It is 1987.
My father has recovered from his first stroke. He hikes into the wilderness with wrist crutches. Sunday mornings he makes pancakes for everyone in the Forest Service tent cabin.
My father is a practical joker from waaaaay back. He and his brother, Bill, have jokes they regularly play on each other that started in childhood.
Dad finds a strand of silicone insulation from a window that is being re-glazed. It is long and green and shiny.
One other thing – lateralized sensitivity is a stroke thing. After my dad’s stroke, he can’t feel his right nostril. People are always telling him to wipe his nose.
One Sunday morning, he announces the pancakes and bacon are ready, turns to the famished hoard holding the platter with a pile of pancakes on it, and a long, green, slimy strand of construction-grade snot making like a pendulum back and forth just above the top pancake.
It is 2001.
Dad’s second stroke. He is depressed and angry. He has given up. He wants to die.
After rehab, I move him around the corner from me. I read the news to him in the mornings. In the afternoons, I come back to ask him questions about what we read. Memory exercise.
He can’t remember the word ‘remote’, as in ‘remote control’.
I read that the brain can make new pathways and it could be remembered a different way.
“Dad,” I say. “What do they call the thing they dig around a castle?”
He thinks about it a moment. “The moat.”
“And if they dig it a second time, they have to (wait for it) re-moat the castle.”
I do this a couple of times. He gives me dirty looks.
I sell my place and move with him to our house in Idyllwild. One day we are sitting in the living room. He reaches for the remote control but it’s just a little too far away. He looks at me like a child, pleading, and he asks me: “Steven, can you hand me the moat?”.
I look at him in horror. What have I done? I am ‘moatified’.
My father smiles. It is the first time he has smiled since his stroke.
He smiles at his little joke.