Heart Room for Home
by Alice Morrey Bailey
“My father is dying in this alien land,” said Kim in anguish. They were at the emergency division of their doctor’s hospital, where he had met them after a dash by ambulance from their home. The first concern of all of them was, of course, for Father Freeman’s mending hip bone. They hung on Dr. Judd’s words, and were relieved at his report.
“The bone seems to be all right. We’ll take extensive X-rays tomorrow. Just now he is dehydrating from the nausea, and from too little intake of fluids the last while.”
This smote Mary Ann with guilt. Things had moved too fast for her and Kim through Rosemary’s and Cary’s wedding. “We should have hired a nurse for him through all this,” she said.’
“This was my responsibility,” said Kim. “You had your hands full.”
There was the pinched look of a dying animal about him when the nurse let them into his room, a little emergency bed off the main office. She was fixing a bottle to a standard and she inserted a needle into his arm, taped it to a board and left the room, saying: “He’ll be all right here until the doctor sees if he needs hospitalization.”
His eyes were closed and he looked very much like death itself. Kim rarely wept, but he was weeping now, his face immobile, but the tears flooding his face, furrowing down to drop off his chin.
“Speak to me, Dad,” he pleaded. “I’ll take you home again as soon as you are well, and you’ll never have to leave there again, I promise.”
How could Kim make such a promise? Touched as Mary Ann was at her husband’s anguish and the plight of her father-in-law, this time she did not kneel beside the bed and augment that promise, as she had kneeled by Father Freeman’s chair last October when Kim invited his father home “until spring.” Such a promise was too hard to keep, as the other one had been hard, too hard, perhaps, for they were not yet through with the consequences. The spring had come and gone and he was still here.
To Mary Ann’s surprise Kim’s promise had a reviving effect on his father, who opened his eyes, and looked straight and clear into his son’s gaze. “Thank you, Kim,” he said. “The roses are in bloom for Rosemary now.” He had written a painstaking letter to Emily and Francine and their husbands as early as April, instructing them to have everything in readiness for the honeymooning couple. Letters had come to assure him the house and yard had been cleaned and made attractive. Victor had gone farther. He had stocked the kitchen with essential food, and it would be like walking into their own domain. Rosemary and Cary would have a wonderful beginning to their marriage in that sweet place, the place where her parents and her grandparents before her had started theirs.
The promise had been given and accepted, Mary Ann knew. Now how to keep it. Again, Kim had acted without thinking of her, and this time Mary Ann felt more than a twinge of resentment, as they sat and watched Kim’s father, who now seemed asleep. It was amazing as they watched to see the blueness leave his face, the pinched look flesh out and the pink come back to his lips. Maybe, with the care they could give him now, he would be all right. If only Kim had not promised or that his father had not heard that promise!
But Kim had promised, and that was that. He had his father’s determination when it came to keeping a promise. Yet he had seemed truly sorry to have acted before without previously consulting Mary Ann. That time he had followed his impulse, it was true, but she had been so much in accord with his feelings that it was her impulse, too. This time it was not. There were too many things to be accomplished before it could be remotely possible for Kim to take his father home. In the first place, Kim’s vacation would not come immediately. Rosemary and Cary planned at least a two-week stay, and maybe longer.
When she brought these things up to Kim he said: “I didn’t mean a visit, Mary Ann. I meant to live.”
“Kim! How could you?” Mary Ann said. “Without so much as consulting me? I feel injured, Kim, very injured at your lack of thought for me and for the family.”
“I meant to consult you, dear, for us to plan it together, but with Dad seeming near death there was no time.”
“Well!” said Mary Ann doubtfully. “I’m certainly open to discussion.”’
“But closed to suggestion?” ventured Kim.
“I suppose so, Kim,” said Mary Ann relaxing. Kim could always do this to her, make her see she was unbending. “What suggestion? Your job – this place …”
“How about me quitting my job, selling this place and us moving to Utah?”
