I think Dad was in Manilla Manor for close to a year. His bed was positioned in the corner of the northeast wall, so he couldn’t see out the window that opened onto the Manor’s east green. All he could see, if he was awake, was the hallway through which the nurses moved, the wall on his left, and the television, often on, hanging in the center of the south wall. To sleep, he would face the blank wall on his right, grab the guard rail, and use it to pull himself towards it and adjust his body so that he wouldn’t feel the pull to fall back on his back. Dad often slept even at home with one leg out of the covers; a leg, he joked, was his thermometer, and maybe it was. As he grew older, he would often complain that his shins burned. But his inability to walk, to exercise, at his old age, when that was all that he was used to all his life, was the cause. Dad often had his eyes closed, even when awake. Not sure why; maybe something to do with what all that he had seen and didn’t want to see anymore. When he napped, when he was younger, he snored so loud at times that I thought anyone standing on the porch could hear. On the Beh place, naps for dad was always right after the noonday meal, on the sofa in the winter time, or on the cruddy, home-for-mice soft in the brooder house, which had been made over into sort of summer palace for us kids. Hot, yes, but there is nothing so tantalizing like heat and a little breeze to take the edge for an Iowa farmer in those days, one reason that I believe Dad enjoyed the heat in the south porch in the middle of summer rather than the air-conditioned cool inside.
At home during the day, if not lying down in the middle bedroom where he and Mom slept towards the end of his life instead of the far room, probably because it was close to the bathroom, less distance for the walker, Dad would be sitting on the back porch, even in the cool evenings of fall and early spring. In the afternoon, a can of Bud would be next to him; empties in a wastebasket lined with some sort of plastic. A small tv sat on a shelf some distance up in a corner. Even with the volume turned off, the picture would always be there. Windows all the way around the porch, if sitting down, windows through which one could only see the tops of buildings and trees, a summer storm that would roll in from the southwest, maybe the top of a neighbor who would come over or my brother coming around the side of garage after parking his truck in the back. When the cold weather started to chill everyone’s bones, plastic sheeting held with lathes nailed to the outside of the house kept those scenes opaque. The sounds of birds we all could hear if the television was off. Squirrels that moved from wire to wire and down the bark of a tree. But then I was never certain Dad saw much as he aged. His eyes seemed at time to be looking far away, cloudy on some days more than others, and he seldom wore his glasses except to read the paper or some letter from someone, who responded to one my mother sent,
My youngest brother, Gail, sent me a copy of a letter Dad wrote while in the service, stationed at Camp Pickett, Virginia, almost three weeks before I was born. “My Dearest Darling Wife,” the letter begins. In that short letter of three handwritten pages, each page the size of a card envelope, my father addressed my mother Darling five times. The last line, “Sending load \ load of love \ kisses.” And he signed it, “From your only one.” That kind of love makes me sad today, for it’s a love that I’ve never had, never witnessed in my own life, nor will, for reasons beyond me still to this day. He doesn’t mention me, the baby to come, which was natural then I think, not to mention pregnancy, almost as if speaking about it would place a pall on the birth. He does ask about Betty May, my older sister, that he was going to write to her too soon. Mom and Dad had been married since July 30, 1942. I married my second husband on July 30, hoping in the back of my mind that this time round I would have a marriage like my folks. But that never happened. Going through old boxes recently, whenever I came across a note written by my second ex, notes written while he was trying to make peace, I read them once more and then threw them in the trash. There are some things that one must never keep for long, and I kept those many years longer than I should have.
I know my father wrote other letters to my mom, juicy ones that I came across one day while searching for something else in the attic of their house, ones that said that “the bed’s going to get a workout.” I do remember my mother becoming so upset when I found them. I also found poems that Mom had copied in a register, poems it seems that her first husband had written to her. She told me when I asked about them later that she had burned them. But I know now that after she died, my older sister Betty has them.
I don’t remember the folks ever celebrating their anniversary. But we seldom celebrated anything back then, except perhaps little kids’ birthdays. When I was away from home, college or married or left to my own devices, on my birthday, Mom would send usually a five-dollar bill; maybe a little more, never much though. Grandma Snyder usually sent a five-dollar bill too, so I was rich, especially in college when my share of the rent was half of $75 dollars and I earned 50 cents an hour plus tips waiting tables.
One day while separating or divorcing my second husband, I drove home to Manilla. I don’t remember which, for during times like these, all memory fuses together, comes in snippets, When they come back, I’m not even sure if before or after any other event, I see them and I wonder why now, as if to make meaning of all that has happened. The folks had long since left the county farm, a year or two before I divorced my first husband. Dad worked then I think off and on, keeping an eye at night on the grain dryers; Mom worked cooking for the Depot or for an other restaurant–not sure of its name then. It was in the afternoon, more than likely a Saturday, for early Sunday, I would have to take the long trip back to Sioux Falls. We were talking at the kitchen table. Sitting in a chair to her left, I was confiding some things to her. I knew my folks liked my second husband, and I knew that they thought me wrong divorcing him; but I wasn’t. Dad wasn’t around. Perhaps on the back porch, but if I remember, it felt as if he was uptown or napping. Mom said something to the effect that she didn’t understand. She said, “You know, your father has always been my best friend.” I remember that sense of amazement with that simple statement; my father was her best friend. I know that I never can say that of anybody, much less a man. And I wonder where that lack of trust began. It must be a fungus that clogs off the airways, the means of enjoyment.