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My Dad, Jake Zagofsky 1917 - 1992

See From the Publisher for an explanation of why I'm running this vintage story — probably written around 1992.

I guess I think of my dad the way I think of one of the books on the shelf; I remember the cover but the memories inside have faded. Actually, with Dad's aging, even the cover has also faded.

Dad's been kind of sick lately; an irony of strength within weakness. He was born in 1918 and is now 73 years old. He worked for maybe 20 years as a truck mechanic. His Abe Lincolnesque figure of six foot - one inch tall has as long as I can remember been thin and possessing of great muscular strength, probably from the daily lifting of heavy truck parts. And now, even while frail and disoriented, he continues to retain his youthful forcefulness.

And so, with Dad in the hospital bed, with needles in his arms and a respirator on his face, the doctors have doped him with sedatives and tied him to the bed to prevent him from tearing out the needles or injuring the nurses. Mom can't stand to look at him in this pathetic, dehumanized state.

I stayed with him about a month ago. Mom was in the hospital on an unrelated matter, so I went to the apartment to help with Dad for a day or two. I wanted to get to know him and to fill in a few of the faded pages. Even then, he was apathetic and disoriented. He slept most of the day and didn't sleep well at night.

The first day, I was able to get him outside for a walk. Unfortunately, it was late fall and the weather was cold and damp. I hoped a walk would get him in touch with his remaining independence. No one else had the skill to walk with him. The last several times with him, we walked over a mile unassisted. But now, he was being told that he needed to go in a wheelchair and be pushed. He had no interest in walking, and I had no interest in helping him become an invalid.

Everyone told me that he didn't speak much. But he usually spoke to me. I think that he became disoriented and his memories of another time became his momentary reality. I had no problem joining him in his way. Sometimes it turned out that he was telling a joke and once the pieces came together, it all made sense. But everyone else thought that he was losing it. I guess that's why he was talking less and less.

While visiting, I found out a bit of Dad's past. He was born at 458 Dumont Ave. in the East New York section of Brooklyn. His father was Theodore or Teddy, or in Jewish - Todus. Teddy came to the United States in 1906 from Kharkov in the Ukraine. The ship was the Benbluff and probably carried 1,000 people. Teddy was a teenager. Teddy later married Bella, a native of East New York.

Dad went to P.S. 158 and later Strauss Jr. High School in Brooklyn. He learned to be a mechanic at Brooklyn Industrial High School. He always loved cars. He loved to drive and he loved to fix them. I remember Dad once telling me that the way he got his first car by stealing it. This was not unusual in those days of Brooklyn gangs like Murder, Inc.



That's about all he said over the two days that I stayed with him. When my mom came home from the hospital, she told me that he had stopped talking all together.

About two weeks ago, while wandering during the night, dad slipped and banged his head. My sister had him sent to the hospital for examination. He was admitted for pneumonia. That's why he got hooked up to all the tubes. I don't understand why they concluded that he had pneumonia. They must have been running a special.

I called Mom and she told me she had good news. She said that Dad's up and talking. "Yep," said Mom,"The first time he's spoken in weeks."

'Well, what did he say?" I asked.

"Well, his first words were, 'Oh, shit,'" said Mom.

On Sunday, I packed the family in the car and we made the trip to the city. We stopped at the apartment to first see Mom. She looked good but indicated that she was becoming depressed. She had come from the hospital. She said that Dad was in the middle of eating and collapsed. She said that they thought it might be a stroke. My sister ordered the hospital to do a CAT scan.

My Mom was particularly upset that Dad was in the hospital. While he was home, they had a home care aid to help out with the housework. With Dad in the hospital, the cost of the home care aid wasn't covered. And so, my Mom was worried that she would lose the service.

I went to the hospital to see Dad. He was a disoriented mind in the skin and bone remains of a once muscular body. He was still tied down. Only now he had been weakened to the point that the ties were to keep him from falling out of the bed.

After some initial unresponsive chatting, I began to encourage him to open his eyes. Each time he would open his eyes, his speech became clearer. He didn't have his false teeth in, so it was the more difficult to understand him. I said I was leaving soon and asked him if he would like me to call Mom. He gasped, "Yeah."

I dialed and greeted Mom. I told her that Dad wanted to talk to her. I put the phone to Dad's ear. Mom did the talking and over a minute or two, Dad gasped a half dozen "Yeahs."

It was getting time to go. So, I said to Dad, "Is there anything else that you want to tell to Mom?"

There was a pause. Then he said to Mom, clearly and understandably, "I love you."

~ Al Zagofsky








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