Lucky That Way
Rediscovering My Father's World
Publication Year: 2013
“I decide that from now on we should listen to him. His lip may be deflated and his left side paralyzed, but he knows. And he has made terrible mistakes. But he knows. He knows. We are lucky that way.”
Lucky That Way, a nuanced, richly engaging memoir, chronicles the joys and tribulations of a daughter who rediscovers her father as he nears the end of his life. Ernie Gerhardt, an artist and teacher, is largely estranged from his five children, but when he suffers a debilitating stroke, his daughter Pamela must fly to Las Vegas to tend to him. When she arrives to find Ernie newly and shockingly fragile, she is hit by an unexpected wave of tenderness.
As she watches over him in intensive care, she recalls turning points in her family history—the early death of her mother and her father’s turn to heavy drinking--and reflects on the idiosyncrasies that make an imperfect and unique family, on what it means to become old, on what happens when parents are no longer the caregivers but the cared-for, and on how a family copes with their responsibility to the elderly.
Written in a crisp, engaging style, the story is less about the drudgery of finding the right mix of medicines, at-home caregivers, and rehabilitation centers and more about the emotional ramifications of caring for the sick under the weight of sometimes flawed attachments.
People make mistakes, grow old, get sick, and pass on from this world. Lucky That Way examines the irritations and comforts of contemporary family bonds. Gerhardt sifts through the complicated, multi-layered relationships for both wry comedy and high drama and records a string of triumphs and mishaps as Ernie and his five adult children struggle to manage his life and find meaning before their time runs out.
The emerging theme of imperfect humans struggling with life's great mysteries will strike a chord of recognition with the tens of thousands of Baby-Boomers and Gen-Xers who are currently facing similar circumstances with their elderly loved ones. Pamela Gerhardt’s heartfelt story about a family coming to terms with their aging father’s illness and imminent death takes readers on an emotional roller coaster that highlights love, loss, humor, and sadness.
Published by: University of Missouri Press
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Title Page, Copyright Page
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Many thanks to the following people who helped shepherd this flock of words forward: my early readers, who looked at the first draft, including Patti Kim, Amy Tudor, and especially Tim Denevi, a colleague whom I had just met and who graciously offered his input; my later ...
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Prologue: Got to Feed God Children
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When I was twenty-eight, I was a VISTA volunteer for an entire year and never told my father. I lived in a tiny, white farmhouse in rural South Carolina near a small town, population 1,000: 500 whites on one side, 500 blacks on the other. I taught illiterate adults how to read and write, mostly older African American women who had dropped out of ...
Part 1 - The Smallest Gesture
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I am flying to see my father in an intensive care unit, a man I haven’t I am simply moving forward, a couple miles a minute, as it were, thirty- I am vacant. I am mostly dreading Las Vegas, the city where he was hospitalized while on vacation, a city of phony Sphinxes and plaster Eiffel Towers. I am thinking that when I see him I will ask him, “Couldn’t ...
Part 2 - Acute Rehab
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I am standing in my kitchen loading dinner plates into the washing machine when the phone rings. Barb tells me she has just met Dad and John at the airport in South Carolina. “I can’t believe how he looks,” she says. I put down the dishrag. “What’s wrong?” It has been only four days since I last saw him in Vegas, but I am ...
Part 3 - Gyros and Beanbags
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At some point during the weeks that Dad is in long-term rehab in Columbia my sister and I decide to visit his house at Surfside Beach to turn off the water main. We pack up our families and meet there. I haven’t seen his house in seven years, and I realize on the long drive down that I did not think I ever would again. Now, I feel an odd sense of ...
Part 4 - The Difference between Matisse and Chagall
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Seven hours with the family in the station wagon from Washington, D.C., and we’re only in Smithfield, North Carolina, halfway there. Torrential rainfall. Normally, in seven hours I would have been at Dad’s house by now, holding a glass of wine, picking out the cashews from one of his cans of deluxe mixed nuts. Normally, in the old days, before ...
Part 5 - Finding the Time to Read Moby Dick
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We are in the car with Dad, driving on the curvy two-lane road that leads to his street, a road once lined with wild crepe myrtle. The street is now cluttered with small businesses, new housing, a landscape changed. In recent years, he has complained about the road: cars driving too fast; can’t make a left turn off his street because of the traffic. You have to ...
Part 6 - Eilean Donan
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As arranged, I fly into Tampa around five in the evening, and all I can think about is grabbing a cocktail with my two brothers who have been directing the movers all day at drops #1, #2, and #3. We get so few opportunities to be together without the kids, or, in recent months, ...
Part 7 - Sunshine on My Shoulders Looks So Lovely
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It is sunny out, a beautiful day in Williamsburg, Easter weekend. The kids are chatting with the blacksmith and the candlemaker. A revolution is stirring on the central street as actors in period clothes reenact events from the 1700s, gathering into groups, talking animatedly. My cell phone rings, but I answer it too late and it goes into message ...
About the Author
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Pamela Gerhardt is an instructor of Narrative Nonfiction in the Professional Writing Program at the University of Maryland and has also done freelance writing for the Washington Post, Dallas Morning News, Houston Chronicle, and other publications. She currently ...
Page Count: 183
Publication Year: 2013
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth