It was the winter of 1969, and my father rushed my mother to the hospital. It was one week before I was expected to make my appearance in this world, but I simply couldn’t wait any longer.
I was a restless child, or so I am told, so my mother and father had many sleepless nights, but inside that one-bedroom apartment, they made me feel loved despite my need for constant attention. My father worked on a construction site as a framer, while my mom stayed at home and took care of me. They did not have much money at that time, but they made the best life they could for me.
Sometime around my third birthday, my mom and dad told me some exciting news, they had bought a piece of land in the country, and my dad, along with some of his friends at the construction company, were starting to build a house for us to live in. They said that I would have my very own bedroom and there would be another bedroom for when someone came to visit. Being still too young to completely understand, I began to pack all my toys up in a big box that was tucked away in the closet. I was under the impression that we were moving out that day. It was disappointing to realize we were not.
When the big move finally came, I was nearly four, and when we pulled into the driveway for the first time, I was in awe. I remember seeing my reflection in the car window and noticing that my mouth was hanging open. My parents drove a 1972 Volkswagen Beetle at the time. It was a pale-yellow color. Behind it, we towed a U-Haul trailer with the few belongings that remained at the apartment.
I stared at the house. To the almost four-year-old me, it looked like a mansion, but it was in fact a three-bedroom bungalow with wood siding, painted a similar yellow to the car. This was the first time I had a front yard and a backyard. I was ecstatic! My mother brought me inside while my father emptied the trailer.
As we walked through the front door, there was a closet to the left where we could hang up our coats. To the right, was the living room with a big window that filled up most of the wall. Across the living room was a doorway that led into a kitchen/dining room. There was a door off the dining room that opened to a large fenced-in backyard where my dad built a jungle gym for me. Across from the back door, was a staircase that led down to the basement where the laundry room was located. We never had our own laundry room before. My mom always had to go to the laundromat to clean our clothes.
Back upstairs on the main level, we walked past the front entrance and down a hallway. The first room we came to on the right, was the spare bedroom. Across from it was the bathroom. I was amazed that the toilet, bathtub, and sink were a light blue color. We just had white fixtures at the apartment. I thought it was very cool. Next to the bathroom, was my parent’s bedroom, and across the hall, was my bedroom. I remember shrieking when I walked in and saw bunkbeds. My mom said that for the time being, I would need to sleep on the bottom bunk, but when I got a little older, I could move to the top bunk if I chose to, or have friends sleep up there when they came over for the night. I had a dresser all to myself too. I felt like I was the wealthiest kid in town.
After we settled in, my mom started to prepare dinner, while I sat and watched The Wonderful World of Disney on the television. My dad called me over during one of the commercials and asked me to stand in the doorway with my back against the doorjamb. He told me to stand up straight, then he held my head against the wooden frame and slid the palm of his hand across the top of my head. I had no idea what he was doing. When I stepped away, he held his hand in place, then taking a black marker, he drew a line on the door frame under his hand. Beside the line, he wrote, “Paul: 4 y/o.”
I asked him what he was doing, and he told me that he wants to see how much I grow with the house. I thought it was a little bit strange at first, but each year on my birthday, we would keep adding a new line. It became a tradition. Between my sixth and seventh birthdays, I had grown almost three inches.
When I was seven, my mom and dad sat me down in the living room to tell me that they had some news for me, and they hoped that I was going to be happy about it. I thought they were going to tell me that they were getting me a puppy, but to my surprise, they informed me that I was going to be a big brother in about another six months. At first, I was not necessarily happy because I thought that I would have to share all my toys and my mom and dad would love the new baby more than they loved me, but when the day my baby sister, Olivia arrived, I was overcome with joy. Tears poured down my face, and I promised her at that moment, that I would be the best big brother ever.
When Olivia turned four, my dad had her stand in the doorway like I did at her age. Taking a red marker, he drew a line and wrote, “Olivia: 4 y/o.” and the tradition was passed on to her as well. She was slightly shorter that what I was at that age, and I made sure she knew it.
As the years passed, and I grew into my teenage years, I was more reluctant about having my height measured, but my mother insisted. Olivia was still gung-ho about the idea, however, because now that she was seven, her height had surpassed mine at that age. She was quickly catching up to me.
In the Spring of 1983, tragedy had struck our family. My dad fell to the ground suddenly while at work. The foreman on the site called an ambulance and he was taken to the hospital. The nurse at the hospital called my mother and told her that she needed to get to the hospital as quickly as possible. She called my school and left a message for me to meet my sister at the bus stop after school, then wait by the phone at home until she called. I still wasn’t aware what was happening at that point.
