I just got home from doing my parents' grocery shopping. Usually, my dad comes along, but today he wasn't feeling up to it. Instead, he just gave me his list:
cookies - the white ones
milky way bars
ice cream bars
I sighed and opened their refrigerator. It was full. It was always full. I went through and took out everything that had expired or gone bad. I showed them the two unopened boxes of ice cream bars in the freezer and the case of 7-up in the corner of the kitchen.
This could be considered just part of the forgetfulness of getting older, but this is the way Dad's been shopping for years. At some point, about the time I was in high school, Mom had decided she was done with cooking. No arguments. My sibs and I took turns to cook dinners, the few we knew how to cook. We also had take-out, Hamburger Helper, and Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.
Eventually, when we all moved out and married, Dad retired and took over the domestic chores. His philosophy on cleaning house was, "You think this is bad? You should have seen the house I grew up in." He did the basics - laundry and dishes and yard work. He was proud of the chili he made every year for our Christmas eve celebration (he added an institution sized can of refried beans) and the family gatherings when he cooked hamburgers and brats on the grill. Pickles were his nod to green vegetables and salad was a half a head of iceberg lettuce with a knife stuck in it.
As they got older, Dad's shopping habits became more and more fixed. He got the same things every week, whether they were needed or not. His trips to the grocery, the hardware store, and the post office were his way of getting out of the house and, so sacred was this time, they were never, ever combined into one trip.
Then came the day when Dad drove himself to the store and suddenly became disoriented and confused. It didn't lasted long, but it scared him. A year later when they moved into assisted living, Dad made the choice to leave his car. He knew it was time to stop driving. He was 90 years old.
So now I take him shopping. Dad feels okay leaving Mom because there are people checking on her. It's just the two of us. He rides my mobility scooter around the store to save wear and tear on his knees. He chooses several boxes of cookies then, minutes later, tells me not to forget cookies. When I show him the boxes in the cart, he grins and says, "oops". He wants to buy for me, too. In his eyes, I've still got the same tastes as I did at age 10 and to him, my favorite foods will always be Velveeta cheese and pickled beets. How could I....refuse?
Our trips have been a sacred time for me, too. It's when Dad can tell me what's really going on with Mom. It's when we talk about things in the world and how the rest of the family is doing. The scooter gives him the freedom to move without pain and he's like a little kid with a toy. He's also fond of telling the clerk how old he is.
"You know, I'm 90 years old," he says seriously.
"Really?" they reply, "You don't look 90 years old."
"Well," he says, "at my age, with all my aches and pains, I doubt I have more than 20 good years left."
His mother died the day after her 97th birthday. Her brother lived to be 99. It might not be 20 years, but I'm preparing myself for a lot more shopping trips.
(No Dad, you don't need any more candy bars.)