My father spent the final year of his life in the VA Nursing Home in West Jackson. It was a difficult time for both of us. When a series of mini strokes tumbled him from his gregarious, larger than life existence into a weakened shell of his former self, he put up the wrong fight. When the doctors told him that aggressive physical therapy could help his recovery, he fought against his doctors and therapists instead of against his condition. For the first few months of this, I stayed pretty angry with him and really pushed and guilted him toward the therapy. But he was a stubborn man. After a while I came to the conclusion that he wasn’t long for this world and that instead of butting heads with him, I should just take advantage of the time we had. I didn’t fuss about progress. Instead I spent time with him on his terms. Good Scotch, cold beer and forbidden foods became the tools of bonding instead of weapons I could wield by withholding them from him.
Perhaps he knew long before me that he couldn’t tarry long and just craved those few pleasures in which he could indulge. I’m glad I came around to his terms and I treasure the times we spent eating, drinking, reminiscing and telling stories.
One of our favorite meals was a couple of ice cold beers and cheeseburgers from Goldie’s Express in Vicksburg. I would leave my office a little early and drive the 90-minute round trip from Jackson to Vicksburg and back. We would sit at the picnic table outside and he would make promises to get better in time for duck season. I would talk about where we would hunt and what we would eat at the camp and we both accepted the pleasant lies of a better future. I wasn’t worried about a day in the future that I knew wouldn’t come and he just took pleasure in the dream, knowing full well it would never come true. But the burgers were tasty, the beer was a healing tonic and the sun felt good on our faces.
I still think they are the best burgers you can get at a drive-thru and each bite reminds me of times that I could have missed had I not let go of my own will.