Reporter Jim Bishop
News Sentinel 02/07/61
(Thank you Harry Neville for your submission of this article)
He is bent over the sink, washing the breakfast dishes. This gives me time to write. My father has been here a week. For a proper appreciation of what has happened, one must recognize that he is 77, has an auricular fibrillation, edema of lungs and angles, his feet shuffle slowly, his head is inclined, hair white, teeth new, eyes blue and twinkling, manner courtly and diplomatic.
When my mother died, over three years ago, John M. Bishop Sr. retired to his room in my sister’s house. He seldom came out. The man who sits alone is in poor company. He built up nervousness, fears and, in effect, marked time. Once, he had been a big solid man, a handsome, second generation Irishman in the uniform of a police lieutenant. He weighed 254. Now he was a shrunken, skinny man of 139, watching the clock and waiting for the hour to take the next pill.
He was terrified of planes, afraid of trains, nervous of automobiles. I goaded him in not leaving the room. My brother John shoved him on the train at Newark, N.J. and I met him the next day at Flagler Street and yanked him off. I had no intention of babying him. I said, “If it is God’s will that you have to go, let Him take you in bright sunshine rather than in that stuffy room.”
Dad agreed. His leg muscles were so flabby that it hurt to walk more than a hundred yards. The first night, I took him to the Jai-Alai games. When we got back to the Key Biscayne Hotel, he said he couldn’t sleep without his pill. He was gone before he could reach for it. The next day, I asked him to play nine holes on a pitch and putt course.
To See The Lights
“Oh no,” he said. Golf was 20 years behind him. I gave him an eight iron and a putter and dragged him out. He played and shot 44. The next morning, he was out by himself and shot 34. His snowy skin got red, then deep tan. We went everywhere together, even when I was working on a column. We toured Miami Beach at night, just to see the lights.
We went to George Baker’s home for dinner, Dad was afraid that it would be too fashionable for him. He met an airline stewardess named Beverly, reached for the roast beef and her at the same time and, in an hour, he had promised to make his first flight on her plane. John was moving fast.
They came over to my table. He had his arm around her. Beverly said, “Mr. Bishop, I have something important to say to you.” I looked up and said, “No matter what you have to say, I’m not going to learn to call you mother.” It wasn’t that, she said. John had promised her to make a jet flight to New York.
Sunday we went deep sea fishing on the Elkam II. My father is afraid of the sea. He relaxed, held his face to the warm sun, ate as though food had been outlawed, and asked the captain numerous questions about the Gulf Stream. Monday, he played 18 holes of golf and drove to Hialeah to visit Frank and Gail Gerace. He fell asleep watching television.
Then To Hialeah
Tuesday we went to Hialeah. He knew nothing of the horses, but would bet the whole wad-$2-on anything Bill Hartack was riding. He won $7, and got back to the hotel in time for a corned beef and cabbage dinner. He was now averaging at least two miles a day on his feet. The pain in the calf muscles was almost gone.
Wednesday, he visited the Sequarium, watched the porpoises spring out of the blue water, saw a 300-year old turtle, and murmured, “My friend, you’ve got me by a few years.” At the airport, Cymond of National put my father in a Lockheed Electra simulator (a real flight deck of a plane, built in a big room) and took him down an imaginary runway and up to 9,000 feet, making twists and turns, through an electric storm with fake lightning on the front windows, and down to a safe landing.
“If that’s all there is to it,” Dad said, “I’ll change my mind. I’ll fly.” We’ll see. The next day, Tom Ferris and I played 18 holes at Key Colony. Dad drove the electric cart. He had never been in one. Later he went to Jordan-March, bought some wild sports shirts and a straw hat with a narrow beatnik brim, and said, “What’s next on the agenda.”
He visited Dr. J. V. Hankwerker, accompanied by a note from his northern doctor. Hankwerker examined the tricky heart, searched for fluid in lungs and ankles. The doctor said, “He’s in good shape. Heart is all right and no fluid. He’s dry as a bone.” Now he is washing the morning dishes, I’m trying to write and he wants to know “What’s next?” Last night, we stood along the edge of the sea, looking at the little blue pinholes in the sky. “This,” he said solemnly, “is the closest I expect to get to heaven…”