2012. Mom’s passing was a blow, but the real challenges came three weeks later, when my father broke his hip the night hurricane Sandy broke the metro New York City area. I’ve chronicled here, too, the challenges of the months that followed, caring for my father and doing things no child should have to do for his parent. And finally, I chronicled my exasperated escape, when my father’s stubborn nature and disrespect led me to move back to San Diego — pretty much as far away from Plum Island as you can get and still be in the continental United States — in September 2013.

What I haven’t chronicled (in addition to the times since that move) are the pangs and emotions that have wracked me ever since. No, I’m not Catholic and even if I was, I did my part for the cause. I felt wholly justified in departing, and I don’t know a soul — not even my father’s friends — who would begrudge me my leaving.

So why is it that when I hear from my sister this evening — my father won’t talk to me anymore — that my father, after falling and hurting himself, and spending some time in Newburyport’s Anna Jaques Hospital, is now in one of the notoriously bad rehab facilities, that I feel a sudden obligation to jump on a plane and go back to New England to rectify the situation?

My sister’s call came as I was nearing my apartment this evening. I called her back a few minutes later, after I’d walked inside, and she gave me the details. And that urge to head east came over me like some guy whose buddy took a bayonet for him back during the war.

The irony is that if I did fly back, my father wouldn’t agree to anything that would get him out of the crappy home and back into his house. He’s become so stubborn that he turned down food items he normally loves that my brother got him at Christmas, just because HE hadn’t suggested them first. Seriously. So suggest arranging an in-home nurse because it will get him? No. Suggest rearranging the house to accommodate less stairs and simpler living? No way. Don’t even bother suggesting a nicer, more home-like rehab facility such as those he was in in 2012 — those are right out.

I’d reconciled that realization, that his stubborn nature makes my abandoning the life and career I’m building here in San Diego a pointless gesture, over the course of a drive up the coast following the phone call with my sister. I stopped in for some tacos at a joint in Carlsbad and was driving home, content if somewhat saddened, when a song I haven’t heard in years came on the radio.

It was Supertramp’s song, “Fool’s Overture.” It’s a long, disjointed (but beautiful, great, haunting) piece about Winston Churchill and the resilience of the British people during the darkest days of World War II. It chronicles the shabby treatment the Brits gave Churchill, their savior, following the war, and makes clear that country’s debt to such a great leader.

It must be the fact the song references the war that made it hit me so hard on the ride home this evening. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t believe my father ever came home from World War II. He had a career, raised not one, but two, families, and has had a great, long life. But he’s still in the Ardennes; I believe that firmly. He’s one of a generation that we — not just Americans, but the entire world — owe an incalculable debt to. And me, too; I owe him. I still believe I’ve more than paid that debt back, but the anxiety of wondering if I have, and the sadness of watching, however remotely, an ancient man watch things wind down is unbearable.

The fool in Supertramp’s song is Churchill, those who cast him aside, Neville Chamberlain and all Brits who’ve come since 1940. Same goes for my family: we’re all fools. As Prince in “Romeo and Juliet” points out: all are punished.

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