There’s nothing more depressing to me than going through what’s left of my father’s possessions. He’s now lived for eight years in an Alzheimer’s residence and I have files of his financial papers, odds and ends from his security box, photos, old documents. The bits and pieces of a life — so small and insignificant, when it comes down to it.
I can remember going almost door-to-door, in and out of banks in Midland, after we finally had to move him to a facility. He had a few thousand dollars in one bank, a few in the next — the clear signs of someone from a desperately poor family who grew up in Oklahoma during the Great Depression. He never trusted the stock market and barely trusted banks. (Every time the stock market takes a plunge these days, I can almost hear my parents saying, “We told you so.”)
Fortunately, our son was with me going from bank to bank and that helped greatly. He and I sifted through Daddy’s safety deposit box and, even then, it felt like prying. What had he considered important enough to put in that box? His marriage certificate to my mother, who had died in 1997. A few stock certificates. Rolls and rolls of Bicentennial quarters. Then — look at that! — wads of money. My son and I pulled out the carefully bound greenbacks in some kind of primal greed-rush. Then, we realized all of it was $2 bills and started to howl with laughter in the middle of the bank’s security-box area (which is kind of like a mausoleum, now that I think about it, with precious and semi-precious objects, instead of bodies).
Today, though, I’m looking for a photo i.d. of my father — a driver’s license or a passport — so I can set up an account that earns better interest for him. A photo i.d.?
“Homeland security regulations,” the guy at the bank tells me, shrugging his shoulders. “It used to be a lot easier than this.”
Homeland security? Well, that pisses me off even more. How wonderful to know that I’m making this country safer by finding a photo i.d. for my 83-year-old father with advanced dementia; it’s almost as effective as taking off my shoes at the airport. But I root around, through his stuff and our stuff, a bit ashamed because his precise accountant’s life — which was always neatly and dutifully recorded when he was still capable — has fallen into my own very imprecise, slipshod hands. And I think of everything I need to be doing, but haven’t, like getting in touch with the incompetent swine at his medical insurance company who still list my mother as being alive, even though she’s been dead for 11 years. But these insurance companies make a living out of being elusive and incommunicative, and I’ve already spent months on the phone with them, listening to automated messages and pressing the right buttons and getting cut off. Just trying to prove that my mother is dead. Which is, in summary, depressing beyond words — and something I still haven’t accomplished.
Finally, I find Daddy’s passport, in the middle of some of our own expired passports, with photos taken when my husband had lots of hair and my face hadn’t resolutely decided to fall due south. It was issued in 1998 and never used. I wonder where he thought he would go and why he never used it.
I emailed the banker with the information. Yesterday, I told him I wanted this investment to be with the biggest, most conservative, safest company on earth. When you’re investing money for a father who was a child of the Great Depression, it’s the least you can do.
(Copyright 2008 by Ruth Pennebaker)