“Kim Freeman, are you out of your mind?”
“You think about it, honey. I have been ever since Mr. Shelton made Dad that offer. If Dad’s place is good enough for a retirement home for him it should be for us. All the men in the shop talk about all day is getting some little place like that, away from it all, close to hunting and fishing and all that. It is mostly talk and wishful thinking with them. We could do it, and it would be a way of taking Dad back home for the rest of his life.”
“Retire? You retire, Kim?”
“Why not? I’m retirement age, you know. Mr. Shelton is, and he is no older than I am. Besides, he will have his son take over, and I never could get along with that whipper-snapper. I looked for a garage in Mayville and there is none. I could put up one, make enough to keep us going.”
“But this house, the mortgage?”
“We have twelve thousand dollars equity in this house, Mary Ann. You can see yourself we can’t pay off the other thirteen thousand on my wages. We stand to lose it all if something happens and we can’t make the payments. With our equity we could put two thirds of it in trust or on interest and save it for the time when the girls will want their share of Dad’s estate, then pay them off and keep it.”
“The children …” said Mary Ann in a small voice, as she had reserved the most important argument for the last.
“The children? James and Carol have already moved to Hawaii. Utah is no farther from Hawaii than Los Angeles, the way they travel. Jennifer and her family are already packed to go. They’d have been gone now except for Rosemary’s wedding. Richard and Heidi will be in New York, and goodness knows where Tommy will be. If he accepts that offer from the University of Alaska, and if Rosemary and Cary go to Houston, where are the children?”
“There’s still Barbara,” said Mary Ann.
“Just enough reason to spend our vacations in California and for them to come to Mayville for theirs.”
“Kim, I feel weak,” said Mary Ann, and sat down. He had demolished every argument she had. “But selling this place! You just can’t walk out and sell a place like this in five minutes.”
“I know that, honey. It might take months, but if Dad had it to look forward to …”
“Kim, I can’t just change that fast. The ward, here, our friends – it would be going back to an old way of living – at our age.”
“We have some good friends in Mayville. Remember how we hated to leave them? A ward is the same all over the Church. People come and go here, too, you know. Nothing stays the same; everything passes.”
Kim’s sad words “Everything passes” haunted Mary Ann for days. Looking back gave one that sense. How could it have been so painless – and so final? The children growing up. What would she give for one hour of them as babies? As little ones coming to the house for bandaids and a kiss to make them well, their falling in love, marrying, and then the grandbabies. Now Barbara’s children would follow the same cycle – she had noticed Kirby eyeing the girls who served at Rosemary’s wedding, little sisters of her friends, Cary’s younger sisters. Everything passes. Enjoy it while you may, but don’t look back.
This place, now? They had lived here for fourteen years. Had she enjoyed it? Certainly nothing could top their enjoyment of it at Rosemary’s reception. Everything else was anticlimax. She would remember it forever, but would she ever want to repeat the experience? Not without another daughter to marry the man of her choice. When Tommy married the reception would be from some other house. No, this house had served them well, but now it was too much. Too much room and too much expense.
It was good to have Father Freeman in the hospital for the few days of Tommy’s graduation – their last son coming down the ramp from the platform where he received his diploma, their last son in cap and gown. There were too many last things just now, and they almost overwhelmed Mary Ann.
“I know,” said Kim, reading her mind again, as he had before they had all become too hysterically busy to think.
“Will we be always living a memory, Kim?”
“I hope not, Mary Ann. I went through this weeks ago, when the idea first hit me. Now I am anxious and eager to start a new life, a new life for ourselves. It can be pretty full, you know, the way I look at it.”
“What happened to Lizbeth?” Mary Ann suddenly remembered.
Tommy’s answer was not the same now as it used to be. Mary Ann was not prepared for the pain in Tommy’s face.
“Her soldier boy came back from Vietnam,” was all he said.
A man had to be prepared for the choice the girl might make.
“Is it final, then?”
