The walls were of plain plaster. White. The kind of white that hurt your eyes and made you squint. Her footsteps echoed through the barren rooms, her heart ached from the emptiness around her. Her hospital stay had left her weak but it was this house, this emptiness, that snatched the remnants of hope from her grasp. Memories. That’s what was missing. The house was devoid of memories. For over thirty years, her husband had been her constant companion and best friend. His smiling visage brought a twang of melancholy to her heart.
After thirty years of marriage, he didn’t know her. He didn’t understand what lay deep in heart. Her memories. All of them had been wiped from her life and scattered to the homes of strangers. He had panicked. She understood how he must have felt after hearinshe was ill.
The Rheumatic fever had gone undiagnosed until the illness, suffered during childhood, returned to haunt her middle years when she should have enjoyed the life she loved in the California sunshine. She had returned home, to Minneapolis, to visit her family and friends. The doctor in California had warned both her and Ralph that a the heart problem could recur but she knew her resilience and will to live would see her through. Her eyes sparkled with emotion as her tall gray-haired husband slipped an arm around her slender waist. She felt numb.
In his desire to be by her side in what he thought were her waning days, he had sold everything they owned to purchase a plane ticket for he and Rose, their youngest child. With the remaining funds, he had purchased a home in Minneapolis so that she could recuperate in the bosom of her family.
The hospital had been lonely and, while she was grateful to have her husband at her side she had dreamed of one day returning to California. The little house beneath the warm California sun with the palms swaying in the breeze. The rustling of palm fronds and chirping of birds beyond the dining room window’s filmy curtains lifted her spirits. She looked at the world through the creamy gauze, experienced the lilac breeze that creapt beneath the ruffled hem. She sipped on freshly squeezed orange juice that refreshed her spirit with the dawn of each new day.
The shining surface of her dining table, polished to a glassy sheen, held memories. Each chip or nick in the polished wood was a memory. A moment in the life of her family that she treasured.
The hand tatted doilies that adorned each end table brought a touch of her own magic to the little house. She had been cautious with her linens. She hand washed them in Ivory soap, rolled them in a terrycloth towel and, laid them out in the brilliant sunshine that bleached them snowy white.
She wondered upon whose table her doilies now resided and if anyone could care for them as she. Would they use ivory soap? Would they know to roll them in the towel? She felt an lump rise in her throat as she recalled all the moments shared on the overstuffed sofa in the parlor. Quiet moments of reflection as she waited for the birth of a child; the sticky fingers, bearing remnants of jam from lunch, that grasped the cushions as a tiny face appeared and squealed with delight at discovering Mommy peeking back; the moments shared as her children grew to adulthood and shared special moments.
Memories of her daughter’s boyfriend nervously wringing his hat to tatters as he sat on the cushion edge awaiting Rosie while Ralph loomed menacingly drifted through her memory and brought a silent chuckle to her lips. The four poster bed she had shared with her husband and upon which two of her six children had entered the world brought a sense of comfort and continuity to her life. She remembered the Eiderdown quilt – a wedding gift. The quilt that settled over her in the big four poster bed at the end of each long day.
Wandering into the bedroom of her new house, she found two army cots propped against the wall. She ran her finger across the rough canvass. Sawdust swirled in a mist at her feet, it’s sweet scent reminded her of building their home in California.
The home for which they had saved a lifetime and in which they had planned to share their golden years. She and Ralph had agonized over the move. The prospect of leaving their children and friends behind had been a heart rending decision, but one she had never regretted for they had shared happy moments in their little home filled with the treasured mementos and possessions she had brought with her from Minnesota.
Now, her doilies, dining room set, davenport, end tables, bed, linens, and so much more were sold for a pittance to strangers who would never know the joys that lived in the spirit of her treasured belongings. She wondered who would discover the initials Ralph had carved into the four-poster headboard on their wedding night. She had giggled with delight when he had scooted his 6’3″ frame beneath that bed and carved their initials RT + GT in a delicate heart in the base of the headboard. She had hoped to leave her belongings as a legacy to her children, now she would have to hope her love would be enough to nourish them and keep her alive in their hearts.
A smile lightened her spirit as she thought of her grandson she had just kissed good-bye in International Falls. Danny, his cherubic face had smiled upon her as so many in the past. She had said good-bye for the last time and asked Catherine to keep her memory alive in his heart. Her eyes grew moist as she looked upon the barren walls and unfinished floors of her new residence. She knew she woulldn’t have enough time make it her home.
She knew that her ravaged heart wouldn’t let her to live much longer and her battered spirit had lost the will to fight. She understood why he had done it. He loved her. He wanted to be with her and would go to any lengths to accomplish his end. A flurry of sawdust preceded his footsteps into the room. She swiped the silent tears from her eyes and beamed a smile on the man who loved her and was eager to explore a new adventure.
Their view of the rough-hewn house her husband now called home was different. He saw the potential, she saw the reality. His spirit was strong and his love for adventure rivaled her own; however, adventure no longer appealed. The joy she would have once felt at a new beginning in a new home was gone. Her energy was drained by the effects of the fever and all she wanted to do was lay down beneath the soft eiderdown and sleep in the big four poster bed in her sunny California bedroom but that was someone else’s right.
She no longer had a place in this world. She had grown up, married, and raised her children in a house not far from the neighborhood she would now call home. After a decade of absence, the community still remembered it’s own and welcomed her back to the fold. For six weeks, her life revolved around church, family, and friends.
As the weeks passed, the house began to take shape. The walls no longer made her squint but the echoes resounded in her chest. She would wake on her cot in the morning and feel the hammers pound and echo. She knew her days were short and was glad s the poundng would stop.
Her visits to church were less frequent, the card games tired her more she imagined possible, and her children became as ghosts in a haze as they moved silently in and out of the bedroom where she was confined the last few weeks of her life. Her family and friends were at her side as the dust motes danced in sunshine that shone through the bedroom window. With one last smile and squeeze of her daughter’s hand my Grandmother slipped from life. Her last memory was her husband’s lips gently touching hers and his silent tears dampening her cheek.