On March 30, 2014 my father, William Marion Hardy, turned 92. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia in 1922, the second son of Clyde Thompson Hardy and Norah Morris Hardy. My grandfather was from a town called Little Washington in eastern North Carolina. He met my grandmother when he was working at a saw mill near her father’s tobacco farm in neighbouring Littlefield. When they were courting, an itinerant photographer took my grandfather’s photo and tried to talk my grandmother into buying a print. “If somethin’ were to happen to Mr. Hardy,” he told her, “you wouldn’t take five dollars for it!”
In 1995 my father suffered a clinical depression, made that much more unnerving by the fact that his disposition had been, up to that point, unrelievedly sunny. During this period he slept fourteen hours a day and lost twenty pounds; his effect was flatter than road kill. My mother finally got him to get help by threatening to leave him. Then she threatened to leave him and take the dog. Dad went to a psychiatrist and a few months later recovered his misplaced bonhomie. He refers to this period as, “When I was crazy.”
Recently we traveled to Chapel Hill to break up Dad’s apartment; he was moving to the nursing home attached to the assisted living community where he has lived since 2004. It was Friday night – the night of the week when a group of between twelve and fifteen of Dad’s friends gather at the Clubhouse for Happy Hour — drinks and dinner, with an emphasis on drinks. With an average age of 88, they are a rowdy bunch; the Cedars reserves for them their own private dining room, doubtless in the hopes of not terrifying the other old people. It is an odd assortment of individuals. At other times in their lives they would have probably moved in very different circles . . . but, as it turns out, age is a great leveler. Who cares what your political views are or your social status? All that matters at Happy Hour is that you have a pulse, a thirst and a yearning to connect.
We accompanied Dad to Happy Hour as his guests. My sister and I ordered a gin and tonic. We observed the bartender pour. “Doesn’t that seem like a lot of gin?” my sister whispered to me as the girl half-filled a large tumbler with Tanqueray. Neither Pamela nor I back down from a challenge, especially when the challenge involves alcohol. We drank our drinks and ordered another.
After that I don’t remember a thing.
Well, actually, that’s not true.
I remember gushing at great length to a beautiful old woman about how truly grateful I was that, in my lifetime, blacks had made such great strides and weren’t they an amazing race? Why, what would America be without them? This paean to the black race is my default encomium when I’ve had one too many (in this case two were one too many). At least I wasn’t flirting outrageously with an eighty five year old Auschwitz survivor. That was my husband. He had had one martini. A Happy Hour martini.
Hours later, in the wee hours of the morning, I awoke, disoriented and jumbled, to find myself in the guest room of Dad’s apartment. I did not remember the rest of the meal. I did not remember returning to the apartment. I did not remember going to bed. An image of my aged father sitting slumped in his wheelchair, abandoned and forlorn, leapt into my mind. “OMG,” I gasped. “Did we leave Daddy at the Clubhouse?”
Fortunately we had not.
Glancing around at all the flushed and animated faces that night, I could see, glittering from within the crusted carapace of age, the young person each Happy Hour devotee still was, full of life and passion — pretty girls and dashing boys, and chief among them my sparkling father, holding court, holding sway. They’d all had two drinks, but they were the Greatest Generation. Unlike our sorry lot, they could hold their liquor.
I have many photographs of my father, but my memory of Happy Hour, incomplete and ragged though it is, is its own kind of keepsake.
I wouldn’t take five dollars for it.