Heart Room for Home
by Alice Morrey Bailey
No man likes to antagonize his employer, but Kim was in a cold rage at Mr. Shelton’s coming to his home and offering to buy Kim’s father’s beloved family homestead in Utah.
“I told you Dad’s place was not for sale, Mr. Shelton.”
“So you did,” said Mr. Shelton, ignoring the flashing anger in Kim’s eyes. “I figured if I talked to the real owner we might do business. I’m prepared to offer twelve thousand, sight unseen, just from your description of the property.”
“I wasn’t describing it for sale. It is not for sale,” repeated Kim.
“Why don’t you let me talk to your father about it?” said Mr. Shelton.
“There’s no need to,” said Kim’s father with dignity. “The place is not for sale, has never been. If Kim hasn’t, if Kim didn’t want to –“
He looked at Kim and was reassured by the expression on his son’s face. “The place is not for sale,” he finished.
“Sorry,” said Mr. Shelton. “No offense meant. I really want that place, though, from your son’s description, and if you change your mind …”
“Dad won’t change his mind,” said Kim ominously, with finality.
After Mr. Shelton had gone Kim’s father continued to think about the offer.
“Are you sure, Kim? Why do I cling onto my possessions? I can’t live much longer, and I can’t work any more. If I sold the place I could divide the money and give each of you children your share of the inheritance.”
“None of us has a share of inheritance, Dad. An inheritance is something left from one who dies, and you are not dead. None of us knows previously the date of his death. When we had the accident I thought for a moment it was mine – and Tommy’s. You could easily live ten or even fifteen more years, so now let us not talk of inheritances.”
“I wouldn’t mind living that much longer, if she were alive,” his father said wistfully, and they left the subject.
It seemed to mark a change from the negative to the positive for the rest of the family. With only three months to go, Rosemary and her mother were plunged into sewing sessions whenever Cary was not there to help Rosemary with the refinishing of the bed or some other piece she had picked up. A letter came to her as a result of the note she had left at the pawn shop. A Mr. Feidler assured her he had all the silverware she needed to make up her twelve place settings except one fork, and he would be happy to keep on the lookout for that. It was still available at half the market price for new silver. Rosemary was overjoyed, and bought it immediately, as she had been saving for just this opportunity.
“Mother, if you have the cash you can buy things much cheaper,” she said. “But you have to buy on the spot or you lose out.”
Tommy had persisted until he made the opportunity to talk to Lizbeth King. He reported the circumstance to the family.
“I don’t have much time to do things the proper way,” he had told her bluntly, cornering her in the hall. “I meant what I said about marrying you, and I feel you should give me the opportunity to tell you why, for me to tell you about myself and for me to find out more about you. Every girl owes it to herself to explore all possibilities.”
“What did she say to that?” said Rosemary.
“Her answer threw me – for a moment. She said that obviously I knew all about her or I wouldn’t have asked her to marry me, so why didn’t we take ten minutes for a lemonade while she learned all about me,” related Tommy. “The ten minutes stretched into four hours and we cut three classes. I took her to the beach by that rocky cove and she is coming to dinner next Sunday.”
“To dinner? Here?” exclaimed Tommy’s mother. “Oh, my goodness! What can we serve?”
“Tommy, how masterful!” said Rosemary. “If you weren’t my brother I’d marry you myself. Those fierce eyes! That commanding lip!”
“I wouldn’t marry a spoiled brat like you,” said Tommy, but he planted on her lips the kiss he no doubt longed to plant on Lizbeth. Rosemary pretended a swoon.
“Tommy,” wailed Mary Ann. “These drapes! That couch! What do you want served?”
“Bees’ knees on cinnamon toast,” said Tommy. “Now, Mom, don’t do one thing you wouldn’t do for an ordinary Sunday dinner. My campaign is based on simple honesty. If she doesn’t like my family the way they are she can’t like me. I told her the worst parts of my nature first off, and all the mean things I ever thought in my life.”
“You dared to do that?” said Rosemary. “Sounds as if you were trying to drive her off.”
“That’s what she said, but it intrigued her so much she had to come to dinner to see what a monstrous family I belonged to.”
Kim and his father had been talking in the scene behind the newspaper.
“Her fellow, the one she’s engaged to, what about him?”
“I didn’t ask and she didn’t tell me,” said Tommy.
“That’s better,” commented her grandfather. “King Arthur’s knights – they couldn’t always see their opponents, either, dressed up in armor as they were. In the end a man has to stand on his own merits, not on the demerits of his opponent.”
