One of the advantages of living in a five-story house is that you don’t need a Fitbit to make sure you’re getting in your 10,000 steps a day. We’ve stayed pretty spry just taking out the trash, hauling in the groceries, and running up and downstairs retrieving little odds and ends we constantly forget like books, dirty dishes, and car keys.
The stairs are not so great for my father-in-law, though, who has reached the age where walking down the corridor to the dining hall at his assisted living facility is a big challenge. He’d hauled himself up 19 stairs from our garage to our dining room for Thanksgiving, but the prospect of a repeat performance for Christmas looked dubious. And at age 95, who knew how many Christmases he had left? Since this was the first time in five years both our daughters would be home for the holidays, it felt even more important to celebrate together in traditional style—tree, stockings, lights, decorations, and Christmas dinner with all the trimmings.
“No problem,” I said to my husband. “Surely the four of us can carry him up the stairs.”
We decided to practice by hoisting Emma, our eldest, in the safety of our living room. Staggering, we dropped her onto the rug in about ten seconds, envisioning the domino effect of three generations meeting with disaster on the stairs into the garage. It was time for Plan B.
“The important thing is that we’re all together,” my mother-in-law and I said to one another, agreeing we’d eat instead at their favorite Chinese restaurant.
Which turned out to be closed on Christmas Day.
My husband made a reservation at a Thai restaurant instead.
In the meantime, my friend Eileen told me about a friend who’d had been carried into his house by firefighters after he was discharged from the hospital with a severely fractured leg.
“You should call the fire department,” Eileen urged.
“You’re kidding! They do that?” I replied, silently thinking, “What a waste of taxpayer money!”
And even if I didn’t think so, my in-laws surely would. I could not imagine them agreeing to such special treatment. We like to joke that they hate to impose on people so much that we won’t know that they’re dead until two weeks after the fact.
Still, I couldn’t let go of the idea, debating it back and forth in my mind, even putting “Call the fire department” on my to-do list. Like most things on my to-do list, there it stayed.
“Enlisting the firemen is a crazy idea, right?” I mused to my daughter. “We’ll be fine at the Thai restaurant, right? The important thing is for all of us to be together.”
The following day, my morning walk took me on a route I don’t usually take—one that ends a half a block from our fire station.
“What the hell—no harm in asking,” I said to myself, going in.
“I have a crazy question,” I said to the man at the desk, then explained our situation.
“It’s not crazy at all. We’re a full-service fire station, and that’s what your money supports. We do this all the time.”
My in-laws were surprisingly game.
“Some people might be too embarrassed to be carted up the stairs,” my father-in-law chortled over the phone. “But not me! I think it’s marvelous!”
On Christmas Day, four firefighters met us at the base of our stairs, strapped my father-in-law into a special chair, and deposited him safely in the living room. They arrived precisely at the appointed departure time, and reversed the procedure.
It was the best Christmas ever. Thanks, taxpayers!
And yesterday, to celebrate my father-in-law’s 96th birthday, we all went to his favorite Chinese restaurant, this time without any assistance beyond his portable walker. It was the best birthday celebration ever.