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Ron Theel

Common Ground

Mushrooms by Ferdo Vesel

The weak, February sunlight filters through a grimy windowpane. A lone fly buzzes and batters itself against the glass, trying to break free.

Why is the air in his room always so stale and so hot? Dad sits hunched in the corner, looking as confused as the fly. Parkinson’s Disease eats away at him, one bite at a time. Despite medication, his tremors continue to worsen, and he now has difficulty swallowing. The prolonged twilight of Parkinson’s continues. I look down at my own outstretched hands. No signs of any tremor…yet. But how long will I stay that way? I feed Dad chocolate cake with a plastic spoon. He slowly drinks cold milk from a bright blue sippy cup.

The spring sunshine sinks into our shoulders as we work side by side, thinning the tiny, tender radish seedlings. I ask, “Daddy, why are we pulling out the baby plants?” “Because each little plant needs space to grow into a bigger plant,” he explains. “Then we’ll have lots of large radishes to eat.”‌

I’m home from college for summer break. A July shower passes, leaving the air oppressively thick and sultry. Perfect growing conditions for wild mushrooms. We forage the wooded area behind our house. Dad’s favorite spot is a small patch of ground beneath the spreading crown of a majestic beech tree. The chanterelles poke their soft, yellow, trumpet-like cups through the emerald moss. Dad understands this location intimately as it supplies food for our family. He describes how the tree roots provide mushrooms with nutrients they cannot make for themselves. In return, the mushrooms give trees certain minerals and moisture necessary for their growth. I gently place each mushroom in an old, open weave, gathering basket.‌

Having finished his afternoon snack, Dad begins, “Soon we’ll have that talk.”

“Talk?” I ask. “About what?”

He raises an overgrown, bushy eyebrow in response. “You know. Discuss where I’ll be in the end.”

A month has passed since my last visit. As I enter the building, I nearly collide with a nurse walking down the hallway. My gait is slowly growing into an off-kilter bird-walk as my Parkinson’s progression advances.

I enter Dad’s room and find him leaning against the wall like a withered stalk of corn. His mobility has diminished, and I think he shrunk by about two sizes.

Dad hands me a crumpled newspaper clipping describing a company that sells mushroom-based coffins woven from hemp fiber and mycelium, the root structure of mushrooms. He reminds me in a weak, quavering voice, “The chanterelles. I need to be near the chanterelles.”

I assure Dad that I will make the necessary arrangements. He smiles contentedly, resting peacefully in his chair. He waits patiently like a lone leaf dangling from a bare branch. Soon, his season will change.

About the writer:
Ron Theel is a mixed media artist and freelance writer living in Syracuse, New York. His writing has appeared in Open: Journal of Arts & Letters, Beyond Words, Midway Journal, and elsewhere.

Image: Mushrooms by Ferdo Vesel (1861-1946). Oil on canvas. No size specified. By 1946. Public domain.

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