Of course Mary Ann went all out for the Sunday dinner, roast beef and Parker House rolls, her specialty, cherry pie, the best linen and crystal, the silverware polished to a satiny finish.
Lizbeth had been visiting a friend the first time Tommy saw her at Church, but she lived in Alhambra with her parents, except for school where she boarded with a friend. Then Tommy went to fetch her and the table was set, the food ready for serving when they arrived. Of course Cary was there, but the girls and their families were otherwise occupied. Seven at the table, including Father Freeman, were not too many and gave time for adult conversation.
Lizbeth was socially gracious, but reserved, and she was all that Tommy said – with a regal bearing and proud eyes, dark blue fringed with black lashes, a rose-petal skin and shining black hair to her waist. What Mary Ann and Kim liked about her was her modesty of dress, feminine and sweet. “I went to BYU,” she explained.
She listened more than she talked, but when she did make a contribution it was brilliant and to the point. She didn’t really melt until after the meal, when Rosemary invited her to the garage to show what they were doing with the furniture. Cary and Tommy tagged along and they came back all chattering at once. She was intensely interested and big-eyed over Rosemary’s silver. “Tell me exactly how you got it,” she said. “I want that man’s name because I want to do likewise. I think it is fabulous.”
“I like your girl,” said Mary Ann in an aside to Tommy.
Watching the metamorphosis of Tommy from an ordinary college student, a familiar son, into a man in love was like seeing a cocoon unfold into a brilliant butterfly. There were the hours of despair, when Tommy came home and threw himself, moaning, onto his bed, behind locked doors, and the hours when he was illumined with the sweet secrets of his love for Lizbeth. Finally, there came the day when he appealed to his mother.
“I’ve got to talk to you, Mother. All through this I have been thinking of myself. Me! Tommy Freeman, as if my own happiness was all that mattered. Sometimes I think of this poor guy she is engaged to. He must be a pretty nice fellow to appreciate Lizbeth enough to want to marry her, and he’s in Vietnam, fighting for his country. What right do I have to barge in if they are in love and were happy without me?”
“Why did you come to me? This is a man’s problem. Why didn’t you ask your father?”
“No! It’s a woman’s problem. Tell me what you think, would think if you were Lizbeth. Then I’ll talk to Dad.”
“Tommy, you stated it fully the first time you spoke to Lizbeth. Any girl deserves a choice. Girls have been choosing between the men who love them since Eve. It is a sad thing for a girl to marry a man only because she has no other choice. Now you have gone so far it is out of your hands. Now it is Lizbeth’s problem. What you need to find out from your father is how to take it if she chooses the other man. That has been the man’s role since Adam.”
“You don’t think I should back off now, then?”
“Certainly, if you can.”
“That’s just it. I can’t.”
“Well, there’s your answer, son.”
Time picked up momentum as the weeks passed. Mary Ann, beleaguered with wedding plans, had little time to worry about her father-in-law beyond his meals and clean clothes, and nobody else did. He said little and dodged the ladders and paint buckets along with the rest of them. Swarms of young people came and went, Rosemary’s bridesmaids and their friends, Cary’s young men friends. The refrigerator door banged constantly as stores of food disappeared like butter on hot corn.
“Like Grand Central Station,” grumbled Kim.
“When it’s over I’ll hibernate,” promised Mary Ann. “The more I think of Dad’s cool place in the summer the more I long to be there.”
As if there wasn’t enough to do, getting the house cleaned, the sewing done, the wedding lists made out, the garden ready – for Rosemary had decided to have her reception there, with windlamps reflected in the pool – Tommy approached her to type his thesis.
“You’re a good typist, Mom. How about it? It would save the money and it is only sixty-five pages. There is a rush on it because the Dean has asked me to present it as a paper at the symposium and I want it to do double duty.”
She was opening her mouth to say she couldn’t possibly when she remembered that Rosemary had taken most of her time. It was only fair that Tommy have some of it. The thesis turned out to be seventy-five pages done in practically a non-stop marathon, painstaking work, tables, graphs, and charts, but among the families he used as case histories to support his title “The Place of the Aged in Today’s Society,” their own stood out. His grandfather was etched sharp as a diamond – his independent concepts: “No, I never took steps to build social security; I don’t believe in milking the Government,” and “No, I don’t believe in insurance companies. It seems too much like trying to get something for nothing. I put my money in the bank and those insurance fellows can do the same. That way we’re both ahead.”
