FIGHTING BACK: One Mother’s Story–Chapter 11
The big question for me? Should we continue building in Warren after Valerie’s amputation or should we sell the half-finished house and remain in North Plainfield? The stressors kept building. We did have the option of selling. One couple drove by the Warren site in a fancy car and offered us a great price.
“Let’s sell,” I said. “No,” said Ed. “The ranch house will be a new start for us. It’ll be better for Val—a shallower, carpeted staircase for going downstairs to the rec room; that’ll be so much easier for her to maneuver—she’ll love it. And Stacy will love it, too.”
“Fine,” said I, too tired to argue.
I began to pick out antique white bricks for the front porch, old red bricks for the den fireplace wall, some dark color for the roofing shingles—didn’t care about them—and gray siding. The list went on. Ed brought home the samples at night after his workday was over—two or three each at the most—and I chose the ones I wanted. It turned out to be the easiest way to build. No waffling. Just quick decisions after the two children were in bed.
Ed had the harder part. He drove to Warren every day at six a.m. since he was the general contractor for the job. His extensive experience at E & S Sales came in handy and saved us lots of money! Ed checked the work that had been finished the day before, swept up ahead of the crew arriving in the morning—the first and last time I noticed him fussy about neatness—went off to work at E & S, and at the end of the day would go back to check on what had been done. Would he sweep up before going home at night too? Maybe. He loved that construction site!
When I had time, I’d go with Val to the new house to see what was happening. She wasn’t back at school yet because the prosthesis hadn’t been finished. We’d walk carefully around the new house and I would show Val, on her crutches, what had been done that day.
“Look, Val, the windows are in. Aren’t they great?” Or,
“Val, this is your bedroom and that one next to it is Stacy’s. What do you think?”
“I love my room, Mommy. Can I have a desk?”
“Of course you can, sweetie. You’ll both have one.”
One day, we walked into the den to look at the brick wall with its beautiful fireplace and saw the mason. He was working behind the wall, the part between the red bricks and the garage, and was half done. What an odd sight watching him work behind that half-finished wall!
The next time we went to the house, the den’s brick wall was finished and looked lovely. But where was the mason? Still behind the wall? Enclosed forever behind that wall? Hmmm.
Moving day came one early morning in August 1973. Val had her prosthesis at that point and I had signed them up for the July and August season at Hi Hills Day Camp in Warren. I thought it would be easier to get everything out of the bi-level and into our new home with both of them out of the way.
I woke Val first. It took her longer to get dressed because of the artificial limb, and then went in to wake Stacy.
“Mommy, my throat hurts,” she said. Oy vay. I took her temperature; it was 102°. I panicked and hustled my daughter over to the pediatrician. “Sue,” he said, “she can’t go to camp today. It doesn’t look like strep but it’s bad. Put her on this antibiotic and keep her at home.” Oh, no!
I called Isa. She was one of my best friends and lived nearby. I loved her. I said, “Take Stacy for the day. Put her to bed. Just until we get into the new house. Pleeeeease, Isa!” Isa did.
Valerie went off to camp as planned with a warning not to kick anyone. Did she? Perhaps. She got away with murder at camp. At the end of the day the bus would drop her off at our new home in Warren.
Meanwhile, the truckers had loaded almost everything onto their truck. The North Plainfield house was empty except for Stacy’s bed: Stacy was still in it, poor thing. When the truckers were ready, I bundled my sick girl up and took her over to Isa’s. And Ed and I were off to Warren and our new home!
We worked hard at the house—Ed’s many time-outs for business calls that day didn’t count. We put everything away, and made the children’s rooms as perfect as possible. Eventually, my husband drove over to Isa’s, thanked her gratefully and brought Stacy to our new home. The medicine had begun to work and she felt better. After camp, Valerie was dropped off in Warren. Her excitement knew no bounds. Stacy was a bit calmer, still not feeling fine, but excited nonetheless.
Before I could think about dinner, however, the Warren house inspector arrived. He told us we couldn’t stay in the house since we didn’t have a Certificate of Occupancy. Ohmygod. Can’t stay in North Plainfield and not allowed to stay in Warren? Ed began to make calls; he needed to get a Certificate of Occupancy by the following morning.
We spent that night at Motel 22, a few miles from our new house. It was a passable room with two double beds. The girls wanted to sleep together and I said okay but, “Behave!” They promised they would. Soon Stacy started tickling Val, Val started giggling and without another word we separated them. I slept with Stacy and Ed slept with Val. It was a moving experience.
Morning came and we rushed to get back to our new home with its official Certificate of Occupancy. The house was beautiful but all the landscaping was mud. I kept a close eye on Val, afraid she might fall. She didn’t. She had acclimated well to the prosthesis. Mommy hadn’t. Not then anyway.
Once in the house, Valerie turned to me, “Mommy, where are my crutches?” Oh, boy. Her crutches. Where were they? I looked around and finally said, “Val, I think we left them at the motel.” My tough little kid immediately started crying as if her heart would break. Her reaction startled me. It was not like her but Ed drove right back to the motel. “Hurry up,” I said. “Val needs her crutches. Right now!” Valerie looked sad until the crutches were returned to her.
And that morning, I learned something else about my littlest child. There were items she counted on in a desperate sort of way and crutches was one of them. I’ll find out about the others in time. I know that. But right now, she had her crutches, was wearing her prosthesis and all was well.
We adored our new home. The girls would be fine, and Ed and I would calm down. So I hoped.