I noted in my ‘About’ page that I’m a single father of a miniature schnauzer named Wolfgang. But, I’m also the single father of two older children who are actually blood relatives. Their names are Guadalupe and George – but I just call them Mom and Dad. Keeping track of all three can be challenging. But, I’m happy to say that when it comes to understanding what’s expected of proper behavior, Wolfgang has no equal. Although he’s independent-minded and sometimes stubborn, he’s highly intelligent and obedient. I have few problems with him.
Mom and Dad, on the other hand, cause too much trouble sometimes; too much for their own good. Both are nearing 80 and long since retired. What’s supposed to be their golden years has turned out to be more like a silver bullet – fast, brazen and wreaking all sorts of havoc. I dread the day, for example, that I have to snatch the car keys from father. Like most old men – like most men actually – that car is an extension of himself; a vessel of his independence.
Yesterday, Memorial Day, my dad decided he wanted some particular ice cream from a Braum’s and convinced my mom to ride along with him. It was just a short drive down the busy thoroughfare out of our neighborhood. They wouldn’t be long. Summer is upon us here in Texas, so ice cream is just a small pleasure.
I returned to my desk and preoccupied myself with the usual tasks – writing, laundry and job searches. I’m rarely idle. My mind won’t allow it. After a short while, Wolfgang became agitated. I asked if he wanted to go outside. He’d start for the door, but once in the sun room (which my folks converted from a lattice patio in the late 1980’s), he’d turn towards the garage – and look at me, frustrated. “They’ll be back,” I assured him. I was busy.
Some more time passed before I realized Mom and Dad were taking too much time for a brief jaunt down the street. Perhaps, I thought, they’d decided to run another errand, or remain at Braum’s to eat something. Then, the phone rang.
“I can’t get the car to shift into drive!” my dad shouted from their cell phone.
“What do you mean you can’t get it to shift?” I asked, becoming fearful.
My dad repeated himself and asked for me to come get my mother. He’d just called AAA. Wolfgang looked at me with an ‘I told you so’ expression. “Don’t start!” I said. I convinced him to jump in the truck with me and took off, waving to an elderly neighbor mowing his lawn as we passed by.
I was almost panicked. The temperature in the Dallas area had reached 90 by that time of day, and my mother has always been heat sensitive. My father has also grown sensitive to the heat in his old age, although he won’t admit it. Old men!
I raced to the store where I thought they were stranded, blowing a Porsche and another Dodge Ram off the road. Wolfgang kept looking at me; his big mocha brown eyes bearing a sarcastic glint. ‘Didn’t believe me, huh?! Huh?! Didn’t believe me when I told you something was wrong, huh?! Thought I was just being a brat, right?! Come on, Daddy – admit it!’ “Shut up.”
I got to the store – and through vision blurred with pollens and pollution in a fast-approaching heat wave – I thought I spotted my father’s silver car. There were several people standing around it. Good, I thought, concerned citizens had come to their rescue. God bless, my fellow Texans! They keep putting Rick Perry in office, but they can’t be all bad. Yet, as I entered the parking lot, a woman standing outside the car didn’t bear any resemblance to my mother. My mom is thin, but this chick was super-model scrawny – kind of like borderline starvation. That wasn’t my parents’ car. That group of people didn’t notice me staring hard at them, as they piled into their vehicle. Okay, I thought, they must be on the opposite side of the store. I drove around – and around – and around. Okay, I reassured myself, my dad probably got it going, and they’ve headed home.
I raced back to the house, almost forcing a Ford Ranger and a Cadillac off the road. I don’t like Fords, and Cadillacs don’t look as good as in years past. Wolfgang glared at me. ‘Humph!’ “They probably went back home,” I told him. ‘Mm-hm.’ I fumbled for my cell phone and dialed their number. I hate people who talk on their damn cell phones while driving, but this, of course, was reaching the emergency stage. ‘You’re telling me!’ “Shut up!”
They didn’t answer. Oh God! I had to calm myself down. At their age, my folks aren’t necessarily tech savvy. Their cell phone dates to 2002, and they think Facebook is a waste of time. My cell phone dates to 2010, and I don’t think much of Facebook either. But, I’ll tell you about all that later. I suddenly arrived at a railroad crossing – with a train going by! “On Memorial Day?!” I kept trying to call my parents. “Where are you?!” Surely, they’ve headed home by now. That’s what it is. My dad figured out what the hell was wrong with the gear shift and they just took off. Yea, that’s it. ‘Humph!’
We made it back to the house – empty. I panicked for a second and thought to call 911 and ask for a “Silver Alert.” Look for a couple of old folks in a gray car with some ice cream and an outdated cell phone. Texas takes its senior citizens seriously. They’re the only ones who willingly vote and pay taxes.
I tried calling their cell phone from the home phone. Still no answer.
Then, I heard a beeping sound, as if someone was trying to make an outbound call. “Hello! Hello!”
“Hello,” my mother shot back.
