Homecoming

by
CathyAnne Murtha

The walls were of plain plaster.  White.  The kind of white which hurt your eyes and made you squint a bit.  Her footsteps echoed through the barren rooms, her heart ached from the emptiness which surrounded her.  Her hospital stay had left her feeling weak but it was this house, this emptiness, which had snatched the last remnants of hope from her grasp.  Memories.  That was what was missing.  The house was totally devoid of memories.  Looking upon the smiling visage of her husband who had, for over thirty years, been her constant companion and best friend brought a curious twang of melancholy to her heart.

After thirty years of marriage, he didn’t know her.  He didn’t understand what lay deep inside her 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 upon hearing of her illness.  The Rheumatic fever had gone undiagnosed until the effects of the illness, suffered during childhood, returned to haunt her during her middle years when she should have been enjoying the life she had come to love 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 there was a possibility of a recurrence of the heart problem, but she knew her own resilience and will to live would see her through.  Now, as her eyes sparkled with emotion and the strong arm of the tall gray-haired man at her side slipped around her slender waist, she felt numb.  In his desire to be by her side in what he thought to be her waning days, he had sold everything they owned to purchase a plane ticket for himself 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 although she was grateful to have her husband at her side she had dreamed of one day returning to her home in 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 filmy curtains of her dining room window lifted her spirits as nothing ever had.  She would look upon the world through the creamy gauze, experience the scent of  lilac on the breeze which would creep beneath the ruffled hem, sip upon freshly squeezed orange juice, and refresh 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 to be treasured.  The hand tatted doilies which adorned each end table in her home brought a touch of her own magic to the little house.  She had been ever so cautious in her care for her linens.  Hand washing them in Ivory soap, rolling them in a terrycloth towel and, finally, laying them out to dry in the brilliant sunshine which would bleach 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 uncomfortable 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, which 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 their special moments with her.  Memories of her daughter’s boyfriend nervously wringing his hat to tatters as he sat on the very edge of the cushion awaiting Rosie while Ralph loomed menacingly overhead 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 given to her on her wedding day.  She recalled the softness of the quilt as it settled over her in the big four poster bed.  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 about her feet, it’s sweet scent reminded her of the building of her 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 which 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 within the spirit of her treasured belongings.  She wondered who would discover the initials Ralph had carved into the headboard of the four poster 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 that the love she bestowed upon them would be enough to nourish them and keep her alive in their hearts.

A smile lightened her spirit as she thought on the grandson whom she had just kissed good-bye in International Falls.  Danny, his cherubic face had smiled upon her as so many others had 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 the house which was to become her new residence in Minneapolis.  She knew in heart that she would not have enough time make it her home. home.

She no longer felt the will to continue.  She knew that her ravaged heart would not allow her to live much longer and her battered spirit felt no desire 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 this end.  A flurry of sawdust preceded his footsteps into the room.  She swiped the silent tears from her eyes and beamed a smile upon the man who had loved her well and was eager to explore a new adventure.  Their view of the rough-hewn house which her husband now called home was very different.  He saw the potential, she saw the reality.  His spirit was strong and his love for adventure rivaled her own.  She had come to a time in her life, however, when 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 of her sunny bedroom in California.  Now, however, that was someone else’s right and 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, oh how the echoes resounded in her chest.  She would waken on her cot in the morning and feel the pounding echo of the hammers.  She knew her days were short and was glad that she would not feel the pounding any longer.  Her visits to church became less frequent, the card games tired her more easily than she had 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 for the last few weeks of her life.  Her family and friends were at her side as the dust motes danced in bright shaft of sunshine which shone through the window of her bedroom on May 3, 1955.  With one last smile and squeeze of her daughter’s hand my Grandmother slipped from life.  Her last memory would be of her husband’s gentle lips touching her own and of his silent tears dampening her cheek.