When my older sister Fritzi was about 12, she discovered “Rock n Roll”. With 8 children and only 2 parents, Classical music, Broadway Show Tunes, and Petula Clark were soon replaced by The Monkees, Paul Revere and The Raiders, and The Beatles. Fritzi had a little portable record player where she played her latest 45’s or albums, and the 4 of us girls would sit around and listen to them. Inevitably my father would come to our room with an annoyed expression on his face and ask “Is someone sick in here? It sounds like someone has a stomach ache.” He would pause, and then say, “Oh, it’s just your music. Turn that down.” Contentious arguments would follow, while Fritzi turned the music down incrementally until my father was satisfied, and he would turn and walk out of the room with Fritzi wailing, “But Daaaaaaaaad. Now it sounds tinnnnyyyyyyy!!”
Over the years my father’s annoyed expression made an appearance frequently in our lives. It became a source of amusement to us, and someone finally gave it a name: Dad’s Constipated Expression. A slightly scrunched nose and furrowed brow, as if he had smelled something bad. Or, as if he was trying to…you know.
Dad’s Constipated Expression was especially prevalent during our teen years. Whether it was us just being noisy, wearing too much makeup, or talking on the phone too late into the night, there it was. It was definitely there the time my sister and I broke down on the New Jersey Turnpike and my Dad had to drive from Virginia to rescue us.
My father is a very meticulous person. Before his heart bypass a several years ago, he used to have a ritual of cutting up squares of cheese and eating them with crackers while he did his logic puzzles in front of the television every night. One time I dared to grab a cracker when I was walking by, and there it was…full on Constipated. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to share, but rather because now the squares of cheese wouldn’t match up to the number of crackers. (A friend of mine suggested he might not have the Constipated Expression if he stopped eating so much cheese).
After his bypass, my mother put the kibosh on eating unhealthy things, so the Constipated Expression would come out when she reminded him one piece of pie was enough, or Activia for dessert was just as good as chocolate ice cream!
This week I sat with my father in the hospital after he suffered a stroke. He can’t talk very well, but he’ll answer yes or no, and it’s clear he knows what’s going on. He hasn’t been interested in eating for several weeks, even before the stroke, and he’s not allowed liquids because of a silent aspiration risk. One afternoon he called me over and spoke very clearly. “Meg, can you get me a chocolate milkshake from Doumar’s”? I laughed out loud before replying, “Dad, remember you can’t have anything that will melt into liquid?” And there it was…Dad’s Constipated Expression. I will cherish it.