Serendipitous happenchance and a kindred spirit
I had been working as a nurse for several years when a much-needed new nurse was hired for our clinic. As much as we really needed the help, there is always that initial thought, “crap, I have to train the new girl. I will be working late every day and still never get my work done.” But with this girl, it was different. We quickly became friends.
I don’t usually believe in love at first sight, nor am I gay, but I fell in love with this woman in an instant. She was the kindest, most caring person I have ever met. I felt totally at home when I was around her.
One day while at work, my new nurse friend and I were talking about a vacation she was taking. She announced she was going to visit an aunt and uncle in Illinois. Since I used to live in Illinois, I was curious as to what part of Illinois her family lived in. When she said Charleston, I was shocked because it’s such a small, albeit university, town that only takes two to four minutes in either direction (give or take a few stop signs) to drive through. If it wasn’t for the university there, no one would know it existed.
From the age of five until thirteen, Charleston was where all my best childhood memories were captured. From the big castle-like building at the university where my dad worked, bike rides down to the town square or to Ben Franklin to buy some candy, a picnic or campout at Fox Ridge Park where my dad once got the station wagon stuck in the mud, a hamburger joint called Snappy Service, but took 45 minutes to get your order, indoor heated swimming pools, white Christmases, sledding and snow fights, Charleston was certainly the best part of growing up.
Nothing was more memorable however than the six bedroom house that my dad and older brothers built. I like to think that I contributed to the construction, though I being only eight really did not do much more than hammer a nail or two in a couple boards and splash some paint on a wall.
My dad had a central vacuum cleaner installed in the home that my sister and I would use to dry our hair. Now as I look back, I can’t really imagine our hair remained clean after drying it that way as it sucked our hair into all the dust and dirt particles picked up from the vacuum. But it was a central vacuum cleaner and duh, what else would you do with one?
The basement had three bedrooms and a large family room with a sliding glass door that had steps leading out to the outdoors. If I had been a little older and a bit more devious, it would have been very convenient to sneak in boyfriends through that back door without my parents finding out. Alas, I was neither.
The large home was made to fit all six of us kids, three bedrooms upstairs and three in the basement, though I had to share a bedroom with my sister until we could kick my oldest brother off to college.. I was so excited when I finally got my own bedroom as I had shared a room with my sister for as long as I could remember and always wanted my own space. My room was upstairs just next to my younger brothers’ room and two doors down from my parents. I finally had my own personal retreat that unless I said so, no one could enter (well unless you were my parent). I wanted to stay in this home forever.
I cried when we had to move out of Charleston when my dad took a job offer in California. As I packed up and took a last look around the bedroom, I felt I was leaving so much behind. It was so hard to give up a house full of so many memories to some strangers, another family who would replace my memories with ones of their own. It would take me years to feel at home again in another house, though I never again felt the same attachment I felt for that house we built in Charleston.
When my dad died, the house in Charleston was where I wanted to run and hide. I wanted to retreat back into my bedroom, the room my dad had built and feel the safety and security of my childhood memories. I took a trip back to Illinois with my mom about a year after my dad’s death and the now older couple that had purchased our home, still lived there and allowed us to come in and tour the place. They had raised their children and had many family get-togethers in our home. They led me by my old bedroom, which was now modernized with a fresh coat of pink paint, crown molding and lacy curtains. As I stood staring at my bedroom, I could almost hear the laughter of my younger brother in the next room and the sound of the balls from the pool table downstairs as my older brothers played a game of pool.
But it was not the same. I felt hurt and robbed. These people not only had invaded my home but they also had the audacity to share with us their own personal family memories they had in the house that my father had built.
As I continued speaking with my nurse friend we were both projected into a Twilight Zone plot where two people from different worlds collided in another space and time. I asked her where in Charleston her relatives lived and she gave me the address of the house my family had built and the place that I have always and will always call home. I’m not very good about sharing a bedroom with very many people, but out of six bedrooms in that house, she had always stayed in mine. I had met her aunt and uncle, a couple of very nice people.
I do not know why my friend and I shared this connection to a home I adored in a small town I loved, a couple thousand miles away, but since I had to share my home, my bedroom, my own personal space and memories with someone, I was so glad it was her. I could not have chosen anyone nicer.
As they say in Mexico, “Mi casa es su casa.” My house is your house. And for my friend, it literally was.