Friends and family

Tuesday, February 28

I called my friend Kitty Saturday evening in a last-ditch effort to avoid another weekend night alone. Kitty is one of my best and oldest friends in Atlanta, a refugee from the financial world and a wonderful portrait painter. We speak the same language spiritually, and I needed a healthy dose.

I suggested Mexican food, but she was cooking for her father and his friend, Katie, and invited me to join them. Kitty put her career on hold more than a year ago to move in with her father when his health began to deteriorate.

Mr. H and Katie were at the  plank table in the warm, high-ceilinged kitchen when I got there watching a British sitcom on a small TV. He wore the old clothes and becalmed look of the aged. Katie was sprightly in an off-white pantsuit. Kitty was at the sink, another small TV to her left tuned to the Olympics.

This scenario had played itself out over countless evenings, the three of them bound together by love, family, friendship and habit. I was the wild card, bringing a loaf of bread, a bottle of shiraz and an air of gratitude at being included.

In his prime, Mr. H was a no-nonsense attorney who once represented the Atlanta Braves. Now he is slow and feeble,  uninterested in the food set before him. His chair was pushed back from the table and as he reached for his wineglass, the hand shook. I handed him the glass and took it back from him and set it on the table, saying nothing, as if it were the most natural thing in the world. Later, I noticed he’d set the glass on a pile of cocktail napkins near his pill bottles, and move it to the table.

At Katie’s suggestion he switched the TV to the Olympics, and I provided background on Apolo Anton Ohno and Janica Kostelic, on the U.S. bobsled team and Dutch skating fans, on Bode Miller and Alberto Tomba.

We drank – Katie loved the wine, but I suspect it was the effervescence in the air – ate and laughed, and I forgot myself. I started call Mr. H Dan and made a gentle joke at his expense that made him chuckle. I patted him gently on the back and realized that this was a moment I’d never had with my own father, and never would.

Kitty called the next day to say how much her father enjoyed me. It was the first time he’s ever said that, and we talked about how in his decline he has become childlike.  "And clear," she said. "Very clear."

It had been a joy for me as well, and the joy was in the giving.

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