On my way out to the car to run errands, I bumped into my Igloo cooler. As I set it upright, I thought nothing more of it until I Skyped with my sweetheart. I don’t know how the subject came up. I just know I told Von about the last night I spent in my childhood home, seven years ago.
Every room in that modest three-bedroom cottage teemed with
memories, both for me and for my sons. When I became a bride, in 1968, I naturally expected that I would never return there to live.
Twenty-seven years later, at nine p.m. on October 6, 1995,.we were about to turn in when my mother called. Her voice sounded as though she had tumbled into a well.
“Kimmie? I just got home from the hospital.” Hearing my sharp intake of breath, she paused. “Oh, honey, I hate to break it to you — your Daddy’s gone.”
This was not his first heart attack. Daddy had his first one at a Homecoming Sunday service in 1983. It made me realize that, although I had shown him a lifetime of love, in every other way, I had never come out and said those three, magic words: “I love you.” However, after that pivotal, game-changing moment when Mike picked me up at school with the news that Daddy had suffered a heart attack, I couldn’t say “I love you” often enough.
In shock over Daddy’s sudden death, I tossed an oddball assortment of clothing — a pair of culottes, a half-slip with elastic that had plumb “given up the ghost”, and a couple of mismatched skirts, blouses, and shoes — into a suitcase before Mike drove me to my parents’ home to spend the night with my mother and help her with the funeral preparations.
Although I felt like I was underwater, I was able to walk to Daddy’s grave site with everyone else. Little could I have known what a change the next three weeks would bring.
Within those three weeks, my balance worsened. I fell into walls on the way to the bathroom. Nauseating, migraine-like headaches visited me frequently. And a tremor that I had written off as nervousness during nurse’s training, back in 1977, had become more noticeable within the past few years. Even worse, my neck no longer supported my wobbly head.
As I look back, I marvel at the way a crisis can turn out to be a blessing in disguise! Around three a.m., on October 30, — I gave up trying to breathe. After I gasped my permission for Mama to call an ambulance, I must’ve blacked out. When I finally woke up, the next morning, I saw bars on my bed.
After a round of doctors and their tests came Halloween night. Save this to memory.
The sun had melted into a flaming, red-orange puddle when my neurologist walked in and faced Mama and me.
“Kim,” he said, “you have a brain tumor.”
Here, punctuate the words, “brain tumor”, with ghoulish laughter. Still, as bizarre as the news was, I felt relieved.
After the doctor explained the unexplainable, he looked at me. “Kim, do you have any questions?”
Relief lifted my soul.
“So, I’m not losing my mind, after all?”
Fast-forward to the day after surgery. As the doctor had predicted, the tumor was benign. It was also encapsulated, and out of my head. Thank God, all I had to do was get better. And I did.
And still am.
On December 1, a week ahead of schedule, I got to go home. Home, as in the house where I grew up. My doctor had told my mother that I would need twenty-four-hour supervision for a few weeks. Since she was retired, it was a no-brainer where I wanted to finish recuperating.
Two months later, I was strong enough to volunteer part-time and resume driving. Before long, our roles reversed. I became my mother’s caregiver.
Mama and I holed up together for nine years before she joined Daddy in 2004, leaving me the heir of a run-down but cozy childhood home. Two years later, I discovered that the white-frame bungalow with yellow shutters, built in 1949, was in no way secure. After my inherited home got burglarized twice in two weeks, one of my sons said, “Mom, if I were you, I’d start looking for another place to live.”
Although I had hoped to live in that house until someone discovered my crunchy, upturned exoskeleton, I had to admit — Tam’s and Terry’s advice made good sense. Still, my heart wasn’t ready to let go until I distinctly felt Mama and Daddy nudge me.
“Time to get out of there, Kimmie,” my heart heard Daddy whisper.
The following Sunday, I told a realtor friend what had happened and asked her to start helping me look for a house.
“We’re going on vacation, but I’ll help you look when we get back,” she said.
While they were gone, I did my research, looking online at houses near my school and checking the police records for neighborhood safety. After a few days of searching, I found a doll-sized two-bedroom town home in a quiet neighborhood.
When B.J. opened the door, I walked up and down the stairs, looked inside the closets, even flushed the toilets.
“Yep,” I said, after looking at three other homes.. “The first one’s the one.”
The very next day I plunked down my “earnest” money to hold the house.
But back to the ice chest. After I moved in to my new house, Steve and B.J.of Sloan and Sloan Realty got started fixing up and marketing my old home. After school, every day, I went back to my Fort Worth home to continue clearing out remnants of a lifetime and stashing them out on the curb.
Finally, it was time for one more trip before locking up and handing over the key. I wanted my last night to be special. Ceremonial, even. So I purchased an ice chest from the Army/Navy surplus store and packed some goodies — vienna sausages, squeeze-cheese and snack crackers, and a fried pie — to feast on.
Picnic in the living room floor finished, it was time for me to say good-bye to the home that echoed with memories. Starting with the garage, I said good-bye to the space that our boat once filled. Then onto the screened-in porch where we lolled on chaises and celebrated my fifth birthday.
Next, the living/dining area, where my teeth chattered with excitement while I dug through my Christmas stocking. I traveled down the hall and entered each room as though it were a cathedral. Eleven years had already passed since my daddy died; still, the walls reverberated with his jokes and my little-girl giggles.
Finally, when I reached the back bedroom where my parents slept, I could no longer hold back the tears. At that instant, something tickled my ear.
Could it have been Mama and Daddy saying good-bye and God bless?