My dad is 87 years old and beginning to forget things. He can’t do crossword puzzles anymore and that makes me really sad. From my earliest days, I remember dad getting out the crossword from the Wisconsin State Journal at night after supper. He would take a pen out of his front shirt pocket and click it into action. A pen! No pencil for my dad, which proved his great intelligence to me. A 4.0 in his younger days at the university didn’t impress me as much as brandishing a ball point pen and confidently filling in all the little boxes on the paper. He could work through a puzzle in no time. I liked sitting there watching him, probably because it got me out of clearing the table or doing the dishes. But, the smell of the farm on his clothes and the twinkle in his eye and his mastery of words made a complete image of him in my memory. Sometimes he’d ask me an easy one and sometimes I’d get one right, but I knew I was no match.
In his later years, his daily pleasure was sitting at the breakfast table doing the crossword with his morning coffee. Sometimes when I called him, our phone conversations revolved around the puzzle and what the hard clues were. It was something we could talk about together. What once was a daily pleasure has now become a frustration.
When we visited him in the hospital awhile ago, I noticed he had tried to do the puzzle, in ink of course. It was on the chair and caught my eye because I had just done that very one the night before. It also got my attention because it was full of mistakes. The words going across were appropriate, but inaccurate, which made the words going down senseless. Honestly, the idea that he might be mixing up his medications, or the fact that he sometimes gets disoriented when out driving, doesn’t bother me as much as the reality that he can’t do crossword puzzles anymore.
I’m 50 years old, and I still can’t get up the nerve to do the daily crossword with a ball point pen.