About 300 miles to the northeast of Hamilton is the metropolis of Chicago. In a tiny frame house on the south part of that great city, a small drama was playing out.
A very tired sick woman, her hands clutching the college diploma of her only son, was breathing her last breaths. It had been a three year battle with lung cancer that her habit of smoking had thrust upon her.
The only person in the room with her was her son, Ken Lister. Ken was not handsome, but he had a rugged face that reflected his thirty some odd years. Tall, with square shoulders and short hair, his military training was apparent. Ken had seen death up close. Two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan had toughened his emotional fiber. This was vastly different. This was his mother who was dying.
She had been Ken’s only family. His father had walked away from his wife and the baby in her arms many years ago. Ken had absolutely no recollections of his father.
His mother had obtained a job at a downtown Chicago insurance agency. In spite of her lack of a college education, she elevated herself to the office manager position which she held until her cancer forced her to stay home.
Years earlier, Ken realized his mother could never afford a college education for him. So he decided to join the army. His plan was to utilize the Army education benefits provided after he mustered out of the service. He didn’t expect to stay in the army nine years, but that is what had happened. He came out with the rank of Sergeant. He had earned a Bronze Star once, and a Purple Heart, twice.
In spite of his advanced age, Ken decided to accede to his mother’s wishes and go for a college degree. He enrolled at Hamilton University in Hamilton, Illinois.
He found college was a challenge. He turned himself into a serious student obtaining excellent grades. He also played baseball on the college team playing first base and hitting well over 300 each year he was in school. Other than baseball, he had virtually no social life at college. The co-eds were all too young and immature to interest him.
Starting when he was a sophomore, when his mother first fell ill, he spent more and more time on the road between college and home. He finally received his diploma just in time to hand it to his mother on the last day of her life.
When she took his diploma in her hand, Ken’s mother smiled at her son. “Congratulations, Ken. You have accomplished so much in your short life. I’m proud to be your Mom.”
“Thank you for loving me, Mom. I don’t know how you managed to raise me without a father but you did an awfully good job.”
His mother smiled again, “I guess I did, didn’t I?”
Those were her last words.
Before she passed, his mother had suggested Ken talk with her boss, Lonnie Rickets, about a job in his Chicago insurance agency. She thought Ken would be successful selling life insurance.
A few days after the funeral service, Ken decided to do as his mother suggested. He made an appointment with Mr. Rickets. Within a few minutes, Rickets offered him a sales trainee position. Ken was not sure selling life insurance was what he wanted to do. Consequently, he told Mr. Rickets he’d think about the offer.
Rickets decided, as a courtesy, to walk with Ken to the elevator. As the two men strolled down the silent hallway, Rickets made a statement which really hit home with Ken.
“I always thought if I had my life to live over I’d pick out where I wanted to live and then find a job. Most people find a job first. Then the job determines where a person lives his entire life. I think it should be the other way around.”
As Ken drove home through the Chicago traffic, he realized the correctness of Rickets’ statement. I hate Chicago. I hate the noise, the smog, the traffic. Big cities may be where to make big money, but living in them means you spend about two hours a day commuting in traffic. A day later, Ken called Mr. Rickets. He declined the job offer.
The decision as to where to go was not difficult. In college, Ken had been intrigued with the charming little town of Hamilton. It seemed to capture his heart. It may have been that after Iraq and Afghanistan any town in America would seem wonderful. In any case, attending college there after a nine-year stretch in the Army was a complete joy. Ken had liked living in a small town. A college in the town was a real bonus. Colleges create a great atmosphere.
Ken decided to start in Hamilton. If I can find a job in that area, I’ll live there for a while. If not, I’ll just look for a job in another small town.
A month later, Ken took a last look around the house he’d called home for over 30 years. Now that his mom had passed, it was time to make a new beginning.
