Heart Room for Home
by Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Mary Ann and Kim Freeman have taken Kim’s aged Father form his home in Mayville, Utah, to their home in Los Angeles to care for him after an accident. Mary Ann has submitted he resignation as a teacher in the grade school. This will cut their income in half at the time of their children Rosemary’s wedding and Tommy’s graduation.
Rosemary was ecstatic when she opened her letter from the board of education.
“I got it! I got the class!” she said, racing to kiss her mother, hug her father, and lay her cheek against that of her grandfather, who responded with a squeeze of her other cheek.
“I draw the line at you, Tommy,” she said, stopping in front of her brother in mock rejection.
“This can’t be the family clinging vine who only last week still insisted she didn’t want to work,” jeered Tommy.
“Clinging vine! Look who’s talking!” accused Rosemary.
“I was just waiting for all the chatter to calm down before I told my big news. I accepted the scholarship my dean has been trying to thrust upon me for the last two quarters, on the basis of need.”
“Ha!” said Rosemary. “What if you hadn’t had that to fall back on when Mother withdrew her support? What then?”
“I’d have gone out and borrowed the money,” replied Tommy calmly.
“I didn’t know you had a scholarship in the offing,” said Kim in surprise. Tommy turned his beautiful, blonde giant look on his father.
“I turned it down so some less fortunate fellow could use it, but there were no takers.”
Mary Ann smothered an ejaculation. It was obvious she had spoiled her children by rushing to their aid whenever they needed money – Tommy for books and tuition, and Rosemary for the lavish wedding she had planned. And Tommy could have had a scholarship all along!
“What will it pay?” she asked.
“Books and tuition and a small stipend, which will pay my gas and date bills,” said Tommy. “I could have taken a part-0time job, but it would cut me out of my study time, just like too many dates would, so I’m cutting out dating for the duration. Period. It’s the nose to the grindstone – not that it hasn’t been there. Of course, I could have borrowed against my degree and paid it back later with no sweat. There is a student loan fund – forgivable loans, at that.”
Kim looked at Mary Ann and she read his mind. It was simply too easy for young folks! High time they were thrust onto their own resources!
“Congratulations on your new positions,” Grandfather Freeman offered in his courtly way. “She would have liked to hear that news.” He was referring to his departed wife, of course.
“Rosemary can thank you for that new job of hers, Grandpa, and I can thank you for my scholarship.”
“Oh, no! Not me,” replied his grandfather. “You are a very fine scholar to merit a scholarship, and Rosemary earned her position with her own initiative. Helping out that little boy with his glasses – I had nothing to do with it.”
“Didn’t you? Now look, Grandfather. Would either one of them have happened if you hadn’t come to live with us? Already three sweeping changes have been made. Mother has quit her job, Rosemary has a position to teach, and I have taken myself off the welfare state – family speaking, that is. To say nothing of my resolve not to fall in love with some girl and get married.”
“I can hardly wait, Tommy Freeman, for you to begin eating your own words.”
Tommy ignored Rosemary. “See what an impact you have had already on this family, Grandfather?”
“I didn’t want – I didn’t mean …” his grandfather began in great agitation.
“Grandpa! This is good. Can’t you see how important this is – sociologically speaking – how we all needed you?”
“If you say so,” his grandfather said uncertainly.
“We all say so, Dad,” said Kim. “Why, you should have heard the men at the shop today, when I told them I had brought you home to stay a while with us. One of the men said that is exactly what he would like to do with his father, but his wife wouldn’t hear of it.”
“Did you tell him it is only till spring?” asked his father.
“I told him you expected to go home in the spring,” said Kim evasively.
“Spring?” said Rosemary, suddenly interested. “What time in the spring? Not before we have our honeymoon in your sweet house? Cary and I. We really do mean it, Grandfather.”
“Summer,” amended her grandfather. “Not until you are through with the place, of course.”
Neither Rosemary nor Tommy seemed to notice the little slump of despair in their grandfather’s shoulders, but their parents did. Mary Ann wished the conversation had never taken place.
“I must exercise more,” was all Kim’s father said.
Tommy was right. His grandfather’s coming had made an impact on their family. Repercussions were felt almost immediately in the budget department. Kim’s check exactly covered the house payment, the utilities, and the food, just as it always had, with a little left over for the upkeep of the car and his Church obligations. There was nothing for the one-hundred-and-one items never counted in any budget, and Mary Ann was left immediately without a car – Rosemary drove the little car to work, Tommy dropped his father off in the station wagon, and drove on to school. Not that Mary Ann needed a car during the day, as she was tied close with Kim’s father. It was the little things – a new pair of stockings, cosmetics, reading matter, medicines, and drugs. Mary Ann began planning ways to save in her cooking and sewing.
“This is something!” Tommy said appreciatively the first time he came home to find her pulling new-baked bread from the oven, and forthwith demolished the better part of a loaf with melted butter, milk, and jam. “When I marry – if I marry – I will pick a wife with all the homey virtues.”
“I can just see it,” chided Rosemary, “healthy and docile, like the women the earlier settlers sent for – home-raised girls.”