“I don’t know, Mother dear. There was never any promise on her part – to me, that is. She wouldn’t make any, with him overseas, except that if her answer to me was yes, she would call me.”
“You’ve changed your mind about a good many things, haven’t you, Tommy? You have made it a matter of prayer?”
“Yes, Mother,” answered Tommy soberly and went to his room.
The telephone rang and it was for Kim, Emily calling from Mayville, because, of course, they had called her and Francine to tell them about their father being in the hospital.
“We’re bringing him home tomorrow, Emily, and he is going to be fine. … What’s that? No, you don’t need to be prepared for his death. Dad’s going to live … As long as he wants to, I guess. At least until he gets his feet on his own land, that’s for sure.”
Kim spoke at length about his father’s condition, reassuring both his sisters. Francine had gone over to Emily’s for the conversation.
“Now, you two girls give way and let me talk to Victor … Say, Victor, that was a nice thing you folks did for Rosemary and her husband. We appreciate it and we know they do, too. Victor, is it true that the interstate highway is cutting through a corner of Dad’s meadow? Good. No, that’s not bad. It’s good. I’ll tell you later.”
“Why didn’t you tell them we are moving there?” asked Mary Ann when he hung up.
Kim looked her full in the face. “Because you hadn’t told me, sweetheart.”
“You mean it wasn’t all cut and dried, that you were waiting for my decision?”
“Exactly! You’ve kept me on tenter hooks for a week, my dear, but I was going to press you for an answer before tomorrow. I had to know what to tell Dad.”
“You would have broken your word to him if I didn’t approve of your idea?”
“What do you think? You had me in the same situation Eve had Adam,” Kim answered. “By the way, that question I asked Victor. Can you imagine a better spot for a garage than that corner of Dad’s meadow? Know something else? You remember one of the men from the shop asking about this place?”
“Yes, I do, now that you mention it. Both he and his wife made flattering remarks about our place.”
“It wasn’t flattery, dear. He meant it. Great things are coming about at the garage since Mr. Shelton is leaving. We will now have a president – his son, and a vice-president, John Shane, the man who came to Rosemary’s wedding. With this prospect he wants me to sell him this place. What do you say?”
“That’s wonderful. We’d better sell, don’t you think, Kim?”
“That’s not all,” said Kim. “They are getting new machinery and when I asked what was to become of the old – the stuff I’ve worked with for the last twenty years, some of it, Mr. Shelton said it was obsolete and he would probably junk it. I asked for an option and got it. I can do anything with that machinery. I’d be lost with the new – at least for a while.”
“Kim, it looks as if everything was meant to turn out this way,” said Mary Ann. “I’m beginning to think of that wonderful old rock house of Dad’s, and what we can do with it. Do you think that window …?”
The telephone ringing interrupted Mary Ann. It was for Tommy, a timid little voice Mary Ann hardly recognized as belonging to Lizbeth.
Tommy bounded out of his room when his mother told him who it was. He said only one word: “Yes?” then looked at his watch. “I’ll be there in exactly thirteen minutes freeway time,” he said, and literally ran out the door, calling back: “She decided for me. Lizbeth is mine!”
“This must be the evening of feminine decisions,” said Kim dryly.
“Dad, we’re going home,” he told his father jubilantly when they got to the hospital.
“Yes, I know, but it won’t be the same without Rosemary, will it?”
“I mean home to Mayville. Just as soon as you can evict your present tenants. Mary Ann and I are selling out here and coming to live with you, if that’s all right with you.”
“Oh, now! I didn’t mean to upset anybody. Are you sure, Kim?”
“I’ve been sure for a long time, Dad. Just waiting for Mary Ann to get used to the idea.”
“Now don’t help me. I can walk by myself,” Father Freeman told Kim. “Now, Mary Ann, is this going to put you out?”
“No, Dad. It took me just a little more time. I had to move a number of things over to make heart room for it, that’s all.”