Friday, April 29, 2005

IKEA Adventure

I was in the neighborhood, it was lunch-time and there were a few small items I wanted to pick-up. I hadn't been to IKEA for several months, and an hour spent there would be a nice break.

As I carried my plate of meat balls and boiled potatoes, with gravy and lingonberry jam, through the lunchroom, I was surprised to see Pastor Bill with two of his parishoners, Emma and Franklin. We greeted each other, then I proceeded to a table in the corner, removed my food from the tray and propped up the book I'd brought along. Suddenly Pastor Bill was at my elbow. "I didn't mean to ignore you. Why don't you come over to our table and join us?"

"Well," I answered, "I brought a book to read."

"Yes," he mused, "it would be hard to read with Emma at the table." Emma is a short, talkative women in her eighties, now bent over with arthritis and carrying a cane. Franklin is a pale, reserved man in his early nineties, slight and still spry, but carrying a cane, too, a white one. They have been long-time members of Pastor Bill's parish, and strong supporters of the church.

We frequently run into Pastor Bill with Emma and Franklin. I don't think Emma drives, and since Franklin lost his sight, they've walked long distances to various community events, the halt leading the blind. They've succeed in staying active and in touch with what's going on. But as Emma's arthritis has become more debilitating, Pastor B. has taken on what he calls his "pastoral ministry" by driving them places and doing things for them. He is, in a way, taking the place of the child they never had. Pastor B., in his early sixties, is the right age to be a son of Emma and Franklin. But you would not mistake him for their biological son because Pastor B. is very tall and powerfully built, with a smiling red face and an exuberant personality.

After lunch, my path crossed several times with the threesome. Pastor B. is just in the process of moving from an apartment into a house. Emma and Franklin are preparing to move from a house into a very small apartment in a senior citizen's complex. Pastor B. explained that he was picking up a few things for his new house. "But," he complained, "we haven't been able to find a convertable sofa-bed for Franklin. There are only futons and they're too hard to handle."

"I have a nice convertable I bought at IKEA a couple years ago," I replied. "But items at IKEA do tend to come and go. Let me look in the sofa department and see if I can spot something."

We left Emma and Franklin on a bench in a children's play area and shortcutted across the serpentine route IKEA customers are normally led along. There were actually several convertable sofas, but Pastor B. may not have recognized them because most do not look like the old sofa-beds our parents bought in the 1950s. We found two that were definite possibilities: one modern-looking and very easy to convert, and one more traditional in styling, but a bit more complicated to convert. Pastor B. excitedly went to fetch Emma and Franklin, then he and I explained the features and draw-backs of each model.

I didn't stay long enough to learn what they finally decided, but the encounter left me with several things to think about. I admired an ageing couple's dignity and their determination to stay active and in touch with the world in spite of increasing physical disabilities. Franklin asked if the bedding would need to be taken off the sofa each morning, and we assured him it could stay in place, with a nice bedspread on top. Emma added, "Even though Franklin doesn't see, he makes the beds."

She confided that Franklin would soon be 91. I replied that my father was almost 92 and is OK physically. But his mind is not good. Emma said with quiet pride, "Franklin's mind is as it was in his youth."

I could see it was true. He didn't seem confused when several people were talking at once, and when we read parts of the furniture specification sheets to him, he processed the measurements quickly and repeated the size in equivalent terms.

And I pondered the meaning of "family". This unlikely trio --- a gently gossipy old lady, a reserved and scholarly old man, and a physically commanding and flamboyantly gay, middle-aged cleric, talking to each other in easy intimacy, like I would talk to my sister or my daughter.

"You know that nice bedspread you gave me? I can give it back if you want to use it on the sofa-bed."

"I have lots of twin-size sheets I don't need any more, if you'd like them."

I'll return to IKEA --- it's one of my favorite places to shop --- and I'll enjoy the visual stimulation of well-designed items, attractively displayed. But I probably won't be as enriched and morally stimulated as I was during this particular IKEA adventure. And I won't have quite as much fun!


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