My father's caregiver Leo is a former Belarussian soldier who went to Afghanistan with the Soviet Army. Leo has a pleasant nature and a tough exterior. He has seen things that most of us will never see.
My father Stewart is a Navy veteran who shipped over to Japan after the fighting was over. His rustbucket cruiser was scuttled when it reached the other side of the Pacific from the West Coast of America. My father toured Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His photos from those visits show a landscape featureless and flat. He returned home from the Navy and married my mother soon after. They grew up 200 yards apart on different farms in a lonely little Caskill valley in Upstate New York. Their marriage seemed like destiny. Or that was just how it went in those days.
Both Leo and my father are gregarious types. They are also both cheap and acquisitive. Leo knows the value of a dollar thanks to his status as Green Card occupant of the United States.
My father relishes the value of a dollar but has always had a penchant for get rich quick schemes and easy deals. Those instincts cost our family when my father got involved in a network marketing company in the early 70s. Dad lost thousands of dollars to a pair of brothers who concocted an industrial and household cleaner company that bilked hundreds of people out of their money in exchange for a basement full of boxes of liquid soap. As a result of the venture our family had to sell a beautiful three-story house in a small town and move into a cramped little split-level suburban rental on a boring street where dreams go to die.
Our family still survived and my parents remained married for 50 years before my mother died of cancer and stroke in 2005. That left me to care for my dad as my brothers lived in different states. Through a series of largely Eastern European caregivers, dad has maintained his health ane even improved in many ways since his stroke.
Garage Sale tours
Now he and Leo look forward every week to their Thursday through Saturday Garage Sale tours. My dad purchased a motorized wheelchair for pennies on the dollar at some garage sale, and it actually works. Then he bought a used Volkswagon van so the electric wheelchair can roll up a ramp and be stored in the back.
Dad may have gotten the idea for all this car stuff from Leo, who loves gadgets and things that whirr as much as my father, who was a former electrical engineer with a penchant for trying to fix things to save a buck.
A history of gadgets
My father did not always finish what he started. Early in his career he worked for Sylvania and RCA. It was the early days of TV and my dad brought home all kinds of tubes and TVs to set up and patch together. For many weeks we watched television on a tube without a wooden console. Just the naked glass shape surrounded by glowing tubes and colored wires. We got used to such contraptions.
My dad had an oscilloscope, an electronic device that measure the activite of cathode ray tubes, the type that powered early TVs. The device displayed smooth layers of green waves and looked quite scientific in the room where dad kept all his TV junk. Which in fact took up several rooms, not just one.
For all his seeming mechanical wizardry, my father was prone to the occasional dramatic failure. Such as the time when decided to siphon gas out of one of his vehicles using an old electric vaccuum. He stuck the hose in the fuel hole and turned on the motor to begin sucking out the gas. The electric spark of the vaccuum produced an immediate explosion, shooting the vaccum casing 100 feet into the air with parts and chunks raining down around bystanders like shrapnel from above.
Clutter as a way of life
It was a symbolic event, in a way. Clutter was a big part of our lives growing up with my father. That likely stems from the upbringing my father experienced with a spinster aunt who was an avowed hoarder. Nowadays hoarding is the subject of reality TV. But in the 1960s hoarding was simply a novelty of visiting that little farm house where we waded through stacks of National Geographics to get to the bedrooms where we slept. We were also told not complain or express fear when our "Uncle Homer" (whose actual relation to us was unknown) would moan or screach at whatever darkness vexed him in the night, for he was a reputed victim of mustarnd gas from the first World War.
Somehow most people emerge from the darkness and confusion of their past, the wars and Depression, the forced migrations that push people into worlds unknown.
Many come to settle in the eddies of life, as if they were washed down from the mountain of dreams in a landslide, then swirl and slowly settle into routines that bear marks of their past, but not too much, lest they recall with clarity the pain and circumstance that made them who they are.
And so it is that both my father and his caregiver Leo are collectors, of a sort. They drive around to garage sales together and buy stuff they think is a bargain. Leo looks it all up online, crowing over the supposed "real value" of each item he finds. Perhaps some of this is true. I don't know about the price of the samurai sword he bought, or where it came from. He has also found guitars, both electric and acoustic, which he has explained are derivatives of "Geebson" and other well-known brands. I play guitar, but the guitars he buys all look busted.
My father is a collector of golf clubs, for he loved the game as much as life itself. But his stroke took away use of his entire right side, so he can only feebly swing a club and putt around the green. He does go to the driving range and the club to do these activities, which Leo also enjoys.
They fishing together and go to breakfast each week at Colonial, a restaurant chain that is locally famous. Then they ram around to garage and estate sales spending $2 here, $3 there. A really big purchase might cost $30. These are usually displayed proudly in the middle of the living room, because that is the only place left to display anything. The entire dining room, the couch and most of the chairs on the main floor are repositories for garage sale junk my father packages up and send to relatives, his sisters especially.
None of them really want this stuff. But they know it keep their brother vital and occupied, such as it is. Recently he's taken to chronicling his collecting, using his good hand and very good artistic talent to draw and label the items he acquires.
This is his way to exert a little control in the world. The stroke too away the rest, including his ability to talk. Which my father always loved. He was a great, great singer too, and can still voice a view lines of Happy Birthday when pressed. But the apraxia and aphasia cut the rest of the word world from his brain.
Lacking these basic communication tools and the freedom of transportation he 0nce loved, my father with the help of Leo satisifies his love of life with an acquisitive nature. They even stop by the area Hooter's for lunch once in a while, to pick up a few girls in their travels. I'm only kidding of course, but an acquisitive nature isn't above a little imagination.