He had a setback; a scare if you will. Even at 91 years old, Papa having anything wrong with him is unfathomable. He’s unsinkable. Nonetheless he ended up in the hospital. One day turned into two. Two felt like an eternity for Nana. But his prognosis was just fine and he would be home on the third day.
She tasked me with going to the house and picking up a set of clothes for him to wear home from the hospital. It had been some time since I visited the basement. Papa’s place. Functional, yes, with clothes, a tool bench, and his own bathroom. An outpost marked by carefully orchestrated chaos: trinkets, doodads, items collected through the years. And the pictures: a shrine to our family.
Nana called to relay what Papa would need. She carefully listed all the items, one by one, accompanied by an exact description of where to locate each. She’d memorized where every blessed item of his resided, dictating instructions so I could navigate the room. The care she took with identifying Papa’s needs took my breath away. If you had been eavesdropping on our phone call, it would’ve seemed as if he was going to the Met Gala. But no, just from a hospital bed, to the car, and home. The home they filled for decades, together.
A bond for the ages, theirs is, proof manifest in images affixed to the walls. Images of me as a baby girl. My doting older sister. Polaroids of the generation prior. My mother with pigtails, a grinning little girl. Innocent. Somewhere within us beneath the layers of thick skin remain those children. Giggly children. Nana and Papa chronicled our lives as a testament. Nana continued talking despite my distraction. “He will need a clean white t-shirt, a pair of slacks. The shoes he likes that slip on. You mustn’t forget socks and a light jacket in case there is a breeze.” I stared at the pictures and clenched his t-shirt.
Will our generation know a love like theirs? One marked by resilience. Of surpassing all of the odds and then surpassing them again. Nana and Papa lived on a milkman’s salary; they simultaneously had nothing and they had everything. Their lives have been intertwined for the last 62 years. A love like theirs isn’t readily replicated. We will have our love stories, sure. Beautiful, though different given all the amenities and provisions time and progress have afforded us. But when I grow tired or anxious in the fabric of the day-to-day, I’ll think of the tender urgency in her voice and strive for a love like theirs. Clean underwear and a clean white t-shirt. Papa is coming home.