Heart Room for Home
by Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Mary Ann and Kim Freeman take Kim’s father from his home in Mayville, Utah, to their home in Los Angeles to care for him after an accident, in which his hip has been broken. His coming will constitute an upheaval in their way of living, as Mary Ann will have to break her contract as a teacher in order to care for him. This will halve their income at the crucial time when their last two unmarried children are dependent on it – Tommy for his last year in college and Rosemary for her wedding, both events the following June. It is now October. The parents are apprehensive about Rosemary’s reaction, especially as she has a demanding personality.
Rosemary was her charming best throughout the slow process of the dinner after they had made her grandfather comfortable – and he sparkled under her attention
“Grandfather, is my little grotto still there?”
“Yes, honey. The grandchildren play there by the hour.”
“But you made it for me, didn’t you? Chiseled it out of pure rock.”
“Indeed I did, but the water had done most of it. It was yours before it was anybody else’s.”
Rosemary dimpled with pleasure. “You know when they had those adorable ugly troll dolls? My college friends couldn’t imagine why I collected them. It was so I could take them there and put them in their own setting, and someday I mean to.”
It was Tommy who volunteered his room for his grandfather, as Mary Ann hoped he would, “Because it is closest to the bathroom,” and moved his things to the one vacated by Robert, which they had used as a guest room since, while Rosemary made the bed ready for her grandfather.
“Such willing hands!” said their grandfather. “I feel as if I had dropped into a bed of roses. Everybody is so nice to me, and I don’t know why – a useless old man.”
“Grandpa!” Tommy and Rosemary protested in unison.
“You could be useless forty years and not live up your credit,” Tommy went on. “How I loved my summers with you in Mayville!”
“That’s real nice of you children to say,” said Father Freeman, “but mind you, stop me if I get to repeating myself. I’ve taken to reminiscing and I forget things, tell things over and over, can’t remember what I’ve done and haven’t done. I have to keep a list, I’m so old.”
“Dad, I do the same things,” put in Kim.
“Well, you’re not so young yourself,” said his father, looking at him astutely. “This doddering of the mind is a terrible trial to the young.”
“He’s a darling!” pronounced Rosemary when they got back to the living room. “He looks like an angel with that shock of white hair.”
“I had forgotten what a beautiful old man Grandfather is,” said Tommy. “But he’s so pale he looks ethereal. Is anything else wrong with him – besides the hip?”
“He is in remarkable condition, except for his heart. It could go any time, the doctor says, but with good care he can walk again.”
“With good care,” said Rosemary, the little frown appearing between her brows. “What I want to know is …”
“How’s Cary?” demanded Mary Ann suddenly, to head off the inevitable showdown. Cary Marks was Rosemary’s adored and adoring fiance, a tall, clean-limbed young man, dark and handsome in contrast to her titian loveliness.
“Cary’s a doll,” said Rosemary, her mouth softening. “He helped me with dinner, getting the groceries. He’s going to be a wonderful husband, but I told him to vamoose. I knew you’d be home, and that you would be tired.”
“How thoughtful of you, dear, and we are tired. Exhausted, and we’re going to bed this minute.”
“I didn’t know then that Grandfather …”
“How are Robert and Heidi? Have you heard from James? How are the girls?” Mary Ann interposed quickly. If Rosemary had a night to get used to her grandfather’s presence, maybe the impact would dissipate. Tomorrow was Sunday. It might even get lost in the rush of Church duties.
“You are diverting me,” accused Rosemary. “Barbara and Hank wanted to come and be here when you came, but I vetoed that, too. So did Jennifer and Dick – but all those little kids!” Jennifer’s five were lively and noisy. Barbara’s were older. “Robert had to fly to New York for his company – they might go there to live – so Heidi went with him. It was a good chance for a vacation, with only her fare to pay. Heidi’s mother I staying with the children.”
“To New York to live!” said Kim. “That will be a step up for Robert, won’t it.”
“I hope not!” said Mary Ann. “It has been good having them near. If they move to New York we’ll never get to see them.”
“Can’t keep us under your wing forever, Mother Hen,” observed Tommy. “James is only in San Francisco, but we rarely see his family.”
“I know,” wailed Mary Ann.