I waited by the phone like she asked, but instead of a call, the front door opened, and my mother stood there. Black mascara covered her cheeks, and I knew she had been crying. I asked her what was wrong, but she wouldn’t answer. Instead, she walked into the living room and held out her arms then motioned for Olivia and me to come to her. We did, and she pulled us both tightly into her and began to cry once more. My sister and I looked up at her and Olivia began to cry as well, even though she didn’t know what she was crying about. I began to get choked up too.
She told us to sit down, and she sat down across from us. That was when my life began to fall apart. My dad had passed away from a massive heart attack. I was beside myself. It was like I was living inside a dream, and once I woke up, it would all be back to normal, but reality eventually hit me, and my emotions became uncontrollable. I couldn’t stop crying for days. Ironically, when my eyes finally dried up, was at the funeral. I did not shed a single tear.
Life after my dad was difficult, but thanks to my mother’s love and commitment to us, it became more manageable. That year on my sister’s birthday, I saw her staring at the markings on the doorway, and I knew what she was thinking. She wondered if we should continue the tradition now that my dad was gone. I placed my hand on her shoulder and told her to stand against the door frame. Using my hand, I measured Olivia’s height, then using the red marker, I wrote, “Olivia: 7 y/o.” I told her that our father would want us to continue where he left off.
The years passed by, and we grew older. I was married to a wonderful woman named, Jessica, and Olivia was in her final year of college. Mom had since retired from the company that she worked at since my father’s death, but her mental state had depleted. The doctor said that she was in the preliminary stages of Dementia, and she should not be left alone. My wife and I considered having her move in with us, but there simply wasn’t enough room, and with Olivia living halfway across the country on campus, she couldn’t help, so we decided to sell our house and move back into my family home with my mom. I did not want her living out the remainder of her life in a hospital or retirement home somewhere, so this was the next best option.
The old house did not seem as large as I remembered when I was growing up, but it still felt welcoming, though it needed some upgrades. I finally got the dog I always wanted. His name was Rex, a wonderful yellow lab with a heart of gold. Rex loved having the big backyard to run around in. He was so gentle around my mother as well. It was if he could sense her illness. He became her best friend.
The following year, Olivia finished college and moved back home, but being the free-spirited woman that she was, she could not sit still for long and needed her space, so, once she found a stable job, she rented an apartment not far from the house. It was perfect timing too, because less than a month later, Jessica told me that she was expecting. My head began to spin. I never imagined myself as a father before. I was slightly overwhelmed.
Thoughts of how we were going to manage taking care of a baby while taking care of my mother began to race through my head as I laid in bed at night. Jessica couldn’t sleep either because I was so restless. I now knew how my parents felt when I was a baby. The stressors of adulthood came crashing down upon me all at once, and I was having a tough time dealing with it, so I booked an appointment to see my doctor. He prescribed some medication to help me sleep and suggested I hire a Personal Support Worker to aide my mom with her needs so my wife and I could get out occasionally. I talked it over with Jessica, and she thought it was a great idea.
We contacted a local company that provided in-home services for people suffering from various ailments. The first PSW to arrive was a young Asian woman that was very efficient and knowledgeable, though my mom and her did not hit it off so well. The next woman was in her late twenties. She was a single mother as well, so she and my mom bonded almost immediately. It was a great relief for us all.
Taking advantage of the free time, I decided to take Jessica out on a date before our baby was born. She was due in four weeks, so dancing was not an option. Instead, we went out to a romantic dinner at an Italian restaurant. I had Pasta Primavera, and she had Veal Parmigiana. We were getting ready to order some gelato for dessert, when Jessica’s water broke suddenly, flooding the floor beneath the table. Staff members scrambled trying to soak up the fluid with towels from the kitchen while I screamed out for someone to call an ambulance.
Jessica was in labor for nearly two hours before our little bundle of joy was born. Our baby girl was cleaned off and handed to Jessica. Instantly, she stopped crying at the sound of her mother’s heartbeat. We named her Heather. At six pounds and seven ounces, she was as healthy as could be.
My mother passed away a couple of years later, and I was thankful that she got to spend a brief time with Heather before she lost all sense of reality. I knew that she had happy memories to cherish after she reached Heaven.
By the time Heather was old enough to understand, I explained to her about the marks on the doorway and how important they were, then I asked Heather to stand on the opposite side of the doorjamb and I marked her height using a green marker and wrote, “Heather: 4 y/o.” A new generation could now continue the tradition in the house I called home.