Heart Room for Home
by Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Several major changes have taken place in the Freeman family as a direct result of Kim, the father, and Mary Ann, the mother, bringing Kim’s father from his lovely little home in Mayville, Utah, to Los Angeles to care for him after hospitalization for a fractured hip. Mary Ann has had to resign her teaching position to care for him, even though she has been supporting their son, Tommy, in his last year of college, and their daughter, Rosemary, has expected her to stand the expense of her coming wedding to Cary Marks. Rosemary, who has previously said she had no intention of working, applies for Mary Ann’s teaching position, where she has been substituting, and gets it. Tommy blandly accepts a scholarship which has been available to him for the last two quarters. Nevertheless, the family budget is still strained, with Mary Ann feeling the brunt of it.
For a moment Mary Ann was shocked, even frightened, at the command in Kim’s voice.
“What’s mine is yours, don’t you know that, honey?” he went on. “You know what there is to spend. Go ahead and spend it.”
That was right. She did know how much there was to spend, but it was practically all spent by the time Kim got it. If only they had stayed in their smaller home, which was paid for! But it had seemed the only thing to do, to turn it in on a bigger place as the family grew. Four bedrooms had not been too much, with the children coming often, sometimes for overnight visits. A swimming pool and a double garage had seemed necessities at the time, and they were still in use, but the payments were high and seemed endless, with ten more years to go on their mortgage. Taxes were as high as modest rent by themselves. And there was still Christmas coming.
“Mother, I had no idea how easy it is for money to slip through your fingers,” said Rosemary. “I thought I was wealthy when I got my pay check, but it is nearly gone and nothing saved for my wedding.”
This was a good lesson for Rosemary to learn before her marriage, thought Mary Ann, but she said nothing. Let Rosemary do her own thinking. And Rosemary did. The next afternoon she called Tommy to help her unload a piece of furniture from the trunk of the car.
“Where in the world did you get that antique?” he asked.
“It is antique, isn’t it?” said Rosemary, her eyes shining. “A solid walnut night stand, and I got it for six dollars at an auction. I’m going to strip and refinish it. One of the other teachers told me how, and Cary is going to help me.”
Her grandfather wheeled his walker near and looked at it. “I declare!” he said. “I have its exact mate at home. She bought it when we were first married.”
“Grandfather1 Do you really?”
“I have, really, and if you like it you may have it.”
Rosemary threw her arms ecstatically around her grandfather and kissed him.
When Kim got home an hour later he brought a checkbook for Mary Ann.
“Joint account,” he said. “And, Mary Ann, I hit the boss up for some overtime I heard him talking about and he says fine. Time and a half until Christmas. It will help us over the hump.”
“Are you sure, Kim? Can you stand it? You come home dead tired every night, and it will be like having two jobs.”
“Why not?” Kim said. “Look how long you ran this house and taught school to boot. Any woman who works outside her home has two jobs, really. Don’t think I didn’t notice the strain of it on you. A man should be stronger than a woman, more able to work long hours.”
“Kim, you’re the most wonderful man in the world,” Mary Ann said, and meant it. That was all right for a temporary measure, but not for always, and it wasn’t the final answer. Maybe, after the children were gone, things would even out or they would find some other answer, but this would do for now.
Christmas was wonderful, with all the children home for Christmas Eve, the little ones performing in turn, singing the carols, playing their amateur, and not so amateur, pieces on the piano and other instruments. Grandfather Freeman sat and listened, unashamedly wiping his eyes from the steady outpouring of happy tears to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren all under one joyous roof, the progeny of his only son, Kim.
“I don’t know as you need snow for Christmas,” he said. “I guess they did without it in Bethlehem when Christ was born.”
Grandfather Freeman was not the only one to feel sentimental at this time of celebration. It was a last Christmas in some other ways, the last time they would be together for the occasion before Rosemary and Cary would be married. Goodness knows where Tommy would be by another Christmas. He was already getting tentative offers, so many that it was a matter of choice for him.
Kim and Mary Ann had reason to be proud of their whole family. James was a pilot and had been flying for some time, the Hawaii-San Francisco flight.
“We’ve about decided to move to Hawaii,” he said. “It is so lovely there, and if Jennifer and Dick go there we’ll be near them.”
“Oh,” wailed Mary Ann, “don’t talk about such things. Why do children have to go so far from their parents?”
“We’ll be here,” comforted Barbara. “And Robert and Heidi.”
“Not us,” said Robert. “My company has offered me too good a job in New York. I can’t pass it up.”
Robert was in the management of Interspace Research, with a Ph.D. in physics. It seemed to Mary Ann her family was flying apart with the speed of light. She deliberately changed the subject.
“Did you see Rosemary’s solid walnut night stand?” she asked, and it worked. Rosemary and Cary were the recipients of much advice as to how to finish her heirloom piece, that and the one her grandfather had promised her.
“I’m not even going to start on it until I get the one Grandfather is giving me. I want them to be alike, but I have my eye on a wonderful walnut bed in an old junky shop on Broadway. I don’t dare show too much interest in it, for fear the dealer will learn its worth. One of those high-backed jobs, exquisitely carved.”
“Honestly?” said Heidi. ‘I’d paint it white and antique it.”
“Antique solid walnut?” said Rosemary incredulously. “Not on your life. This one will be striped to the wood and refinished in oil, rubbed to a sheen. I have to have that bed!”
Kim looked at Mary Anna and she looked guiltily back. Such a bed as Rosemary described had been ludicrously old fashioned in their early marriage.
