Heart Room for Home
by Alice Morrey Bailey
Synopsis: Several major changes have taken place in the Freeman family as a direct result of the parents, Kim and Mary Ann, bringing Kim’s aged father to their home in Los Angeles to care for him after an accident which has broken his hip. Kim has promised his father that the lovely homestead in Mayville, Utah, will not be sold, as Kim’s sisters wished to do in order to put their father in a rest home for the aged. Mary Ann has had to resign her teaching position, halving the family income. However, it has been a time of growth for them all. They hope Grandfather Freeman will be weaned away from his home in Utah.
Emily’s letter to her father had a profound effect on him. After going to bed without dinner he pushed most of his breakfast aside.
“Dad, you must eat more than that to keep up your strength. You can’t exercise without nourishment.”
“I know, Mary Ann. And I have to keep up my exercise or I won’t be able to take care of things when I get home, will I?”
“Indeed you won’t,” said Mary Ann with a heartiness she did not feel. It was plain Father Freeman had not relinquished his hope of going back to Mayville and living alone, a rank impossibility. Yet he did little or no practicing in walking that day, and his mind was on home.
“They can’t sell it out from under me in any way, can they?”
By “they” he meant his daughters, Francine Grady and Emily Dodd.
“Not a way in the world,” assured Mary Ann. “Don’t give it another thought. Kim would not let them if there was. He promised you, remember, that it would never be sold in his lifetime or in yours.”
But that night Kim broached the subject to Mary Ann himself.
“Funny thing happened today. My boss asked about Dad’s place in Mayville. He wants to buy it.”
“What in the world for?” asked Mary Ann, astonished.
“I’ve talked quite a bit about it – not selling it, just describing it – how pretty it is, the stone house, the seclusion, the garden and the cow – just talk through the noon hour, we men telling about our boyhood. About a month ago he picked up interest. He nearly fell over when I told him how low the taxes were. Today he out and out asked to buy it.”
“Of course you told him it is not for sale,” said Mary Ann, a little fear edging her heart – a fear that was not alone for her father-in-law.
“What does he want it for?”
“To retire in. He’s past retirement age, and I didn’t think he needed to, owning his own business as he does, but he says he has enough to live modestly and is tired of working. Anyhow, he could turn the business over to his son. Mayville sounds good to him, and I guess it is my fault, the way I have talked it up.”
As if to confirm the conversation there was a letter from Francine.
“… an odd thing is happening here. People from California are buying up every old place they can get to retire in. Jensens sold their place with their house on it for fifteen hundred dollars. Of course it needs fixing up, but these people are glad to get it. They say they can’t afford to retire in California, the taxes are too high, and some of them just want to live in small towns. It might be a good chance, Dad, if you want to sell your place. Now, I’m not urging you, remember. I just thought I’d mention it.”
“I am not selling the place!” said her father, agitated and almost angry. “Why do they keep talking about it?”
Mary Ann noticed a fine tremor in his hands and the pulse that beat heavily in his throat, and her heart ached for him.
“I don’t think Francine means anything, Dad,” she said calmly, to calm him down. “You don’t have to sell it. Kim won’t let anything happen to it.”
Rosemary had come in to hear the conversation and she flew to hug her grandfather. “That sweet place? Never! Mother! Dad! Everybody! The most wonderful thing has happened. Just wait until I show you.”
She unwrapped a parcel done up in wrapping paper and tissue that was crumpled from previous use. Several pieces of very tarnished silver issued form it.
“Where did you get that junk?” said Tommy, coming in.
“Junk?” cried Rosemary. “That’s sterling silver, Tommy Freeman.”
“Well, where did you get it?”
“From a loan shark.”
“You’ve got to be kidding!” said Tommy inelegantly.
“I’m not, and I’m so excited. It happened this way. You know how I want sterling silver and how expensive it is. Well, I was passing this loan place down on Broadway and here was a sign in the window about sterling silver. I went in and it was fabulous. Everything, guns, guitars, jewelry, sewing machines – all jumbled in together. I asked about the silver and he showed it to me – some heavy Swedish stuff with a crude design, and I was disappointed. It was not a pattern I could use at all, and there were only eight place settings. Getting the other four would be practically impossible, so I was disappointed and about to go. Then I asked him if he had any more sterling and he said some, but not full sets of anything, and he took me upstairs. He had lots of odds and ends, and I looked at them all. Then I saw this!”