His impact on the family was there – Rosemary’s right-about face from dependence to independence, Tommy’s own, even the change of Mary Ann from a fashionable working woman to a homemaker, and Kim’s emergence as the real head of the household. All because they had brought Kim’s father to live with them instead of selling his beloved homestead and putting him in a home for the aged. Tommy was fair. He showed how this might not work for some families. He outlined his parents’ dilemma – the unfinished payments on the mortgage, the upkeep of a too large home when the children were gone. Tommy offered no solution, and Mary Ann wished he would. He was merely the scientific observer, and said it would be interesting to see the drama played out to the end, with a satisfactory solution for them all, or failure, and that it deserved further study.
There was no time to think of either alternative just now, but both hovered over Kim and Mary Ann like dark-winged birds. The thesis was done and approved barely in time for Tommy’s flight to Washington and the symposium, where he made a brilliant presentation of his paper, according to the Dean. It would be published in the fall and included in the society’s Proceedings of the Thirty-Fifth Annual Symposium. The newspapers picked it up as a “Revolutionary Solution to the Care of the Aged,” and featured it.
“About as revolutionary as Methuselah,” commented Kim drily.
Several offers of professorships at various colleges came of it, and Tommy was invited to submit a proposal to a scientific foundation for a sizable grant to support further research on it. Lizbeth was at the airport to meet him and she looked at him with respect. Mary Ann noted she was not wearing her engagement ring.
This was just an interlude, for they went back to the bridal showers for Rosemary given by her friends, the trousseau tea at the Freeman home, with the excited female relatives, and some of the male ones, coming and going, then exclaiming over her matched outfits of clothing, her linens and silver, everything beautiful for a bride. Her ivory white satin wedding dress was sheathed in her closet, her accompanying temple clothing pressed and packed into a small white case. Rosemary, with her mother’s help, had not missed a detail to make her wedding perfect.
It was Rosemary who drew the family’s attention to her grandfather.
“I don’t remember hearing him speak a word in three weeks,” she said. “And he looks sad and frail. I so wanted him at my wedding, but not if it will be too much for him. Grandpa’s all right, isn’t he?”
Her father looked suddenly frightened, and guilt swept over Mary Ann. There was no doubt she had neglected her father-in-law in the excitement and hubbub in the last few weeks, doing only what was necessary for him and leaving the rest to Kim. But Kim had been kept on the run from the minute he got home until he could no longer see, fixing up the place for the wedding.
“Grandfather, you are coming with us to the temple, aren’t you? You promised, remember?”
“What’s that, Rosemary?” her grandfather answered, dragging his gaze from its faraway place. His eyes burned unnaturally bright in his pale face, and his clothes looked like a half-filled sack, he was so thin. His white hair, usually so well-kept, and his shaggy white eyebrows, looked slightly wild.
“You promised to come to my wedding in the temple. Are you able?”
“If I promised, darling, I will come. I always keep a promise.”
They took him with misgivings, and then the day was out of their hands – the wedding breakfast and the last minute preparations for the reception that night. He went to his room “to rest” he said, and when it came time for the reception he made his excuses that he was too tired to join them. Mary Ann fixed a supper tray and took it in.
The wedding reception was a highlight for their family, the hundreds of guests from the ward, from Kim’s work, from Mary Ann’s and the children’s associations coming and going was a kaleidoscope of loveliness. One of Kim’s friends from work was most impressed with their home, their yard and gardens, the swimming pool, now dramatized at their best by the event.
“Kim, you plutocrat! I had no idea you lived in a place liked this.”
This pleased Kim, of course, and he murmured something about its being adequate for the family. “We never would have bought so big a place for ourselves – but the children.”
“Yes, the children. We’ve got seven of them, you know, and they are bulging the walls out of our place. We’d sure like to have an outlay like this.”
“How would you like this one?” Kim asked jokingly.
“Are you serious?” demanded his co-worker.
“Oh, could we?” his wife abetted.
* * *
At long last the affair was over, the last guest gone, the bride and groom having changed quickly and departed in a decorated car trailing old shoes and peppered with rice. Tommy, Lisbeth’s hand in his, had also gone, borrowing the little car and tucking her in. There was no mistaking the stars in her eyes, nor the love in his. Barbara, Jennifer, Heidi, and Carol and their husbands, aided by all the children who were still on their feet, were retrieving tissue paper from Rosemary’s room, where the gifts had been unwrapped, and were on the patio putting the gifts away.
“Let’s check on your father,” said Mary Ann.
The supper tray was still on the little table beside his bed, untouched, and Kim’s father was on the floor, where he had obviously fallen in an effort to reach the bathroom because he had been nauseated.
Kim was terrified. “My father is dying!” he said.