“She was the most beautiful one of them all,” remembered Father Freeman. “But she was the best cook, the best seamstress, and she used the best grammar.”
Mary Ann found time now to do many things at homemaking she had been unable to do as a working woman, to sew some of the material she had been tempted into buying in her more lucrative days.
“Mother, I didn’t know you were such a wonderful seamstress,” Rosemary exclaimed when she modeled her first dress. “How about making some of my trousseau?”
Mary Ann was thrilled at this invitation, and they huddled over patterns and materials, while Kim and his father worked at genealogy, a project Kim had long wanted to do. With his father’s wonderful memory and tendency to reminisce, he was able to fill in many details hitherto missing, and it was a joy to them both.
“You’ll have to rest during the day, Dad, and we’ll take in some evening sessions at the temple, get some of these names taken care of.”
“I’d like that,” said Kim’s father, and redoubled his exercise time in the walker. He refused all help at getting about and did his own small errands about the house. By Thanksgiving he was spending much of his time on his feet.
Thanksgiving was another “Gathering of the Clan,” this time with the boys, Robert and Heidi and their three, James and Carol and their four, present, making a total of twenty-four at the long dining table, which had been augmented by folding sections. The weather was so lovely it was possible to eat on the patio, a novelty to Grandfather Freeman.
“That’s nothing,” assured Kim. “We quite often eat Christmas dinner out here, too, with the poinsettias and the calla lilies bordering the path, all in bloom.”
His father, later, painstakingly wrote the details of this wonderful dinner to Francine and Emily, and received a contrite note from Francine in return:
“Dad, I am so ashamed to have wanted you to sell your house and put you in a rest home. I can tell it is wonderful for you there, but we could have managed if you had stayed here. Melanie had her baby the next week after you left, a little girl, and if we had only thought of it, she and her husband could have kept our house and Jack and I could have moved in with you until you were better. Emily was so sure it was right to sell the place, that it seemed right to me at the time. We’re taking good care of everything.”
Absent from her letter was any offer to make such an arrangement now, but Mary Ann and Kim were content. It was “working out” as Kim had prophesied, not without adjustment pains. Their course was plainly to make life so pleasant for Kim’s father that he would relinquish his desire to return to his home and resign himself to a new way of living.
They took him driving and showed him the ocean, seeing it again through his eyes, because he was profoundly moved by the sight of so much water when he had fought to keep the water on his land among the mountains. They took him to Palomar to see the Bethlehem Star show as a prelude to Christmas, and he was excited as a child at the wondrous knowledge and ability of men to reproduce such a point in history. They took him to Marineland, and he was reminded of the beasts at home by the animals of the water.
“That whale was as proud of her performance as our race mare, Star. Remember how she arched her neck and pranced when she won the race at the county fair?”
Kim and Tommy took him to priesthood meeting on Sunday mornings, and he came home appreciative of the gospel and their efforts to get him there. Kim and Mary Ann managed a weekly session at the temple, wheeling him through in his chair, and he was nearly overcome with pleasure.
It was working out, they told each other, and Kim was appreciative of all Mary Ann’s efforts to make it so. As for himself, Kim took on a new air of confidence and authority Mary Ann had missed before.
As a man who was filling his obligation to his father, Kim felt a glow of happiness, and as the total wage earner he felt new strength as the head of the house. When Mary Ann tried to put it into words in the privacy of their room, he said, “I feel different, somehow. I always felt a little ashamed before, as if I was not filling my complete place. It is a man’s work to furnish the money, to be the provider. You don’t know what it did for me when you said you would be glad to quit work, that you didn’t really like your job. It was something I felt all along.”
This was a wrong premise. Mary Ann had liked her job, and the freedom of her own income, but she kept this reservation to herself in order to preserve this new feeling in Kim. She had to admit it was unpleasant to contemplate consulting Kim on every small purchase, after, of course, taking a close look at the budget. Under the joint pressure of her diminished reserve and the coming of Christmas, wasn’t it possible, even inevitable, that she should develop self-pity, some to consider herself the family martyr, the unpaid family servant?
It was all right for Kim and the children to feel the new power of their independence and to be in the ascendency, but what about her, now in the descendency of importance?
To carry this further was painful, but Mary Ann had to be fair – and thorough. Had she not, in times past, herself held her family in similar subjugation? Had she not been the shortest route to supply for the demands of her two youngest children, thereby smothering their initiative to fill these demands by their own efforts? The more she thought of it, the more certain she was that this was true.
The latter analogy was the best deterrent to the self-pity and martyrdom she feared, but it did not solve the problem of Christmas fast approaching now. Previous Christmases had run into the hundreds of dollars, with twenty-five of the immediate family to be thought of, to say nothing of other relatives and friends.
“Kim, there is a sale on applesauce, and there has been quite a drain on our year’s supply. Do you think we could –? Could you spare a little to …” she asked hesitantly.
At first she thought Kim was asleep, there was such a long silence.
“You have asked me for money, Mary Ann,” said Kim with a little choking sound. “I never want that to happen again!”