It was a very ornate pattern built around a solid shaft, and so tarnished it was hard to appreciate it. Rosemary had raced for the silver polish and was at work on one of the forks. They all watched with intense interest as the beauty of the piece came forth, the satin finish of the shaft, the ornate pattern jumping to bold relief by her polishing of the high parts.
“You leave the tarnish in the low parts,” explained Rosemary. “It adds richness.”
“But there are only three place settings and a few pieces,” objected Mary Ann.
“The serving spoons and the sugar shell and the butter server,” said Rosemary. “But it is a good American company and a retired pattern. I can add to it indefinitely, and I got it for less than half price! I’m going to every loan place in town.”
“It is brand new,” observed Mary Ann. “Some little bride registered for it, and when hard times came she had to pawn it and then couldn’t redeem it.”
“I don’t want to think of that,” said Rosemary. “It was meant for me, and I’ll have more of it. Now, Tommy, what’s with you?”
Mary Ann hadn’t noticed until then how subdued Tommy seemed.
“I met my girl and I know her name. It is Lisbeth King.”
“Classy!” pronounced Rosemary. “How did you meet her?”
“She dropped a book leaving class and I picked it up for her. It was the first time she looked into my eyes. She said thank you – very warmly.”
“And then?” prompted Rosemary.
“And then I made a dumb fool of myself. I said, ‘Will you marry me?’”
“You didn’t! Any girl would think that terribly romantic. What did you say?”
“She turned all iceberg. If looks could kill! She said: ‘I beg your pardon!’ like a duchess.”
“Did you expect her to gush? At least she is no easy pick-up.”
“It’s worse than that. She’s engaged. She has a diamond the size of a hen’s egg.”
“Oh, Tommy! I’m sorry. Too bad for it to end that way!”
It was a relief to Tommy’s parents, listening in. Maybe next time Tommy would go at it a little more rationally, now that he had done a right-about face in his attitude toward marrying.
“End? Who said anything about it ending? Just makes it tougher on me, that’s all.”
Rosemary shrugged. “More power to you, brother.”
The let-down after the Christmas holidays was an ebb-time for them all. James and Carol moved to Hawaii, visiting them only once more to say good-bye.
“What about my wedding?” said Rosemary. “I want you back for that.”
“We’ll be here. We’ll fly. Really, we’re not much farther away than we were. We expect to see you as often.”
It didn’t seem the same to Mary Ann and Kim, especially as Dick signed a contract to teach at Church College in Hawaii and he and Jennifer were going to move there as soon as school was out.
“Not before Tommy’s graduation and your wedding, though, Rosemary, dear.”
January and February were dismal with rain and Father Freeman complained that everything was damp all the time, even the towels and sheets, and it was not like him to complain, as he was normally very appreciative of everything and sought the good in all. “It may be cold in Utah, but it is dry and warm in the house. This cold may not be low in temperature, but it cuts to the bone.”
“You’re getting thinner, Dad,” said Mary Ann. “You’re worrying too much, and you must eat more.”
He agreed, but ate less and less and his walking diminished. His eyes had a faraway look and it was always mountainward. Kim and Mary Ann held many worried conversations about him. They took him to the doctor they had first consulted on his arrival in Los Angeles, Dr. Judd.
“Physically he is no worse than when I first saw him,” said Dr. Judd. “It takes a year or more for the bone to heal and put on strength, no matter how you look at it. His mental attitude is dragging him down and can become serious if he won’t eat well. You’ll have to distract him, make him happy.”
The family turned handsprings to distract him, to no avail.
“I don’t think I’ll go,” he said when Tommy and his father were getting ready for priesthood meeting, and later in the week, when it came their regular temple night, he told Kim and Mary Ann to go without him.
“I’ll be all right with Tommy here. I don’t feel up to it.”
Rosemary haunted the loan shops without finding any more of her silver, so the edge of the first find was dulling.
“They all say the same: they don’t keep it when it becomes saleable, when the redemption time lapses. They sell it to some man who takes it off their hands. He picks up practically all the silver on the coast.”