“Distances are nothing, nowadays,” consoled Kim. “These young ones flit around with more ease than you and I used to get from one town to another.”
“Cary and I might go to Europe,” said Rosemary. “And Jennifer and Dick are talking of going to Hawaii. He has an offer at Church College.”
“Don’t talk about it,” said Mary Ann. “Now what about the school, Rosemary?”
Rosemary had been her inexperienced but educated substitute in the fourth grade while she had been gone, having graduated in August, too late to get a contract of her own, but she hadn’t seemed to mind. “I’m not going to work, anyhow, so why start?” she had said. “I want to concentrate on having a perfect wedding.”
To Mary Ann’s surprise Rosemary brightened at the mention of school.
“Mother, you know that little boy – Freddy Finch – you said was a problem child? I found out what was the matter with him!”
“You didn’t! I felt he had a problem, but didn’t have time to go into it before we left. What is the matter with him?”
“Well, it was like this,” said Rosemary. “To begin at the beginning, I thought it was just your leniency, and I would teach the little tyke true discipline. All he did was scribble on his paper whenever I made a board assignment, and I was about to take him to the principal. But I noticed that he did all right when I made verbal assignments and it puzzled me. All at once it dawned on me. He can’t see the board!”
“Rosemary, how smart! And how compassionate! What did you do?”
“Saw that he got glasses right away. His parents were dumbfounded. He’s my star pupil now!”
“I’m thrilled. You know, I always feel there are no bad children, only bad circumstances. Not at that age, anyway.”
Tommy was silent, but he had an observing air, as he had very much, lately. Rosemary noticed it.
“Tommy, you’re making guinea pigs of us. Do you take notes?”
“Yes,” admitted Tommy. “My thesis quarter is coming up and I need a new subject. I started the Watts riots, but it has been over-explored. Now I am open to new suggestions. This might be a thing – what Mother says, no bad kids, only bad situations. Or what you did, Sis. ‘The Role of the Teacher’ or ‘Above and Beyond the Call of the Three R’s.’ Earlier today, watching you and Cary, I almost decided on ‘Bridal Bossiness Before Marriage.’”
“You wouldn’t dare!” wailed Rosemary.
“Only because I would run out of material too soon. I’d need to know something first-hand, and you know my stand.”
Yes, Tommy’s stand: “No romantic entanglements before I go on my mission.” “No marriage before I get my Master’s,” and now, none before he got his degree, had been of growing concern for his parents. Tommy was twenty-four.
“It just isn’t normal for a boy not to fall in love somewhere along the line,” said Kim.
“I give myself a chance,” defended Tommy. “I date.”
“Yes!” said Rosemary. “A different one every week. Mother, he drops them over nothing. All Janie did was to call him, and that was it!”
“I don’t want girls calling me up,” said Tommy. “I want to be the one who does the calling.”’
“I can’t disagree with that,” said his mother. “When I was a girl no young lady called a boy up. It is no more proper now.”
“When Tommy falls it will be like atom-fission. I don’t know that I want to be around then.”
“What happened to Phyllis – and Melba?” queried Mary Ann. “I thought they were nice girls.”
“Dream-boats, both of them,” said Tommy. “But they wanted to get married. I didn’t.”
“I hope, Tommy,” said Kim, “that you are not like Kipling. ‘The more I see of the lot of them, the less I am settled to one.’”
“The young man hunting a straight stick in the forest? No, Dad, when I am ready, she will be there – the straightest one of them all.”
“I hope,” said Mary Ann, “that you don’t get any of them to fall in love with you, then leave them to pine after you.”
“They’ll survive,” said Tommy callously. “You should have seen the ‘Dear Johns’ my companions in the mission field received.”
“Maybe that should be your thesis subject,” observed Rosemary.
“Most of my studies have been on geriatrics. It intrigues me. Grandfather, now …”
“What about Grandfather?” demanded Rosemary. “What I want to know, if he has to have so much good care, is how is he going to get it here? How long is he going to stay?” She was looking at her father. He looked at Mary Ann. Here it was!
“I’m going to take care of him,” said Mary Ann.
“How can you, with your job?”
“I have to break my contract. Monday.”
“Just like that?”
“There wasn’t any other way out, Rosemary.”
