I just got home from the feed store about twenty minutes ago. Last week, the woman who pasture-boards her horse with us told Ralph we were out of feed. Unfortunately she didn’t tell me until late yesterday afternoon. I have suggested that she contact me directly when she needs anything from now on. But I’m a little annoyed because she should have known not to trust Ralph with that kind of information—and I should have checked myself sooner
Yet, as I write I can hear the humming whir of Ralph’s John Deere, a strangely calming sound on a warm summer day in Georgia. You well may be wondering whether it is safe for Ralph to be on a huge tractor if he can’t remember simple conversations? The short answer is: at this point yes.
The long answer is that we are at a strange place in terms of Ralph and responsibility. And his work on the farm encapsulates the conundrum.
Ralph loves mowing and is still more capable than most people of any age at most physical chores—a good thing since we’re busy readying the farm for our daughter’s wedding here in early October. Ralph has mowed the fence lines and frontage and will need to mow them again, he has scraped our winding, unpaved driveway as well as the dirt floor of the barn where we’re holding the reception. He works about four hours every day, rarely starting before eleven after a long morning of coffee and time with the dog. When he stops in mid-afternoon, he’s dirty, hot and tired, but he’s also savoring the knowledge he is needed and useful, and—even more important to his sense of self—still competent at what he does.
To Ralph competence, has always been a primary virtue. He may no longer be able to function as a businessman, he may not be able to remember how to get to the dentist he’s gone to for twenty-five years, he may not be able to follow a movie plot, but he is competent out in our field on that tractor—a man in control of all his faculties (or at least the ones that matter to him these days).
On the other hand, I am always a little nervous. Not that he’s unable to do the work (well, a little that he’ll drive the mower into the pond) but that he’s forgotten what work needs doing. Sometimes when I tell him NOT to mow the front field, he gets so fixated on remembering there is something about that field that he ends up mowing it. He has mowed certain fields way more often than they need mowing. I have to remind him and push him but doing either too much can be counter-productive. It is less a memory issue than one of anxiety.
So everyday, instead of over-reminding I double-check his work.
I want Ralph to feel competent for as long as possible. In fact I will him to be competent. My worry is that I selfishly have him take on more responsibility than he should because I can’t ride the John Deere or fix the plumbing or cut the firewood. What if I miss the signals warning me of decreased capacity. What if something bad happens because I am not vigilant enough. But on the other hand, to deprive him of activities he can do and loves prematurely would be a huge mistake too. This is the teeter-totter we are riding together, weighing the rise and fall, hoping not to knock each other off.