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Dad fights way back from stroke with pluck and laughter

My dad had a slight stroke — an oxymoron if ever there was one.

He's recovering from the cruel trick his 81-year-old body played on him, rendering his left arm and leg almost useless. Six months later, that hand and foot still seem to have minds of their own but the 6-foot-4 father of five with a heart of gold and a full head of silver hair will not be defeated.

When he reaches for something with his left hand, it's as if he's a human claw machine, his brain deliberating its movement the way in which one determines the direction to move the claw hovering over a pile of plush toys. When his hand hits its mark, it clamps on just the way the claw does.

He asks for help only when absolutely necessary — like when his pipe tobacco is just out of reach of his trigger-operated grabber — and never says no to a new adventure — wheelchair be damned.

On a recent trip to see him in northern Ohio, we asked if he was up to a day trip to the Lake Erie tourist town of Port Clinton and its cheese shop, perch sandwiches and Toft's ice cream.

"I'll get ready," he said, catapulting himself out of his recliner, which, with the push of a button, tilts him from a seated position into a standing seated position. From there, he grabs his walker.

After I fetched his wheelchair, all that stood between us and a day on the lake (besides an hour drive) was The Ramp, a slanted walkway installed outside the front door for my mom before she died.

My parents — God love them — didn't want the ramp ruining the look of the house so they tucked it behind bushes. It worked, all right. You cannot see a ramp from the street, and all the wheelchair-pusher has to do — going downhill backward, of course — is make a 90-degree turn to get onto it without dumping the rider off the porch and then make a 90-degree turn to get off it without getting impaled by the bush at the bottom.

Once in the van, we folded and stowed the wheelchair and headed to Cheese Haven, the "world-famous" cheese shop that has either 88 or 125 varieties, depending on which sign on the building you believe.

As we squeezed our way through the throngs in the cheese aisle, he pointed out the chunks he wanted to buy while stuffing samples in his mouth. (An osprey can't spot fish any better than my dad can spot sample trays.)

Then, off to the other side of the store where my dad plucked bags of candy for his great-grandchildren out of the rows and rows of red baskets lining the shelves, holding every sweet you can imagine.

We hauled our loot and my dad (backward, of course) out of Cheese Haven and headed down the road for fresh Lake Erie perch sandwiches — uneventful until my dad said he had to go to the bathroom. Then we headed home, my dad asleep in the passenger seat before his orange-pineapple waffle cone hit the pit of his stomach.

It was the last day of our family reunion. I was already missing my grandbaby with the infectious giggle who had gone back to California with my son and daughter-in-law the day before. And the next day, I'd leave my dad. But we sure had fun before the sad goodbyes.

The only one not there was my mom. She died a year ago, and although none of us ever says it, we miss her every minute of every day.

Contact Patti Ewald at pewald@tampabay.com.

Dad fights way back from stroke with pluck and laughter 07/21/14 [Last modified: Monday, July 21, 2014 7:59pm]
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