“Where are you?!” I had gone to the wrong Braum’s. They were at another one that they’ve visited frequently before, but where I’ve never been. “That’s what they get for going to get ice cream,” I told Wolfgang.
‘Humph.’ He didn’t want to go with me, even though I offered him a treat. ‘I’ll take the treat. You can go by yourself this time.’
Fine, I said, tossing a treat into his small, but grizzly bear powerful jaws. I raced down the heavily-traveled boulevard to the right Braum’s, only slightly concerned about the local police who I view with the same incredulity as politicians. I came up behind a white van stopped at a green light. “Move, you idiot!” I hollered into the windshield, as I leaned on my horn. One of these days, someone’s going to hear me shout at them and get very upset.
My folks were in their car, right out front. The motor and air were running. “Let me see! Let me see!” I told my dad, as I grappled for the gear shift. Yes, it was stuck.
My mother stepped out of the car with the bag of ice cream – Braum’s is the only store I know that still uses brown paper bags – and climbed up the several feet into my truck. “Ay, Chihuahua!” she groused, which she always did when she hoisted herself into my truck.
Just then, AAA showed up. Thank God! I decided to wait, as the man got into the driver’s seat of my dad’s car. He grabbed the gear and managed to shift it from park into reverse. He amazingly discovered the problem: my dad had forgotten to step on the brake.
“Dad, that’s Driving 101!”
“Ay, Chihuahua!” my mother exclaimed when I got back into my truck. I decided to follow my dad back home. Closely. Like the Secret Service. Ready to pounce at any interloper who’d dared tried to grab that gear shift.
Step on the brake; step on the brake! That’s the only way you can shift gears – these days. My dad must have been doing that instinctively and somehow forgotten for that moment.
That one terrifying, frightening moment. Wolfgang didn’t look at me funny anymore.
My parents had a tough time conceiving me. My mother wasn’t supposed to have a baby; she was too tiny, not good birthing weight. She was half-German and half-Mexican, but still didn’t come out with big hips. She almost lost me twice – at 7 and 9 months – and spent 14 hours in labor. When the ancient pediatrician finally showed up at the hospital the night before I was born, my dad lashed out at him.
“What’s the matter?” the doctor replied. “You got a date planned?”
My father grabbed him by his 1963 Neiman Marcus suit and slammed him against the wall. “Listen, you old bastard! My wife is in pain!”
They never had another kid, and I sort of resented that. Being an only child really isn’t that fun. That’s one reason my parents bought a German shepherd when I was 9. We had just moved into this suburban house, and they’d promised me a dog. I’ve come to like dogs better than people anyway. Dogs don’t have attitudes. My parents worked long hours – my dad in printing, my mom in insurance – to pay for that house and me and my education and the various accoutrements that come with all of that. They were raised speaking Spanish, yet raised me speaking English – much to the chagrin of my paternal grandmother, but to the pleasure of my paternal grandfather. They put up with a lot in their youth, when Hispanics weren’t often seen outside of farms and factories. As a half-German / half-Mexican, my mother had it especially difficult. And, they put up with a lot in their working years; dealing with paltry raises and company politics.
My mother got mad when Paula Jones sued Bill Clinton for sexual harassment. “Sexual harassment!” she screamed. “That stupid bitch doesn’t know what sexual harassment is! A married man invites a woman up to his hotel room at night and says she’s there for a job interview? That’s not harassment; that’s being a slut!” Damn! Women can get vicious with one another. My mother spent her working life on the phone and pays for it with headaches.
My father stood on his feet his entire working life; on concrete floors in thin-soled shoes. And, his knees and feet are paying the price for it all these years later. He worked for an old Jewish man who was filthy rich and gave out Christmas bonuses to his employees. He closed his company in the early 1990’s and outsourced most of the work; my dad was forced into early retirement.
Between them, my folks put in nearly a century’s worth of labor and taxes. Several years ago I was at a party, when someone asked me why I devoted so much time and energy to my parents. She was one of those bleeding heart liberal types who – as a Caucasian – felt obligated to make up for the past evils of her European forebears and dig water wells in Africa for the Peace Corps. She’d marched in protests against the death penalty and supported illegal immigrants’ right to work and use our state services. She thought the U.S. war in Afghanistan was immoral, but felt Israel has every right to bomb the crap out of Palestinian neighborhoods. Why, she asked me, do I feel the need to look out for my parents? “Isn’t there anybody else in the neighborhood who can do that?”
With a ‘Fuck you, dumb bitch’ poised at the tip of my tongue, I gave her a resounding, “No!” That’s my obligation; not the neighbors. “While you’re digging water wells for people who are too stupid to dig for themselves,” I told her, “I’m taking care of the people who brought me into this world and gave me everything they could.”
“I’m going to sentence both of you to home confinement and place ankle monitoring devices on you!” I told them, once back at the house. I turned to Wolfgang again – my adopted child and perennial therapist – and sighed. “Why can’t everyone be as responsible as you?”
‘Because everybody wants too damn much!’
Like ice cream. Okay, so what? Ice cream is well-deserved after a century’s worth of work. Ice cream and a dog with no attitude.