Luckily, he was able to sell the house including all of the furnishings within a month of her passing. He kept some pictures of course, and a few towels. No need for sheets or blankets. When I buy a bed it will be one of those monster jobs; I’ve had it with narrow single beds and army cots. He did take some kitchen utensils. Wherever I wind up I’ll need to cook. Otherwise I feel it’s time to make a clean break from the past. House, furniture, the works.
This old house….. A lot of memories here….. Getting out of Chicago is right for me. No more traffic jams and one hour commutes. I’m ready for a small town where people say hello when you walk down the street.
Ken picked up his laptop and the last suitcase. He left the key on the front hall table. The new owners were given a key when they closed on the house the day before. Reverently, he closed the front door for the last time. As he walked toward his car, he took one more backward look.
It was a mistake. Tears filled his eyes and began to slowly slide down his face. Reluctantly, he walked around for one last look at the back yard. There was the maple tree he used to climb….. There was the bare spot in the tiny yard where home plate used to be.…… Shaking away his tears, he wrenched his thoughts away. I need to go forward.
Slowly he climbed into the car. He started the engine, pulled out of the drive and onto the street…… He took one more look at the house. A deep breath…..…Then he whispered a prayer of gratitude for their safe lodging and for his amazing, loving mother.…... With a heavy heart, he headed for the Dan Ryan expressway, southbound. Rest of my life…Here I come!
As Ken drove into Hamilton that night, he realized that his graduation had been just two months earlier. He found an inexpensive motel room on the edge of town near the super highway.
Next morning, Ken drove up to the college campus. He knew the college placement office helped graduates look for employment.
As he drove back on the campus, he realized that someday he wanted to buy a house. The sale of mother’s house left him with enough capital to make a down payment. No sense paying rent when there’s enough money to make a down payment on a house. He was smart enough to know however, he needed to deal with the job situation before he thought about housing.
The placement offices were located in one of the older campus buildings, Ormand Hall. Originally built for classrooms, as time wore on Ormand Hall became the college administration department.
Ken inquired at the reception desk. The student on duty directed him to the office of the college placement officer, Mrs. Frances Hennessey. Her office was located on the third floor. The receptionist added that Mrs. Hennessey was also the college personnel officer.
Ken knocked on Frances Hennessey’s office door. He found a pleasant woman in her early fifties. Mrs. Hennessey had been working at the college for almost twenty years.
“I could use the help of your college placement department.”
Mrs. Hennessey gave Ken a welcoming smile. She asked, “What have you been doing since graduation two months ago?”
“My mother just died after a three year bout with cancer. After she passed, I decided I was not going to live the rest of my life in the Chicago traffic. I sold the house. I loved Hamilton when I was in school here. I decided to start looking for a job in a small town somewhere. It would be great if I could find a job here in Hamilton. If not, I’ll just head on down the road.”
His story brought out all the motherly instincts in Frances Hennessey.
She said, “First of all you need to take an aptitude test. You know, it’s one of those tests where we ask if you’d rather climb a pole or dig a hole. It only takes a few minutes. It’ll probably give you some guidance as to the direction that would be advisable for you to take. Why don’t you take the test now, while I look up your transcript?”
“Why not?” Shortly, he found himself pondering over questions such as:
If you were alone on Saturday night would you rather:
Stay home and read a book
Go to a movie alone
Go to a movie with a friend
Go to a local pub and look around for company.
The test took 45 minutes, after which he returned it to Mrs. Hennessey.
She told him, “I’ll put this into the computer for analysis. In the morning, I’ll see what we can do for you. Why don’t you come back tomorrow around 10:00? In the meantime, I’ll search our jobs data base and analyze your aptitude test.”
To Ken’s surprise, Mrs. Hennessey continued, “Now, I’ve another suggestion. Why don’t you come to our house for dinner tonight? I hate the thought of you eating all alone on your first night back in Hamilton.”
Are you serious?”
“A bachelor would be really stupid to turn down a home cooked meal.”