“What does he do with it?” asked Mary Ann. “It must be for sale. Why don’t you contact him?”
“Nobody knows his address. They just say he comes a couple of times a week. I couldn’t hope to catch him, but I did leave a note with one of the dealers. He said he would try and remember to give it to him.”
Each night there was a progress report about Tommy’s pursuit of the elusive Lizbeth, which was no progress at all, unless you could count: “Today I looked at her and caught her looking at me.”
There was a new low on the last day of February. Kim was involved in an accident and the front end of the car was practically demolished.
“It wasn’t Dad’s fault,” said Tommy, who was with his father at the time. “Some jerk four cars up ahead decided suddenly to turn off without signaling and the rest of the cars telescoped.”
“I’m thankful you weren’t hurt, or killed,” said Mary Ann. “The insurance will surely take care of the car.”
Kim was shamefaced. “there is no insurance,” he admitted. “I couldn’t make the premium and it lapsed. Repairs on this job will run about three hundred dollars. The parts alone will be one fifty. I’ll ask the boss if I can bring it into the garage and use his tools. I’m sure he’ll let me.”
This was a real blow, because they were beginning to feel the pinch after Kim’s pre-Christmas overtime ran out.
“I can’t make the house payment this month,” said Kim. “The mortgage company hadn’t ought to kick. We’ve never been late making our payment before.”
But the company did.
“That company wouldn’t budge,” Kim said, nettled, when he reported. Their representative had pointed out that they could foreclose without notice if they lapsed even one payment, according to the contract.
“You don’t mean to say we have been living under that kind of insecurity all these years?” asked Mary Ann.
“I’m afraid so,” said Kim ruefully. “I’m glad I didn’t know it before. You’d think a company would have some leeway for reliable people.”
But how long could they remain reliable? Certainly not very long when their expenses continued to outrun their income. The handwriting was on the wall. Mary Ann knew it and so did Kim.
“I hate to do it, but I guess I’d better borrow. No other way out.”
“Then you’d better borrow enough to see us through June,” counseled Mary Ann. “If only I had taken my retirement in a lump sum, but I had an option to do that or take a life annuity, and that seemed the wisest thing to do. Fifty dollars a month for the rest of my life didn’t seem too bad. It should start the first of March, but they said once I had made the option it couldn’t be changed.”
“I thought Rosemary was going to finance her own wedding and that you were going to make her dress.”
“The material for Rosemary’s dress alone will cost sixty dollars, and we can’t leave the girl entirely in the lurch. We have a duty toward her, Kim, toward them both.”
Unfortunately, Father Freeman’s door had been open and he heard the whole conversation He was weeping impotent tears when Mary Ann went to tuck him in for the night.
“It’s all my fault,” he said. “An old man ought to die when he gets this old, and be a bother to no one.”
“Kim!” called Mary Ann, concerned, and Kim came. It took their combined efforts to assure Father Freeman that they were not in immediate danger of eviction, and that they loved him above and beyond the mere thought of money, and that it was right for him to be with them.
“How happy do you think we could be enjoying even wealth, if we knew you were unhappy in an old people’s home?”
“You knew all the time I couldn’t go home in the spring, didn’t you, Kim? Why didn’t you tell me?”
“We hoped we could make you so happy here that you wouldn’t want to go, Dad, and I’m sorry it hasn’t worked out that way.”
“Kim and I are committed until June. After that we’ll take our vacation and take you home for a visit.”
“I didn’t want it to be a visit,” Kim’s father said, but he was calmed down enough to go to sleep.
Kim had no more than reached home the following Monday, which was the first day of March, than the doorbell rang. Kim’s boss was on the doorstep. They admitted him wonderingly, but of course cordially.
“I came to meet your father,”he said, and Father Freeman looked up in surprise from his wheel chair, which he had reverted to using.
“Mr. Shelton, I am most pleased to meet you,” Father Freeman responded courteously. “My son has many fine things to say of you.”
“Good! Good!” said Mr. Shelton brusquely. “Did he tell you I want to buy your place in Utah? I believe in coming right to the point.”
Father Freeman looked at him in bewilderment, and then at Kim.
“Kim,” he finally said, “is this your idea?”