Contributed by Ilene H. Sharp
Some childhood memories are clearer in my mind than things that happened last week. Perhaps it’s because they are so meaningful and somehow define who I am and who I have become.
The medicine chest of my childhood was a wooden cabinet painted in greenish blue speckle paint. It actually enjoyed another life as a bar in my father’s office many years before I was born. My father also had another life. A sophisticated businessman of the l940’s, he wore chalk stripe suits and smoked cigarettes. I know this because I have a photograph that lives in one of the dozens of albums that tell the story of my family in pictures. All this came before he was a husband and father.
As a child, sometimes I would wake up at night with a horrible stomach ache. My dad would sit me on top of the medicine cabinet, which sat in our upstairs hall outside of the bathroom, and give me coke syrup. He dispensed this remedy from a small glass pitcher with a yellow plastic top. In my memory it is something like the little syrup pitchers at a popular pancake restaurant. And so it was that this medicine cabinet became the first aid station in our home. From skinned knees to sprained ankles, here is where Dad would treat the wounded and dry the tears offering hugs and words of calm along with the medicine and band aids.
The medicine cabinet, now stripped of its greenish blue speckle paint, sits in my garage waiting to be restored to its gleaming wood finish and former glory as a bar. My dad, now 97, sits in his chair most days and sleeps much of the time. Although I suspect he wishes it to be so, his health and youth will not be restored. I am his caregiver—24/7. I dispense “first aid” without a proper medicine chest. It could never hold the cane, walker, wheel chair, bathroom bars and stair lift that are all part of our everyday life. He suffers from a variety of ills that come with old age.
At 6pm each evening I lift a tired, old man out of his easy chair and help his stiff legged, bent frame into the kitchen for dinner. Still, I see the handsome man in the photograph, smiling, wearing the impeccably tailored suit. I guess I always will. My father is unable to get out of a chair or walk without my assistance. He is never left alone. At 10pm we repeat this exercise when it is time for bed. As I take his right arm that holds his cane, he reaches out to “furniture walk”, grabbing onto anything he can for stability with his left hand as we make our way down the hall. Bedtime is always the same with long hugs that mean we both know that the morning may not be a certainty. Sometimes there are tears, and even though we are both crying, it’s my turn to dry his.