Then I left for New Harmony, following, in pre-GPS days, the directions given to me by some patrons at a McDonald’s in Bloomington, where I’d stopped for lunch. I, of course, had a road atlas with me, but the state map of Indiana was not all that detailed, and I hoped to gain some information about a more scenic route to New Harmony. At Mickey D’s, a helpful Hoosier, seeing me look at the map, offered me the best way—but, as I wrote in my journal later, the directions were serpentine … and I was about to leave, planning to ignore him. But then a young mother with two little guys sitting at the next table told me she’d overheard and gave me some different directions, which I followed—and loved.
Off I went on some lovely little two-lane roads winding through rolling hills and beautiful hardwood forests (leaves changing—though it’s quite dry, too, and the fields are full of grasshoppers, reminding me of some Oklahoma summers from years ago) ….
It was a gorgeous day in New Harmony—nary a wisp of a cloud. I walked around the town, camera firing away, took a good look at the former home of Robert Owen, a stately brick structure (bought two prints of same—one for me, one for Betty; mine still adorns our kitchen wall), and wondered about Utopian dreams and dreamers and what draws them to rivers like the Wabash, to places where they believe they can somehow create a society that will restore us to our prelapsarian purity. So far, it hasn’t worked. Anywhere.
Now … about that special poignancy I mentioned a little earlier concerning my October 4 email to Betty that informed her about my imminent trip to New Harmony. After telling her my plans for that trip, I wrote this: Then I’m off to Massachusetts this weekend for my parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary. Of course, I couldn’t have known when I wrote that sentence that this would be the final anniversary my father would live to celebrate. I have written in detail about my father’s decline and death in my memoir Turning Pages: A Memory of Books and Libraries and Loss (Kindle Direct, 2012), but just a few things here, for some context.
My parents were married in Enid, Oklahoma, on October 12, 1939. An odd coincidence: My wife and I were married in 1969; our son and daughter-in-law, in 1999. Cycles. Dad had led a vigorous life (born on a farm in Oregon—a star athlete in high school and college); he’d served during World War II (both theaters) and Korea (stationed in Texas). But as he aged, he slowed, declined. And by the fall of 1999, he was in a wheelchair, barely hanging on in the assisted living unit where they lived near Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He knew the next step was a nursing home—and he, like every rational person, dreaded that prospect.
I drove east, alone (Joyce was teaching), on Saturday, October 9, and stayed with my brothers in their old country farmhouse in Becket, Massachusetts, a place they use for a summer and weekend getaway (they both lived—and live—in the Boston area). Both my brothers were there for the anniversary—as well as our son and daughter-in-law, married less than two months. We had a little dinner in an area of my parents’ facility, and I later referred to it in my journal as a bust. I noted that Mom and Dad sat at opposite ends of the long table, … and I don’t believe they exchanged any words the entire night—a scene from Citizen Kane.
When I got home on Monday, there waiting for me was a voice-mail from my younger brother. Bad news. Dad was in the hospital, his heart misbehaving. Things were not looking good, so I made arrangements to fly out on the actual day of his anniversary …
I’m not going to rehash all of this. I can’t. Not again. Dad, 86, hung on until the end of November … I was back and forth to Massachusetts several times that dreary month.
But on October 16 I let Betty know what was going on. I told her about his situation—then this: Anyway, I’m home again and awaiting the call I’ve never wanted to receive. She replied: So sorry to hear about the news of your father. I know this must be a difficult time and my thoughts are with you.
From then on, our correspondence almost always had a personal dimension.