My father with his father, Joseph Roy Chapman, in Alabama, about 1924. The name of the dog is lost to history.
In the last ten days or so, my father has begun asking both my sister and me about a little boy on a red tricycle. "Where is he?" he asks. "Have you seen him?"
I've had several theories about this: since the onset of his brain disease, Dad has been getting boys and girls, men and women mixed up. During the year before he went into the nursing home I used to ride my bicycle over to see him at the house on Echo Drive almost every day. Was he wondering about me and was he just confused? I asked him and he said no.
Then again: over the years he lived on Echo, after my sister and I were grown, he made friends with all the neighborhood kids. He was always outside washing the car or working in the yard or unloading bricks from his car (he scrounged them everywhere and used them in patios and walkways) and kids would come over and ask him what he was doing and they would talk while he worked. He adored children and they returned the feeling.
Perhaps it was a little neighbor child he remembered. But why is he asking about him now, and who is he?
Then, I recalled that I had a red tricycle and a red cowgirl outfit I wore everywhere when I was about three years old. So, when he asked me again about the boy and the red trike, I asked him if he meant me. He looked at me as if I were the crazy one.
"You don't have a trike," he said. "And you're not a little boy."
So the mystery continued. He's been very ill lately, maybe with pneumonia, maybe his pancreatic cancer has spread, maybe his NPH disease has further fried his brain. He seems especially frail.
"Have you seen anything of the little the boy with the red tricycle?" He asked me again at breakfast. I shook my head and said I was still checking.
Then I went home and started working, again, at the Echo Drive house, with its fifty years of boxes and stuff to sort through. I wondered who that little boy was that my father was missing. The one who rode the red trike.
As I worked in the dusty house, I remembered what a neurosurgeon friend once told me about a woman who came in to see him. "She said she thought sometimes it was today and sometimes it was yesterday and sometimes it was tomorrow. 'I've been to a psychiatrist and he thinks I'm okay. Do you think I'm going crazy,' she asked?" The doctor did a brain scan and found a little scar on the lobe of her brain where we experience time perception. He removed the scar and she was herself again.
My father's brain is injured too and his time perception is now very quirky. Sometimes we are in the 1940s--sometimes, we're in even earlier days than that and we're in the Alabama of his boyhood.
And suddenly I recalled seeing an old photo of my father and I dug it out of the bottom of a pile. It is in black and white; but, I colored it in, a little, with my computer.
Is my father, the little boy he's searching for? I wonder.