22/04/08, Friday

Doing Something About The Hate In My Life

"A Pat and Pat Day"

Yesterday I was up early, planning out my day over a cup of coffee. I realized I had cleared my calendar of primary objectives for the week. My wife and I are off on vacation for a few days beginning Saturday. I had some yard work and computer work to get out of the way. I also wanted to get back to wrapping up the tax filings. Didn’t want the government to continue to use my meager overpayments before inflation gathered steam.

I hate that.

All I had intended to do was done by Wednesday evening. The only thing remaining was to pack for the vacation and that wasn’t going to be much; a few bathing suits, a towel, and some bathroom items would make me good to go.

Feeling accomplished, I realized I had some time on my hands. I could have filled it with lingering chores, but I said, “No! Time for something I hadn’t done in a long time.” Yep, time to do something a little fun. If I don’t grab those moments, I regret it.

I hate that.

On a sibling text message thread I recalled that my brother, Patrick, mentioned he had not seen Dad in eighteen months, since before the pandemic. His ability to get out and about has been limited. Even traveling the short distance from Thibodaux to Gramercy is difficult.

I hate that.

Of course, Dad couldn’t connect with him without a driver and he doesn’t have that resource readily and easily available in St. James Parish. As he often points out, “I’m kind of trapped and my world is getting smaller by the day, especially in a parish without a taxi.”

I hate that, too.

So much to hate, eh?

A few resources I had this day were a tank of $3.78 regular unleaded gasoline; a healthy 2013 Honda Accord I have driven less than 3,000 miles in the last 28 months; a to do list completed through the morning of April 7; time on my hands to use in a fun way; and, the willingness to make a snap decision without too much coffee dragging me down. With these few resources, I decided to “deploy the joy,” my new motto that accompanies my tagline, “joie de vivre in action.”

I called Dad at about 5:30am and asked if he would be available for lunch in Thibodaux.

He said, “Yes.”

I said, “Good, I’m going to see if we can surprise Patrick and sneak into Thibodaux so y’all can put eyeballs on each other. I know y’all talk on the phone all the time, but this will be special.”

I called Patrick to see what his schedule for the day was. He had a slot between medical appointments. It’s hard to get that guy sometimes with the string of things he must do to attend to his health. We had a window and it was open.

My day was set.

I traipsed down the back roads to Gramercy and picked Dad up by 8:30am. We shot over the bridge, zipped through the South end of St. James Parish, negotiated our way through the meager urban area called Choupique, Louisiana, and were at Patrick’s door by 9:47.

Patrick opened the door. He was delighted. He said, “Well, look what the cat dragged in and Tom, you’re definitely the cat if you were wondering which of you were.”

Patrick and Dad
Patrick Sylvest and Thomas A Sylvest 2022 Thiboddaux

Joy deployed. I felt pretty good about myself.

We visited a good two and a half hours. Since we all talk frequently on the phone, we treaded over old topics and moved on. Then we delved into some diverse, far-ranging subjects. Dad spoke to the differences in vocabulary and developments in dictionaries he has noticed in nearly a century of life. Patrick discussed the possibilities with his valuable catalogue of music, his father-in-law’s remarkable historical collections, and the events in his kids’ lives. I updated them on my explorations into the block-chain and it implications for my artwork before describing my readings about the Plantagenets of Medieval England.

At one point, I was admiring some of the artwork Patrick had on his walls. His artist buddy, Steve Schneider, does some beautiful realistic work. On Patrick’s North wall is an oblong painting of a sugarcane field in the middle of harvesting. On the facing wall is an oil close-up of a guitar on an obtuse angle looking from the sound hole up the neck along the strings. I asked Patrick if there was some significance to the one-point perspective of the paintings and the positioning of the paintings in the room. They seemed to converge to some distant intersection on an imaginary horizon. Patrick had never noticed that which I had observed and we jumped into a discourse about the meanings communicated in art, that which Schneider may or may not have been aware, and the randomly coincidental possibilities in this world.

We didn’t really exhaust that subject before we were on to the origins of civilization, Margaret Meade’s theories in anthropology, and how the night sky we experience would not be recognized by our ancestors.

While the back and forth was stimulating, being in the same room, walking in the yard a bit, and having time together was a good shot in the arm for all of us. That was the booster shot I wanted. I want more of that. I get too little of it.

I hate that.

Dad and I decided to return to the Gramercy area to search up some grub. It was a round noon in Thibodaux and that bayou town has become a hustling, bustling center of commerce. The midday traffic was building. I did not want to contend with the lunch-time crowd.

Allow me to give you a small episode that occurred on this jaunt as we headed home. There are many such episodes and if I wrote a collection of them, I would become a contender for the Pulitzer in literature.

Dad and I retraced our path. When we came to Choupique (remember I mentioned Choupique?) I slowed the car almost to a halt and pointed up to the water tower.

“Dad, I know you can only see out of one eye, but can you see what is written on that water tower?” I asked.

Struggling to position himself to look out the windshield he said, “Let me try.”

I said, “It doesn’t really matter. The town name is up there and it is spelled, C-H-O-U-P-I-C. If you put that in a map app you’ll end up in Chopin, Louisiana, just off I-49 northwest of Alexandria. Why do you think they replaced the Q-U-E with a C?”

Without a hint of hesitation he whipped out his wit and said, “Well, son, perhaps they ran out of paint.”

And off we went, speculating on the town’s budget, the limitations of artificial intelligence when real intelligence is missing, and the advertising opportunities missed because they couldn’t bother to spell the town’s name correctly.

End of episode.

