A Parting Thought

Below the Beltway
(Eric Shansby)
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By Gene Weingarten
Sunday, May 24, 2009

No one accepted physical deterioration with greater grace and humor than my father. Over the last two decades of his life, his eyesight clouded into a soup -- at first, a nice consomme, but eventually minestrone, and a hearty one.

He was effectively blind, but remarkably cheerful about it. He read The Washington Post front to back every day, all day, on a device that magnified each letter to the size of a fist; polysyllabic words required three screens' worth of letters and a nimble short-term memory. My father understood the absurdity of it. He said that using this machine was like putting on mittens to tie your shoes.

At his assisted-living facility, my father dined with the same man every day for years. They became good friends, sharing observations and the genteel sort of intimacies consistent with two gentlemen who addressed each other as "Mr. Williams" and "Mr. Weingarten."

One day my father told me that Mr. Williams had died. He was sad, but smiling.

"I read his obituary in the paper today, and I learned something about him I never knew. Everyone else here knew it, but I didn't." He wanted me to guess.

"He was rich?"

"Nope!"

"He was famous?"

"Nope!"

"I give up, Pop."

"He was black!"

Fifteen years a widower, at 85 my father found a girlfriend. Jeanette was another resident at his complex; her age and the thermostat setting in her apartment were both in the mid-90s. I liked her but could hardly bear to spend five minutes in her place.


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