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Sunday Journal

Broken vows

Published June 12, 2005

Crash, tinkle. Three plates. Crash, clunk. One cup. She doesn't have a complete dinner set anymore.

She - let's call her Irma - is the woman who left my father today, his second wife. He suffered a stroke four months ago, at 90. Four years ago, two years into their marriage, after she underwent triple-bypass surgery and suffered a stroke, my father became Irma's caregiver.

On Monday Irma's son - I'll call him Joey -told my father he was moving her to his home "so she can get the care she needs."

I ask my dad how he feels about Irma leaving him to go live with her son. He says he doesn't want her to.

"Have you told her that," I ask.


"Well, she's your wife. You can say what you want."

Later he broaches the subject of her leaving.

"I have to," she says.

"I don't want you to go," he says.

She shrugs.

"It's going to be lonely here after you leave," he says.

"Shut up," she says.

Today, Irma's son and two daughters packed up her belongings and moved out what they could fit into their vehicles. The truck and movers will come on Monday to get her furniture - none too soon. I called my sister, Brenda, early this morning.

"I've got a plan," I tell her."We don't say a word, don't speak to them at all. It's like the Amish practice of "shunning.' " Brenda sounds dubious, and indeed it doesn't work out that way for her. Since I say nothing, she must, at critical times. Like when they talk about moving the mattress and springs on Monday.

"My daddy bought it," Brenda says.

"He bought it for Mama," Joey son says.

"He paid for it," Brenda says. "It stays."

Irma has stored her "good clothes" in the oak chiffarobe. Her everyday clothes fill the closet in the bedroom she and my father have shared, his clothes relegated to the back closet. Her children discuss taking the chiffarobe.

"My daddy bought it," Brenda says. "My brother put it together."

"He bought it for Mama," Joey says.

"He bought it. It stays," she insists.

My father watches the proceedings from his recliner in the living room. He fell early this morning. The aide had to call the fire department to help him up. Irma sits on the sofa much of the time they're here, except when they pack up the kitchen. Then she leans on her walker and directs her daughters as they go from cabinet to cabinet, pulling out what she says is "mine."

When the older daughter puts her hands on the knife set that hung in my parents' last home, I alert my sister. "The knives are my father's," Brenda tells them.

"It was just a mistake," Irma's daughter says, pulling her hand back as though she has touched a hot stove. "We're not going to take anything that's yours."

His. Not ours. His.

"What's the matter with that one - she doesn't have a tongue?" She frowns at my muteness and, maybe, at my catching her hand in the cookie jar.

After her kids finish loading the day's catch, Irma kisses my father goodbye.

"You cleaned me out, Irma," he tells her.

She doesn't answer.

"Do I have a place to sleep tonight?" he asks.

She doesn't answer.

Her children ensconce her in the front seat of Joey's Jeep Cherokee and they drive off in caravan.

Suggesting coffee, Brenda walks into the kitchen. I look for mugs. She picks up a ceramic container that holds Equal packets. "She forgot this," my sister says.

"They can get it Monday."

"Wouldn't it be a shame if it got broken?"

She walks outside and drops it on the concrete.

In the dishwasher I find three dirty plates and a cup belonging to the set she told her daughters to pack.

I walk outside.

Crash, clunk, tinkle.

- Valerie Borders is a freelance writer who lives in Baton Rouge, La.

[Last modified June 9, 2005, 11:33:04]

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