Not that I know this from personal experience; I’m only 44, or as an elderly acquaintance recently put it, “just a baby.” Be that as it may I’ve had my share of experience in dealing with the whims of the more senior members of our society. Which is why I believe I’ve made a wise and well-informed choice by leaving my dad and his pet ants alone.
I only discovered the ants yesterday, crawling around at my dad’s feet in what appeared to be a somewhat aimless fashion. As I’ve mentioned in the past, my dad is in a nursing home, and since one likes to think of one’s parent’s nursing home as a very clean and sterile environment, one’s immediate reaction to an apparent ant infestation is to jump up and commence stomping. I am here to tell you that in the case of my father’s ants, one would be advised to think twice.
“No! Don’t kill them,” he said, just as I was ready to do exactly that. I froze, foot poised mid-air. “They’re nice. See?”
I did see. “But . . . they’re ants,” I said.
“They’re cute,” said my father. “Like tiny little babies. I wonder how much bigger they’ll get?”
Which was funny, because I, too, wondered how much bigger they’d get. Or more importantly, how much more abundant. As it stood, I could only see maybe six or eight of them, but, well. You know ants.
We sat in silence for a while, each thinking our own thoughts; my dad watched his ants, but as for what he was thinking, who knows. My own thoughts were along the lines of: I really have to tell them there are ants in here . . . I can’t just leave it, can I? I mean, no one just leaves ants. What if I don’t say anything, and next time I visit they’re everywhere? Why are there ants in the first place? Shouldn’t I really be a bit more concerned about this?
Then again, I mean, they were only ants.
Also, what if they became a big hit? What if some of the other memory patients started hanging around, just to see what the ants were up to? They could be like little mascots. My dad could have his own tribe. Maybe I should tell the staff to definitely not kill them.
I know. Believe me, even I was aware that this was a little far-fetched. But still, even if my dad didn’t get a whole new social circle out of it, it was clear the ants were providing him with something. He’s always enjoyed taking care of small creatures. I’d guess that in my lifetime alone, several thousand pounds of bread had been torn up and thrown on his driveway to feed the birds. It got to the point where the birds would perch on the windowsill at my parents’ house and look in at my dad, like, dude, we’re starving out here, where’s our Town Talk? “Your birds are looking for you,” my mom would tell him.
“All right, all right,” he’d say, as if somehow put out by this duty that he did not have to do at all.
“I have to feed the goddamn birds,” he told me one morning, on our way to work. We were a minute or two late, which mattered little to him – he’d still make it to his job in plenty of time. I, on the other hand, would miss my bus if we didn’t get out of the house right now. Too bad, though. The birds came first.
Then there was Henry, our cat, who had not only Fancy Feast for dinner, but also tiny samples of whatever my dad was eating. Steak, macaroni and cheese, didn’t matter. It all got cut up into miniscule pieces and served to Henry on a paper plate. Occasionally he got Whoppers later, as a snack. “Hendrick!” my dad would call, because I guess that was his nickname for Henry. “Your dinner’s ready!’
And Henry would come when my dad called. Not when any of the rest of us called. Only my dad.
“Look at that one go,” he said now, still watching the ants and clearly charmed. “I think he’s going over to see that other one.”
“So are they, like, your little pets?” I asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “I guess.”
“Do you feed them?”
“Yeah, I feed them.”
“I mean, what do you feed them?”
“Canned goods,” said my dad.
“Oh,” said I. “Well, then.”
When I left, he was still studying them, and I felt happy. Good. This was the first time I’d seen him actively pleased by something in quite a while. Of course, it wasn’t long before I realized I’d left my dad surrounded by insects as a means to alleviate my own guilt over leaving him there at all. A move which seemed questionable at best.
But, I don’t know. Sometimes, I guess, you just have to take what you get.