Rita Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 15, 2010

Rita Howell

Chief dishwasher overcomes hurdles both large and small

The dishes began piling up in the sink at my parents’ home on July 15.

That’s the date my dad, 87, fell and broke his pelvis and elbow and landed in the Med in Memphis.

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Daddy, since he retired, has been the chief dishwasher at their house. While he was in the hospital and in the rehabilitation facility afterward, my mama suddenly found herself with additional chores. Not that she dirtied many dishes at home by herself. She was spending most of her days with him in the hospital anyway.

We joked with his physical therapist that he needed to speed up his progress because we really needed him back at home washing dishes.

He came home in a wheelchair in September, quickly graduated to a walker, then to a cane. We knew he was well when he started washing dishes again.

Daddy’s eyesight is somewhat limited due to macular degeneration. Mama fusses when she occasionally finds food still stuck to a pan he’s just washed. But it doesn’t bother her enough to fire him from the job.

When he’s not washing dishes he is usually in his most comfortable chair in his home office, watching cable news shows on his 60-inch TV. Dean Williams knows what’s going on in Washington, D.C. He keeps up with the national news better than Anderson Cooper.

Daddy is a regular coffee-drinker with the Round Table men. This is a group of retirees who meet daily to sort things out for the rest of us. (They actually bought the round table at the restaurant where they originally started meeting. It’s been moved around town several times.) The guys kept tabs on Daddy during his recovery and sent him a card signed by all the coffee drinkers.

Immediately upon his release from the rehab facility in Southaven last fall, Daddy and Mama began making plans to attend the annual reunion of the 99th Bomb Group, Daddy’s World War II Army Air Corps unit. It was held in November in New Orleans.

I thought their plans were totally unrealistic. He was still in a wheelchair when they made their reservations. My sister and her husband immediately volunteered to chaperone them when it was evident they were serious about going.

They had a ball. Daddy opted out of the French Quarter tour, but the foursome made it to the D-Day Museum and to the reunion banquet.

Mama and Daddy, married 60 years, are back in their old routine of Sunday School, Republican party meetings, VFW suppers, and hosting Rupert and me for lunch most Sundays.

On Monday night they ventured out to Pawpaw’s for the meeting of the Panola County chapter of the Mississippi State Alumni Association. If you see my daddy wearing his sports coat, look on his lapel. You’ll see a gold bulldog pin.

But back to dishwashing.

Daddy is in charge of loading the dishwasher. It’s free-standing, in a corner of their kitchen. One recent day Mama moved it over ever so slightly. Something broke loose in the back and the thing started leaking. We tried for a week to get a plumber over to their house once Rupert determined that he couldn’t fix it.

I think Daddy got tired of hand-washing all their dishes.

The next time I was at their house, the dishwasher was gurgling and sloshing in the corner, and no longer leaking.

“We fixed it,” my mother said, smiling proudly.

Turns out they had enlisted the help of their grandson Sam who lives in Oxford. The trio made a trip to the hardware store and with Daddy’s knowledge, Mama’s input and Sam’s muscle power, new parts were installed and tightened and the problem solved.

Despite the fact that Daddy can no longer see to fix something himself, he can certainly analyze the problem and chart the course for its repair. With a long history of mending anything around our house that was broken–cars, toilets, appliances–he’s still a fixer.

On Sunday we will gather at their house to celebrate his 88th birthday. Mama will cook a roast. My sister will bring a birthday cake. The cake is not for Daddy, who is diabetic and will receive a sugar-free lemon pie, a frothy concoction my mother has perfected. The birthday cake will be for the rest of us. There will be candles on top which will be blown out by the honoree after we have rendered our pitifully off-key version of the Birthday Song.

Happy Birthday, Daddy.