This is a demonstration of the sort of fun we have on a road trip. The mental-stretching, brain-banging, and neural-enhancing conversations we have are beyond what one imagination can conjure up. We test theories of this, our perceptions of that, and our assumptions of other things in a free-wheeling, unstructured, and bewilderingly haphazard fashion. Mapping how our conversations begin, charting their circuitous courses, and wondering how we got to talking about the last topic often leaves us breathless. I hope I have the energy and am inspired enough to capture some of this meandering gab fest. I’m afraid life’s distractions and my own dreams and desires will cause me to put this effort aside.

I hate that.

We discovered that Nobile’s Restaurant in Lutcher didn’t close until 2pm for lunch. We selected that as our target. Neither of us had been there in a bit. Excellent food and highly recommended by this guy, for sure.

We made a pitstop at the house in Gramercy. Dad making the point that figuring out where the bathroom is in a restaurant, having the proper lighting for someone with one eye, and a diminished capacity for adjusting to poorly lit environments makes peeing at home most desirable. Probably shouldn’t have shared that, but it is the kind of information I collect that helps me appreciate a 96-year old’s circumstances and frustrations.

We had an excellent lunch at Nobile’s and I returned Dad to his residence by 1:25pm. I was fairly satisfied with the excursion. I imagined I could get home myself and get a little more yard work completed.

Tom, Jr. and Dad
Thomas A Sylvest, Jr. and Thomas A Sylvest

I stepped inside with Dad and found my sister, Teresa, eating lunch. The three of us visited and talked about the Hurricane Ida repairs they were just getting underway. Having had my own repair experiences, I hurt to see them living in less than comfortable surroundings while they got their home fixed. Dad is a great support for Teresa and Teresa is a remarkable caregiver for Dad. That relationship is awesome to behold. And still, both have issues with which they must contend day-in and day-out that I do not envy. Witnessing their patient, stoic and philosophical responses to crap that would break others is precious. I wish I could relieve the stress. But I can’t.

I hate that.

Teresa finished up and prepared to go back to work. Dad turned to me and said, “Thank you for the day, son.” I stood there kind of catatonic. I wasn’t looking forward to zipping back to Baton Rouge. I wanted more of what I just had.

“Dad, let’s go drive around some more,” I found myself suggesting.

“Sure, where to?”

“I really don’t know.”

He put on his sports coat and we accompanied Teresa out the door.

I called over to Teresa, “I don’t know where we are going, but I’ll keep you informed so you don’t have to wonder.”

She said, “Fine. Be careful.” And off she went to battle the gnats and dragons in her life.

We climbed back in the cockpit of the Conversation Cruiser and off we went. I thought about the time of day, the schedule of chemical plant workers, the traffic on the interstates, and the possible construction zones out and about our possible routes. It took a number of minutes before it appeared in my brain, but only a split second to snatch the idea and solidify it into a plan.

“How about we go to Ponchatoula and visit Pat Vitter?” I proposed.

“Oh my. Really? That would be wonderful,” Dad replied.

Vitters & Tommy
John and Pat Vitter with Tommy Sylvest 1972 Graduation Party

Pat Vitter Williams is a friend of fifty-four years. She was married to one of my all-time best teachers and friends, John Vitter. They became very close to my parents in their early married lives. The impact was a special two-way give and take. John passed away way too early. Eventually, she married Carey Williams, a Navy vet and terribly interesting man. The stories that surround the intersection of our lives with the Vitter-Williams are unbelievable. When the time comes that my life flashes before my eyes, Pat, her husbands, her precious Lauren, and the associated memories will be in the slideshow. In the meantime, too much time has passed between decent visits. The last time I think Dad and Pat had seen each other was following my mother’s memorial service in 2012. That is a decade ago. Much too long ago for people this important to us.

I hate that.

Taking the chance that I wouldn’t get a voicemail, I called the last number I had for Pat. She answered. I said, “How would you like a visit from two old geezers?”

She asked, “Who is this?”

“Two Toms!”

“What? Who? I can’t hear you.”

“Pat, this is Tommy Sylvest. Dad and I are coming to visit you. Can you visit?”

“I’m so sorry. I’m getting my car washed and serviced. I’m not home. I am so sorry I’ll miss you.” “We’re not in Ponchatoula. We’re in Gramercy. We decided to drive and come see you.”

“Oh! You’re not at my house.”

“No. We won’t be there for an hour.”

“Oh! Well, I should be home by then. That would be great.”

“Good. Get your car washed cause we don’t intend to wash it for you and we’ll see you in an hour.”

“Oh, my! How wonderful?”

And off we went. We enjoyed our beautiful Spring day, each other’s company, and the prospects of getting to spend time with a very special person. I could have headed back to Baton Rouge and fiddled around. I knew I wouldn’t like that. In fact,

I hate that.

Pat & Tommy
Pat Vitter with Tommy Sylvest 2022 Ponchtoula

With sufficient direction we found our destination and arrived before Pat got home. A very few minutes later, she appeared and we visited until the Sun fell to the horizon. The visit was more than we could have conjured. It was magical. We shared the tragedies and delights, the happenings and healths, and the treasured memories of a half century.

Pat & Tom
Pat Vitter with Thomas Ard Sylvest 2022 Ponchtoula

Joy deployed.

Darkness fully wrapped us by the time I returned Dad to where he lays his head. It was a good day. It was a very good day. He was home by 9:15pm.

I had a fifty-minute drive to review the day in my head, to make mental notes of things I learned, to create reminders of stuff to which I committed, and to consider what I needed to do before our upcoming and mighty brief vacation.

Dad often says, “Everyone can use more smile sessions. It’s important to collect as many as you can.” I similarly say, “Deploy your joy.”

We accomplished that.

I do not hate that.