I recently tracked down a New Yorker article in my complete collection on DVDs that I remembered from long ago. It was a piece from November 13, 1978, by a prolific author, Arturo Vivante, who wrote fiction, but so convincingly I always thought they had to be largely autobiographical.
The article is written in the first person. The narrator returns to Italy to arrange for the care of his bedridden, home-bound 86-year-old father with many medical problems. His father’s wife had died six years before and the father would die himself the following year.
When he arrives, he finds a heavy cast of gloom surrounding the house, and, as is often the case with a failing parent, the narrator feels his presence only produces irritation. Even the elderly maid is more welcome, but the father has always preferred the company of women. His vocation had been philosophy (as was the author’s real father), and he thought women were more intelligent and possessed superior character. He delighted in them and even preferred reading women authors and poets. Women were simply his natural preference, and there was never any question of faithfulness to his wife.
The son thinks his lonely father would enjoy female company, so he walks to the village and finds a young manicurist who is willing to come and cut his father’s nails, even though he keeps them neat himself. The father is delighted with her visit. He reads poetry to her while she trims and files, and she is equally delighted with his attentions. They arrange for her to come each week. The plan is so successful, the son arranges for another girl to cut his hair, and she also comes weekly, even though both are more frequent than necessary. His father’s spirit returns as he looks forward to each appointment. The girls are so taken by his old-school attentions that they even come on idle afternoons without pay just for his company.
The son convinces the family cook to come out of retirement and prepare meals for his father. She is a talkative woman and fills the hours in the home. His father thrives, and with his care arranged, the son returns to his teaching job in Boston (where the author also teaches). When his father dies the following year, the two girls and the cook are with him.
I remembered this story for over thirty years because I identified totally with the father. I would hope my sons would, in similar circumstances, do the same for me. Is this at odds with the previous post? Maybe.