FARGO — Vanilla malts and lemon meringue pie mean more than tasty desserts for Pamela Matchie-Thiede and her 91-year-old father Jim Matchie. For the past five years, the treats have been an integral part of how she reconnects with him.
At least twice a week, she picks him up from his apartment in assisted living at Riverview Place in south Fargo. Sometimes grandchildren and great-grandchildren tag along, which for 20 minutes or more brings the smiles back.
“He will call me and say ‘Pick me up at 1:30 and we’ll go for coffee at Randy’s,’ and then he puts his coat on and meets me at the door,” Matchie-Thiede said. “He always leaves so different, and it carries him over.”
But the coronavirus, which is especially harmful to the elderly, has locked the glass sliding door between them. Many restrictions are now in place regarding visits to senior living facilities since the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic on March 11.
On Tuesday, March 17, Matchie-Thiede, armed with a to-go box of pie and her father’s favorite malt from Randy’s University Diner, knocked on the door.
Matchie-Thiede’s corgi, Mehl, wagged her tail excitedly when her dad came to the door. He tried to slide the glass open.
“Wait, wait until I leave, OK? Look what I got from Randy’s,” Matchie-Thiede said. She placed the pie and malt on small plastic chairs outside her father’s back door.
Matchie appeared confused for a moment, but then stopped, as if suddenly remembering the warnings about COVID-19.
“Short-term memory loss makes it hard to remember we talked about these things,” Matchie-Thiede said. “Usually we go out and get coffee and pie, so now he can’t do that. But it’s the right thing to do, and he knows that, too.”
Matchie taps the window when his daughter places her hand on the glass.
“I won’t have any contact, you wait until I leave, OK?” Matchie-Thiede said. “I love you, Dad. I’ll call you.”
His voice muffled through the glass, Matchie replied: “I love you so much. I miss you so much.”
“My heart hurts for him,” Matchie-Thiede said. “My children are concerned for him. My son contacted me two weeks ago and asked what we would do about Grandpa if the virus arrived here.”
A jokester, but introverted, never fond of long telephone calls, Matchie finds social media interesting, his daughter said. Over the years he’s developed a small following on Facebook as Matchie-Thiede documents their adventures in coffee, pies, witty sayings and other local treats.
“He’s got a fan club, and he’s really sad that he can’t go out for coffee,” she said. “His Facebook fans are sending cards. Every time we have coffee I will take a picture of him, and then I will post it and say ‘What do you want to say, Dad?'
“He’ll say ‘It’s a great day and the sun is out,’ and he’ll tell me what nice friends I have,’” Matchie-Thiede said. “People kinda wait for it.”
Matchie was once a school teacher in states across the Midwest, and he took over Jamestown Central Dakota Business College until it closed in 1966 after his mother retired.
“One time he called me and said he needed some classical music and did I know what that was. He listened to Johnny Cash,” Matchie-Thiede said. “He said he’d read where people with test anxiety could pass tests if they listened to classical. One of his students was a 50-year-old woman who could type with speed and accuracy and could not pass the timed typing test; she’d freeze up. We found some classical music, he used it, and she passed and was able to graduate.
“I love that about him. He would not pass her unless she legitimately passed the test, and did everything to make her successful.”
Although Matchie-Thiede knows being separated from her father is necessary, and that he is being well looked after at Riverview Place, she hopes that her dad doesn’t succumb to the isolation.
“I value every day I get with him,” Matchie-Thiede said. “It’s almost like he’s in a balance, and attitude has a lot to do with that, and I just hear it in his voice. I can hear the vibrancy in his voice going down, and that’s hard.”
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