“When you hear the whistle blowin’ eight to the bar
Then you know that Tennessee is not very far …
Chattanooga choo choo
Won’t you choo-choo me home?”

Some of DooDaddy’s old colleagues from his Watson’s days were organizing a mini-reunion, appropriately enough at Not Watson’s, the Market Square restaurant named after its predecessor in the same space. Yup, they were getting the band back together. The lovely Joyce Tapscott, who never ages a day, was going to come and fetch The Doo and drop him off on Market Square, go park the car and then trot back to escort him to the gathering. Well, being the pleaser/party boy he is, DooDaddy accepted with delight and then fretted over whether or not he could pull it off. Geezer friends will recall the harrowing escapade of Mighty Musical Monday. Ultimately, he bowed out and said later he only regretted it “the tiniest bit,” when Joyce called from Not Watson’s and got everyone on the phone to say hello.

“I might could have made it,” said DooDaddy. “If you had come with me.”

Basically Downtown is just not doable for geezers, at least not my geezer, who is a bona fide Downtown Daddy, an early pioneer and champion of the area, when it was still tumbleweeds and homeless folks with nary a trendy brewpub in sight. DooDaddy was president of the Downtown Knoxville Association and quite the mover and shaker back in the day, when he strolled the square in his seersucker suit, cigarette in hand. The hero walk. In black and white. Merchants, mayors and mensches.

But times have changed, and even the man who walked so fast I couldn’t keep up as a little girl has slowed down. Watson’s has become Not Watson’s.

Nurse Karen says DooDaddy sleeps all day now in his chair. Just. Like. Gmamma. Don’t misunderstand – he still plays bridge, though he’s apt to doze off during a hand, and he’s rehearsing his lines for the upcoming Shannondale Follies, but my father has, indeed, slowed down.

So to all the well-meaning folks who ask things like, “Does DooDaddy want tickets to the Opera?” or suggest things like, “You should take DooDaddy to see ‘Beauty and the Beast’,” let me give it to you straight. My father’s balance is precarious. He walks on a walker. He can’t get up and down out of chairs without arms or lower himself into tiny velvet theater seats in the dark. He can’t get back up out of these seats to go the bathroom, which is necessary for old folks, far more frequently than the rest of us. He won’t let me help him get to the bathroom, because I am a girl – his little girl. If I push him in a wheelchair, then he doesn’t have his walker to navigate said bathroom, which may or may not have heavy doors that are hard to push open when you’re on a walker. Bathroom access is mission critical for geezers.

And chic downtown bistros have crowded tables to circumvent with armless chairs to sit in. It’s just too much damn trouble.

I remember a neighbor who developed some debilitating disease and was wheelchair bound for several years. He delighted in motoring his electric chair down to Kingston Pike – we lived behind the Greek Orthodox Church – on football Saturdays to wave at traffic. He decked himself out in orange and white shakers and sat there for hours. My family, particularly my parents, never understood why he wanted to do this. In fact, Gmamma and DooDaddy (then still Mom and Dad) were mortified on his behalf. This neighbor also liked to motor around snooping in other people’s mailboxes and reading their mail. But I digress …

For those of you who want to come up with ways for me to slip my father in special side doors and down to the front row in a wheelchair, so he can be somewhere he doesn’t want to be, please stop. I know you mean well, but just stop. He doesn’t want to do these things. Doesn’t want to draw attention to himself in his diminished state. Doesn’t want to deal with the hassle. And I don’t need to play the devoted caregiver in public, sporting my halo and wings for all to see.

If you care about my father, call him up to chat. He is a brilliant conversationalist, old-school Southern style. Or even better, go visit him at The Home. Fix DooDaddy a stiff drink from the liquor cabinet in the kitchen and pour yourself one too. Sit a spell. Visit. Swap stories. My father will light up the room with his humor and charm. And he will still be close enough to the bathroom.

Or join him for lunch in the Dining Room, where I can’t bear to go since my mother died, because I can’t sit at the table without her. Dad’s friends ask if I ever come around. I’ve become the invisible daughter. And that’s fine. When my sister comes to town, she works the Dining Room like a politician, nailing everyone’s names, staff and residents alike. I prefer to visit with my father back in the apartment, perched in my mother’s favorite chair, where I can feel her presence.

Wide hallways. No obstacles. Familiar places and spaces. Good lighting. Safety. These are the things that matter to my father now. He definitely doesn’t want to go to the mall, and he can’t come to your house for dinner. He doesn’t go out at night anymore. It’s just too perilous. Because he’s one fall away from the Nursing Home. And he’s rather die than go there.

And Lord willing, he will be able to do just that. Right there in his lovely apartment. In his sleep. Just like Gmamma. And they will be reunited in Heaven, without walkers or knee replacements, without arthritis, congestive heart failure, macular degeneration or cancer. And they will dance to Glenn Miller and his Orchestra playing “Chattanooga Choo Choo” and be forever young and beautiful.

Not Watson’s is located at the former site of Watson’s Department Store, an iconic Market Square shopping experience, lovingly managed by DooDaddy until his retirement. Photo by Andrea Truan.