At seven that night, Ken drove over to the Hennessey home.
The college is located on the western edge of Hamilton. The University boasts over 350 acres filled with college buildings, all of which are located on the campus property. Lots of colleges are mixed up inside a city. Not Hamilton. It has a picturesque central quadrangle with academic buildings surrounding an open, tree covered area. The dorms are nice walk away from the quad. The college has a warm friendly atmosphere. The Hennessey’s house was located north of the campus but within easy walking distance of the quadrangle.
As he drove, it occurred to him that perhaps Mrs. Hennessey’s invitation might have been prompted by more than mere motherly instinct. She was, in addition to her placement office responsibilities, the college personnel officer. Could it be she wants to get to know me better because there’s a job opening at the college?
The Hennessey home was a modest two story colonial placed on a nice wide lot. Large trees filled both side yards. It was a picturesque setting.
Dr. Robert Hennessey opened the door. “You must be Ken Lister. Welcome to our home and welcome back to Hamilton, come in, come in.”
Ken stared at Dr. Hennessey. In a second he recalled, “Of course, you were my freshman history professor four years ago. I never tied you and Mrs. Hennessey together until just this instant.”
“Oh yes, I remember you. You were the oldest student in the class, as I recall. I think I gave you a ‘B’ did I not?”
“As a matter of fact I got an ‘A’ of which I’m quite proud.”
“Well good for you. Ken, I’d like you to meet my daughter, Sue Ann.”
As he turned, Ken saw a rather heavy set young woman with a low-scooped blouse, standing just to the side and a trifle behind her father. She tried to appear shy. Her complexion was smooth. Her pleasant smile offered friendship.
“I’m glad to meet you. Are you a Hamilton student?” Ken asked.
“Not at present,” she replied in a pleasant voice. “I graduated 4 years ago. It must have been the year you were a freshman.”
“What do you do now?”
“I work in the college procurement office. Our office purchases everything the college needs. Be it bacon, computers or coal for the furnaces, it’s all purchased by our department.”
The excellent dinner consisted of fried chicken with peach cobbler for dessert. Conversation flowed easily. College activities provided the subject for most topics.
After dinner, Mrs. Hennessey said, “Sue Ann why don’t you take Ken for a walk. We’ll see to cleaning up the dishes”.
Sue Ann jumped up, “Come on, Ken, any night I get out of KP is a good night!”
As they headed for the campus Ken realized: the reason Mrs. Hennessey wanted me to come for dinner had nothing to do with a job for me. It was to meet her daughter! She seems like a nice girl. I seriously doubt she is my type, however. I need to be careful. If I mislead Sue Ann, it’ll be a mistake.
As they walked across the quadrangle, Sue Ann asked, “Why did you return to Hamilton?”
“I’m tired of big cities. When I was in school I enjoyed this small town. I thought I’d see if I can find a job here.”
“Well, there’s one thing wrong with a small town. Everyone knows everyone else’s business. For instance, because we are walking together across the campus today, someone tomorrow will ask me about my new boyfriend.”
“What’ll you tell them?”
Sue Ann blushed. “The truth is always the best answer. I’ll tell them you are just visiting the campus, and that you are definitely not my boyfriend.”
Thank goodness, Ken thought.
He told Sue Ann, “The truth is always a good plan. I really don’t have time in my life for women right now. I’ve lots of things to straighten out before that time comes.”
After they returned home, Ken expressed his thanks to her parents and left. Sue Ann followed him out onto the porch. She told him, “If you need a friend, call me.”
“Thanks, Sue Ann, I’ll do that!”
As he returned to the motel, he reflected on the conversation with Sue Ann. There’s no way I encouraged her. She seems to be a nice person; but, she’s not what I have in mind. Actually, the truth is, I’ve no idea what I have in mind.
The next day really fooled Ken. When he returned to Mrs. Hennessey’s office, he began by asking, “Please tell me the results of my aptitude test. Did I pass or flunk?”