“What I like about it is the length,” said Cary. “Where else could you buy a seven-foot bed unless you made it? It’s a real handicap sometimes being six-foot-four.”
“What silver pattern are you getting?” said Carol.
“I don’t know!” wailed Rosemary. “The one I want costs sixty-five for a six-piece place setting, besides all the big pieces. It could run into a thousand dollars and I simply couldn’t afford it.”
That was no doubt the pattern she had expected her mother to buy before she went to work.
“Don’t look at me,” said Cary. “All I expect to buy is the place to put it. It is an ancient custom for the bride to bring the bridegroom a handsome dowry.”
“Register for it,” said the practical Barbara. “And see what comes in as gifts.”
“I don’t want my wedding to be commercial,” said Rosemary, to her mothers’ amazement. Her early demands had seemed very commercial to Mary Ann. Was Rosemary changing, or had her mother never understood her youngest daughter?
“I would love to be married in a dress made by my own mother,” said Rosemary. “You’re a wonderful seamstress.”
“Darling, you shall be!” said Mary Ann, almost overcome. Oh, this girl was revealing herself to be really something! How could her parents ever have thought of her as selfish and demanding? Tommy was very attentive to the little scene, and Cary’s arm tightened about Rosemary. It was plain to see he had never misjudged his sweetheart and Mary Ann was glad. They would be taking into their marriage the same understanding as she and Kim shared. She looked at Kim. He had taken out his handkerchief to sop his eyes.
“Kim, I don’t want to go on pretending something which is not true,” she told him later. “I did like my job. I loved having my own money.”
“Did you, dear? Oh, I’m sorry to have made you give all that up.”
“Don’t be. Look what I would have missed – seeing Rosemary develop, understanding her at last. It would have been disaster for her to take those resentments into her marriage, and I would have never known how it was with her or been able to set her on the right course.”
“And Dad! I think it is really working out with him. did you ever see a happier old man than he is? I believe we have it made – that his involvement with going home in the spring is moving farther and farther from his mind. Oh, I’ll keep my promise to him; that place will never be sold in his lifetime or in mine – not by me.”
The holidays were past and Tommy had registered for winter quarter. “I have my thesis title,” he said.
“You have? what is it?” Mary Ann asked.
“Very mundane. ‘The Place of the Aged in Our Society.’”
“I think that is a wonderful subject, Tommy. What made you choose that?”
“It’s a natural, with a case history right in my own home. Oh, I’ll have the statistics and the whole picture. My dean is quite enthused about it. He wants me to write a preliminary paper for a symposium to be held in Washington in April. If it turns out well I get to go there and present it.”
“Why, Tommy! I sound like a parrot saying everything is wonderful, but it is wonderful!”
“I think it is, too, Mother. It is a wonderful feeling to know where you’re going, at last. I’ve been on the edge of decision so long I feel split down the middle.”
“You, undecided, Tommy? It is hard for me to believe that.”
“You’d better believe it, Mother. I was on the verge of tackling a psychiatrist, but this last Christmas, with its range of age – Jennifer’s Becky to Grandfather, and all the ages in between spread out a picture to me and everything seemed to fall into place – the whole scheme of life. Best of all, my place in it.”
Proof of Tommy’s assertion came close on its heels. He burst in excitedly from his first day of classwork in the new quarter.
“I’ve found her!” he said. “I’ve met my girl!”
“What’s her name? Who is she?” demanded Rosemary, too stunned as were Mary Ann and Kim, to be facetious.
“I don’t know,” said Tommy without shame. “I just know she is the one!”
“I told you it would be like atomic fission,” said Rosemary. “But I thought you would at least know her name. Where’s all that caution now, that hand-picked, home-raised girl?”
“You saw her last Sunday. That new girl in Church. She was in my class today.”
Mary Ann breathed a sigh of relief. All their children to date had married well and had been married in the temple. They were all following a pattern of Church activity and their parents very often reminded themselves of this great blessing.
“Aren’t we crossing bridges?” asked Kim when they were alone. “If Tommy knows nothing about her except that she was in Church, isn’t that taking a good deal for granted? It still doesn’t insure that she is good wife material for a boy like Tommy, or in fact that she will be that easy for him to marry.”
“You said you knew me the minute you saw me, And you didn’t know my name either.”
“That was different.”
“Was it? How?”
“I didn’t notice any new girl in Church last Sunday,” said Kim evasively. “She couldn’t have been so outstanding.”
“We’ll just have to trust Tommy’s instincts,” decided Mary Ann.
“Right,” Kim agreed. “We can’t live our children’s lives.”
“Now don’t worry about Tommy during the day,” said Mary Ann when she kissed Kim goodbye next morning. “Just remember how well your father is, how happy he is here.”
But the mail brought a forthright letter from Kim’s sister Emily Dodd.
“… you’ll have to do something positive about that place. Last night some boys pried off the boards of one of the windows and got in. They didn’t do much damage, just built a fire in the fireplace and toasted marshmallows. That is how we found out. Victor saw the smoke coming out of the chimney and went right over, but an empty house is a temptation for vandals. I still think you ought to sell it. I’ve thought so all along.”
Father Freeman didn’t say anything, just handed the letter to Mary Ann to read.
“Don’t worry, Dad,” she consoled. “This only proves Victor and Emily are on the job. They’ll watch it doubly close now that this has happened.”
“I’m sure you’re right,” said her father-in-law, but that night he wasn’t hungry and he went to bed without dinner.