Everybody to the Limit

Well, I survived the crazy Memorial Day weekend, as did everybody in my family, though it wasn't easy. I flew solo on the Turkish Day Parade, which would have been too much for my dad. I walked something like twenty blocks from the train station to the start of the parade, which itself ran for about ten blocks, and then somehow left me thirty blocks away from the train. On Sunday, I had to park a mile away from the beginning of a parade because the cops wouldn't let us through, and then when my dad was recruited at the last minute to help out the band because someone didn't show up, I had to run back to the car, grab his instrument, and race back to the beginning. Then I actually had to march and play in the parade.

And then there was Monday.

Monday should have been the easiest day of them all. I've been playing the parades near my house with various bands for pretty much as long as I've been playing my Baritone horn, for over 24 years now. For most of those years, I've done those two gigs with the band of my late music teacher, which his son has taken over since his father passed away. This year, our friend Bill the trumpet player from the Brooklyn-based band was joining us. Bill lives several towns away, too far for his wife to drive and impossible for him to drive, since his one real eye suffers from advanced macular degeneration and he can't read signs or see lights. So I had to get up about an hour earlier than usual to go pick up Bill, and bring him back to the next town over from where I live.

As usual, my dad was impatient and halfway down the block before we'd even finished unpacking the car. He hadn't made it through the parade the day before, and rather than pace himself he was “testing” himself, to prove he could push through his heart problems, arthritis, and other limitations. There was a small ceremony overlooking the water, at which the deacon from our church said a benediction and some kind words for the soldiers who give their lives for us. After the firing of the rifles and echoing trumpets playing Taps, the parade was on. We'd heard it would be shorter this year, cutting out a stop at a park in the middle of the route, but that proved to be a bigger problem than anyone could have anticipated.

After each song, I'd look over at my dad, who was looking worse and worse. The color was draining from his face. His mouth hung open as he panted for air. Meanwhile, we continued down the road at a fast pace without stopping. Most parades, you take a few steps, pause for a bit, then walk some more. By the third song, my dad told me he was dropping out, that it wasn't chest pain but his knees were locking up and it was hard to walk. He looked like he was going to cut through a parking lot on a diagonal and meet us around the corner, but he wasn't there when we made our turn.

We got to the end of the parade with no sign of my father. Walking back to the car, I had to fight the urge to run as Bill, who's about 4 or 5 years older than my dad and a heavy smoker, breathed heavily and lagged behind. I found my dad sitting on a wall near where we'd left him, talking to one of his friends from the area. Back home, he ate some pasta to get some starch in his system and build up his strength. My mom made hot dogs for the rest of us, and by 11:30 she dropped us off for the second parade in our own town. My dad was looking a lot better, and I knew from experience that the pace would be slower with more breaks. It seemed like he was going to get through the whole thing, but about 2/3 of the way he told me he was dropping out and headed in to the crowd.

The route rounded a few more corners before doubling back to a reviewing stand. My dad took the short cut and was waiting on the next corner with my mom, but did not rejoin us until the parade was over. He was clearly embarrassed and disgusted while my mom was concerned. She said one of my old friends' mothers had offered him a bottle of water when she saw him sitting down, and that he got up and walked off because he didn't want to be treated like an old man. He tried to give the money back to my old music teacher's son, who refused to accept it and understood that my father had done as much as he was capable of, if not more. Walking back to the car, I had trouble keeping up with my dad, who was walking faster than everybody to prove something. He seemed angry that I was lagging behind, thinking I was trying to slow him down, but in truth I was getting a blister on the ball of my left foot and I was genuinely exhausted. Bill had the most wisdom to offer on the situation, understanding how hard it is on a man's pride to hit limits that were never there before, to suddenly need to depend on other people for simple things.

After a brief rest at home, I was ready to drive Bill home. My dad insisted on coming along in case I “fell asleep” at the wheel. At the time, the remark made me pretty angry, but I now realize it was his way of feeling needed and useful, and not a comment on my own sanity or limits. About an hour later, when we were home to stay, I finally gave in to my limits, collapsing for about an hour before calling a friend to tell him I probably wasn't going to make his barbecue. After passing out for another three hours, I felt a little depressed and disoriented. A beer and some burgers, or a burger and some beers, would have been a much-needed coda to a long weekend.

If nothing else, I think my dad needs to cut back this year. He definitely wouldn't be able to handle fire department parades or strenuous city jobs. I know even if he doesn't play, he'll still want to come watch me on the all-day New Jersey processions, but that will be too much for him and I won't be able to keep an eye on him all day. Next weekend we have some kind of small job playing for some children's diabetes charity, and I confirmed with the guy who hired us that there won't be a lot of walking involved. I think my dad needs to do some walking on his own, just a little bit each day, to stay limber and get his heart pumping better. He can't expect to jump back in to full capacity, and it's a mystery to me why a guy who once managed his own baseball team can't grasp that. I also suggested a portable heart rate monitor, so he can see what his pulse and blood pressure are when he does get chest tightness or weak spells. He doesn't understand why those feelings pass after he stops and sits for a minute or two, while it seems obvious to me that once he isn't exerting himself, carrying a heavy brass instrument and blowing in to it, that his heart slows down and isn't working as hard. In time, he might be able to do some of what he did, and there may be things he never does again. He inspires me to push myself when I feel like giving up. If you take just one more step, then one more after that, and repeat, sooner or later you do reach your goal. Everybody reaches limits, and even when they're easy to recognize, they're always hard to accept.


Blogger Lorna said...

It's hard being a parent...

5/27/2009 10:13 PM  

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