“Couldn’t Aunt Emily or Aunt Francine have taken Grandfather? At least until summer?”
“They thought otherwise,” said Kim. “They wanted to sell the place and put your grandfather in a rest home.”
“Sell the place!” said Rosemary and Tommy in unison. This reaction, so like their own, was at least heartwarming to Kim and Mary Ann.
“I often describe Grandfather’s set-up in class, an almost totally self-containing unit – the cows, the chickens and garden feed the table and the table feeds the pigs. The pigs and extra produce go to market. One blissful round of living.”
“In the older days,” said Kim, “you added a few sheep and got your clothing and bedding out of it, with rabbit brush, indigo, and madder root for dyes.”
“Somebody ought to write all that down,” said Rosemary. “I love old things.”
“I remember!” said Tommy, his eyes sparkling. “Grandmother washed the wool, picked the burrs out of it, carded it into bats and made quilts. She even made her own soap – with lye and old fat.”
“Her mother made her own lye, out of leached wood ashes. The early pioneers didn’t have to buy a thing. They grew cane and made their own molasses, spun the fleece into yarn, and wove their own homespun, even grew cotton, and raised silk worms and made silk. I’ve seen samples in the museums.”
“How long is Grandfather going to stay?” repeated Rosemary stubbornly.
“We don’t know,” said her father. “Your grandfather thinks he will be well enough to go home by spring, but you can see …”
“What about my wedding?” pursued Rosemary. “And Tommy’s thesis quarter?”
“Let me worry about my own affairs, Sis,” said Tommy.
“I wasn’t thinking of the changes it would make in our lives when I invited your grandfather – or the burden it would put on your mother,” Kim said.
“Neither was I,” said Mary Ann. “If you had been there, Rosemary, if you had seen your grandfather, with all of us talking as if he wasn’t there, the tears coming down his face in spite of his efforts not to show his weakness – his physical weakness. He is proud and independent. I was proud of your father when he told him the place would never be sold – not in grandfather’s lifetime, and not in ours.”
“And I was glad to hear from your mother her true feelings about her job. I had felt all along she was just saying she liked it to make us feel better about her working.”
“That’s all very fine,” said Rosemary somewhat bluntly. “But now what about my wedding? Obviously, both of you forgot about that.”
Rosemary was right. They had forgotten their children in the emotion-charged scene. The full brunt of their impulsive invitation had not hit them until later. Right now, as a matter of fact, Tommy had depended on his mother for his tuition and books, no small matter at this point in his education, and Rosemary had every reason to expect a lovely wedding, on the basis of their combined income.
“Well, honey, we’ll make out,” Kim said vaguely.
Mary Ann realized now that she had shielded Kim in the matter of money, rushing forth with her funds whenever something above his ability to provide was needed. How could he realize the difference her salary had made in their plane of living? All the fringe items not officially listed with utilities, groceries, and house payments, the deluxe station wagon which had come into use bringing his father home, the luxuries of finer clothes, a bigger four-bedroom home, including the swimming pool, extra gas and expense money for all of them.
“We just have to play it by ear,” he finished lamely.
“I don’t like ear music,” said Rosemary succinctly. “Or hadn’t you noticed? I like to play it as it’s written – and it wasn’t written this way. It is obvious that my wedding is not important to you.”
She went into her room and closed the door with a definite bang. Mary Ann rose to follow her.
“Don’t go, Mother,” advised Tommy. “She has to think this thing through,” but Mary Ann went anyway, entering Rosemary’s room after a slight, unanswered knock. Rosemary was on her stomach on the bed.
“Rosemary dear! If you’d been there! If you had seen how it was, with your aunts determined to swell the place and put the old dear into a rest home. He had been in a nursing home for a month after the hospital, and he couldn’t bear it. ‘Old people!’ he said. ‘Nothing but old people! And spaghetti one day, macaroni the next!’ Your father and I couldn’t bear to see your wonderful grandfather shunted off in his old age, to force him to sell his home – his whole life.”
“I’d really rather be alone,” said Rosemary, without turning over.
“I have some retirement coming, Rosemary. Not a great deal, but you can have that for your wedding.”
“What, exactly do you take me for?” demanded Rosemary, sitting up. “Your retirement is for your own old age! Now, really, Mother, I’d like to be alone.”