We'd been through this before, not long ago in fact; but this new room had a better view than the one we'd put him in. That last clause is crucial: "where we'd put him." He'd have denied it if you'd asked him, but that was part of his wanting a new room--we'd put him in the old new one. The new, new room was his choice--his will. When you're 96 years old, you don't get that much opportunity to exercise your will.
He's a retired farmer with a college professor for his only son-in-law. It didn't take him long to figure out, years ago, that when it came to fixing things, his only son-in-law was a clutz. When we moved the bed a month ago, I was a little miffed that he had to supervise my handling of those nuts and bolts and washers. He's not mobile, needs a walker to get around. I think he could use a wheelchair, but a wheelchair is pretty much anathema since he fixed old ones for years after his retirement, repairing 'em for people who need them, of which he isn't one. So there.
But last time we moved his bed he went hand over hand along the mattress and box spring in order to get to the far wall where I was monkeying with four dang nuts and bolts and eight washers. Seriously, it took him five minutes to get there, but he made it, even got down on his knees--what knees?--to be able to see what I was doing.
Yesterday, an instant replay--instant is a misnomer, of course. Yesterday he got himself fully prone on the floor, as if that single bed, a dorm bed (interesting idea--when we get old we all get a dorm room), was a '36 Chev with a bad belt or fouled plugs. He got all the way down so he was actually lying on the floor. I should have got him a dolly.
"You okay, Dad?" I said when he was down there. He was breathing hard.
"Don't know exactly how I'm going to get back up," he said, chuckling.
Trust me, he didn't need to be there. It was a job even his clutz son-in-law could do; but there he was, lying on the floor. He didn't even have a ratchet or a pliars. He just had to see.
He just had to see because I can't tell you how much he wished he could do the job himself.
I thought about it--I really did. What happens if his heart gives out right then and there? What happens if he can't get back up, and the grim reaper drops by?
The truth? I think he'd have died happy. It wasn't a tank or a half-track or a jeep like the ones he serviced during the war, it was plain old nuts-and-bolts stuff, and he couldn't--he just couldn't--miss it. His vision is going, his hearing long ago departed; if that moment would have been it, I think he would have been just fine with it.
Our neighbor in the old place lost her husband and continued to live in the old house longer than she should have. She had kids in California, but toward the end she stayed here in the Iowa cold all winter long. Some mornings I'd see her out shoveling a frosting of snow off the sidewalk around the back door. She didn't need to really, and I could have done it for her. She was in her 90s.
But weak and creaky as she was, she wouldn't have thought of not sweeping snow. Had I gone over there and done it for her, I don't know that she would have been pleased. Pushing that snow was something she still could do, something she wanted to do because keeping your back step swept is what human beings do, and, aged as she was, she still wanted to be human.
Yesterday my father-in-law got down fully prone on his bedroom floor because there were nuts and bolts and washers, and they needed to be assembled with tools he never, ever uses anymore, tools he'd always loved to hold in his hands. It may be a stretch to say this, but I think it's true: yesterday, an old man risked death to be in on the action, to be part of it, to be human, even if there was nothing more there than nuts and bolts and washers.
I helped him get back on his feet--we did. He was tired. It was a long day at the home. But he was in the room that he chose, the one he wanted.