On that early December day in 2001, I was reached at our older son and daughter-in-law's home in northern California, where I enjoyed their company while making myself available for some League of Women Voters' meetings. I was told that my parents would be needing my help. This was an understatement.
My father, Erven, had been entrusting all the cooking, cleaning, child-rearing, and other household duties to Charlotte since July of 1937, when they were married in Southern Ohio, and so he was seriously challenged by her inability to sustain him during this difficult time. Neighbors would tide him over until I got there, he said when we talked on the phone. He had arranged for Charlotte to stay in a rehab facility until he was ready to bring her home. When he did bring her home, he said, she would find a newly-installed dishwasher as a Christmas present. Meanwhile, he suggested that I should bring my flute and be ready to play some Christmas music with her.
And so I went home to Southern California and soon took off for Phoenix, where Erven picked me up at the airport and took me to Charlotte's rehab facility near Wickenberg, Arizona. Charlotte was not in good spirits. She had been asked and asked to play the piano there, but she repeatedly declined because "something had been done to it." I opened the top of the upright piano and saw that it had been stuffed with tightly folded blankets by someone who wanted to muffle the sound. When the blankets were removed, it worked like a normal piano, and so Charlotte was willing to play at last.
I pulled out my flute, and the Christmas music I had brought along. Sotto voce, I said: "Good King Wenceslas, key of G." Charlotte gave me a two-bar intro ("GATH-ring win-ter fue-OOO-el"), and we were OFF!. The other patients loved it, and so did I. We gave a full program of Christmas carols, with Charlotte playing everything by ear. This was the kind of thing I had grown up doing since the age of eight, always expecting and receiving an accurate but flexible accompaniment on piano or organ, and never knowing the meaning of stage fright until my classmates began to suffer from it.
Afterwards, Erven drove me back to their small but comfortable home. There was about half a leftover turkey in the fridge, so I showed him how to make turkey hash. He was good at chopping meat and onions and potatoes, but nevertheless waited for Charlotte to take the initiative for future meals. At least she got a head start from the quantity of turkey soup I left in their freezer. I don't think she cared much for the hash.
Next day, the dishwasher was installed, and a neighbor brought in some chunks of two-by-four to help Erven raise their bed to the level prescribed for convalescence from hip surgery.
It's always good to have some easy music on hand. In recent years I've also learned to keep some favorite recipes on line in case of emergency.