We persuaded my father to stop driving and give up his car for his 90th birthday. He wasn't a bad driver, but we worried about him. He didn't want to stop driving. Who would?
He loved his routines, his errands. To the cleaners, shopping, to get a haircut—heck, just to go for a drive. And he enjoyed driving into town for our regular weekly lunch date. We met at the same time, same place, for more than 10 years: Elmo's, 1:15, every Thursday.
I promised him that if he gave up his car, I would take him out to dinner every Thursday night, rain or shine. After fiddling with his seatbelt, we began our culinary tour looking for gourmet burgers and blooming onions.
Near as I can tell, my father's three favorite activities are talking, eating and singing. When we go out, his memory jukebox of songs and stories takes over. I've heard them all. But he's 90; he has a right to tell them again. To waitresses, parking lot attendants, greeters and seaters. When someone asks how's he doing, he'll tell 'em! I used to try to hurry him along. No more. I hope I live to be 90. His friendliness is contagious.
Dad worked in New York City most of his life, and he loves sharing his encounters with the bright lights: Gene Kelly, Ronald Reagan, Burgess Meredith, John Entwistle. When he gets excited, it's not unusual for him to illustrate a story with verse or song, complete with hand gestures. In the restaurant... well, we have a good time.
One recent afternoon, I received a generic e-mail from the Durham Bulls, subject line: tickets still available for tonight's game. OK, that would surprise Dad. We often check in with each other to remind ourselves of our date, waiting until the last minute to decide where to eat.
We eat on senior-citizen time, arriving early everywhere. Game time is 7; we arrive at 5:30.
At the ticket booth, I ask if any seats are available within a short walking distance. My father is totally thrilled to be at a ballpark. He tells the ticket woman about meeting Jackie Robinson, and seeing Babe Ruth hit a home run in Yankee Stadium.
The ticket woman is so friendly, clicking away on her keyboard. We're handed our tickets and make our way through the gate, looking for our section. She's given us the best seats either one of us has ever had at any baseball game. Eight rows up, right behind home plate. We both feel special, and start eating our way through the ballpark menu, starting with hot dogs, fries and beer.
It was a summer evening for all time, with home runs, kids running the bases, food vendors up and down the aisles and a fine sunset.
Sometimes after I've dropped my father off at his apartment, I think about my own mortality as I meander through the parking lots toward the village exit. I'm closer to his age than my daughters'. No melancholy that night. What started out as a late-summer coda ended up as a boys-of-summer revival.
Rounding third, heading home, I picked up speed. I was way ahead of the throw.