A Father and Son story, by Rich Paschall
The knocking on the door was expected. Jack got up, shuffled across the room, and opened the door for his neighbor. “Well, old-timer, I hope you have the coffee ready,” the guest said cheerfully. “Who are you calling old? If I recall correctly, you are older than I am,” Jack replied
It was true. The neighbor was in fact almost a month older. It was Jack’s reminder whenever David called him an old-timer. The two had been friends for over 50 years and neighbors for almost 40. Now they were old and alone and sharing coffee two afternoons a week.
Conversations at Jack’s kitchen table ranged from sports to high school antics. A few stories had probably been told hundreds of times. It was not that they forgot they told the stories, it was just that they loved recalling certain memories. It was their way of passing a little time.
If David stayed on too long, he would meet up with Jack’s son, John. It was John Junior, actually, but no one dared to call him that. He hated being referred to as a Junior and would tell you so if you tried it. Many things seemed to annoy Junoir so there was no reason to add on to it.
This was one of the days David stayed too long. Junior had arrived.
John stopped in around the same time almost every day of the week. He would ring the bell, then let himself in with his own key so his father did not have to get up. Jack liked to answer the door just for the exercise of it, but Junior was impatient.
“I see you two are drinking coffee late in the afternoon again,” John began without any greeting.
“We have a rule, no coffee after 6 PM,” David explained.
“It’s almost six now,” John declared.
“And we’re almost done now,” Jack replied.
“Well don’t be telling me how you can’t sleep at night when you are drinking coffee at this hour, because I don’t want to hear it.” Exasperation was seeping out of Junior faster than the sweat on his forehead. Following that declaration, he began his inspection like a drill sergeant checking up on hopeless recruits.
“Dad, you have put the empty coffee pot back on the hot burner again. Can’t you turn this off when you are done?” Junior looked right at David as he continued, “One-day last week I had to clean this thing up. There were coffee grounds in the water section.”
“I guess I must have gotten confused and put some grounds in the wrong spot,” Jack said in an embarrassed tone.
“I guess you really need to concentrate on what you are doing,” John said. “Last week I found the soup all cooked away in the pot and the stove was still on. You are going to burn the house down one of these days if you are not careful.” Junior’s annoyance had now reached the level of full-on lecture. He reminded Jack of all the things he needed to do better. He admonished his dad for not concentrating on the task at hand and just sitting down and forgetting about things.
“I guess I better check on everything else while I am here. There’s just no telling what other problems we have going on.”
The two elderly gentlemen sat in embarrassed silence as the Junior one went from room to room looking everything over. He checked what was turned on and what was off. He looked at electric cords to make sure they were in good condition and not in the way. He took up throw rugs and moved items around. He returned to the kitchen armed with his report.
“Dad, you’ve got shoes and slippers in your path from the bed to the washroom. You need to put those things out of the way. Some night you are going to trip and fall.” Jack just nodded. “You should get one of those buttons you wear to call for help.”
“They are too expensive,” Jack reasoned.
“You won’t say it’s too expensive if you fall some night and die right there on your bedroom floor,” Junior declared in a disheartening manner.
David leaned across the kitchen table and said to Jack, “Yep, I am pretty sure you won’t have much to say then,” and he gave him a wink. John the junior one completely missed it.
“One more thing, I see you are still leaving the light on in the bathroom. Can’t you at least turn it off during the day?”
“I might not get there before dark,” Jack explained.
John shook his head. “I see I am going to have to get some night lights. OK, I can’t be spending any more time here today. I have my own things to do.” The visit had reached its peak on the Junior annoyance meter and it was time to go.
“I guess I will stop by tomorrow. Please be careful, dad”
“All right, son.” Junior was already at the door by the time Jack got out those three short words.
When John was out the door, David said, “You know if I talked to my father in that tone he would have slapped me. As a matter of fact, he is 95 now and I think he would still slap me. You should not let him talk to you like that.”
After a moment’s reflection, John explained, “Sometimes I think about how I talked to my mother as she got older. I was always impatient and frustrated. I did not like having to take so much of my time to deal with her issues. She was forgetful and as she got to 80 and beyond I should have realized how she struggled with certain things.”
Jack looked off in the distance and saw the past float by, “I guess it is true.”
“What is?” David asked.
With regret written on his face, John answered. “What goes around, comes around.”