Mrs. Hennessy laughed, “An aptitude test is the one test no one can flunk. It measures a person’s interest, that’s all. It is not possible to either pass or flunk.”
Then Mrs. Hennessy looked at the result page. “It shows you enjoy working with people. Which means you would be good in sales, as a teacher or anywhere an outgoing personality would be welcomed.”
Then, to Ken’s amazement, she said, “We have an opening for a job in the admissions office! The job would begin September 1st. The job has three parts all of which you can handle with ease. One part is showing prospective students around the campus. The second part is making recruiting trips to different locations around the state. Lastly, you would handle all the correspondence with prospective students.”
“Yes, I could certainly do that,” Ken responded
“It doesn’t pay a lot, Ken, but it’ll get you onto the college payroll. There’s no telling how far a hard working person like you can advance within the college administration.”
“That sounds like exactly like the type of job I was looking for. This is great! I’ll take the job. I’ll be here September 1st.”
“Thank you so much. You have been a huge help. And thanks again, for the dinner last night.”
Ken wakened the next morning a happy camper. He had a job in a small town affiliated with the University! It wasn’t much of a job, but it was a start.
He hopped up and began his morning jog. As he ran, he faced his next problem. I’ve a little over a month to find a place to live. After I solve housing, I need to get to know some people in town. My army experience has taught me it’s important to have friends. I wonder how I can do that?
He selected a family style restaurant on the main street in Hamilton for breakfast. Lying on the counter was a used copy of the Hamilton Courier, the weekly newspaper. He started looking through the real estate ads for an inexpensive house.
An advertisement caught his eye:
“Late Summer Little League baseball team is seeking a coach.
Anyone interested please call”.
“Now there’s a way to get to know people,” he exclaimed in a quiet voice. I can use my baseball skills to help the kids. I always thought it’d be fun to coach.
He picked up his cell phone and dialed the number. “Elizabeth Riley,” answered a young woman.
“Hi, this is Ken Lister. I’m new in town. I saw your ad regarding coaching a little league team. Has the position been filled?”
“No, she replied cautiously..… “Can you tell me something about yourself?”
“Well, I’m from Chicago, but I am a recent graduate of Hamilton. Starting September 1st, I’ll work in the admissions office. I used to play first base on the college baseball team. I was lucky enough to letter all 4 years. I thought being a little league coach would be fun.”
“You sound too good to be true. Could you please meet me in an hour at my real estate office?”
“Do you sell real estate?”
“Yes I do, why do you ask?”
“Well, the other thing I need to do is find a place to live.”
“You are too good to be true!” exclaimed Elizabeth Riley. “I’ll meet you at my office. 306 South Main, at ten o’clock.”
Elizabeth Riley proved to be a pleasant looking woman in her mid-forties. She greeted Ken with a firm handshake.
“My son, Billy, is the first baseman. He’s 10. When they organized the late summer little league, our team had no coach. The man who coached last year transferred out of town. So, guess who’s the coach now? Me. I know next to nothing about baseball. I really need you.
“The practice sessions are on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Games are scheduled every Friday.”
After a few minutes, Ken accepted the coaching job. Since this was Wednesday, Mrs. Riley agreed to meet him at the practice field so she could introduce him to the team that afternoon.
“Now,” she asked, “are you serious about needing a place to live?”
“Yes, I really am. I hate to pay rent; I have a little money for a down payment. I hope to buy a small house. I’m not a ‘Mr. Fix It’ type person. Consequently, I want something in good condition. If possible, I’d enjoy a new neighborhood where I can get to know some young people.”
Elizabeth replied, “I have a couple of places in mind. Please give me a minute to consult my computer listings to see what else might be available. How much to you think you could afford to invest in a home?”
As they drove around searching for houses, Ken became disappointed in the older houses the town itself offered. They stopped for lunch. During lunch, Ken asked Mrs. Riley to share her life story.
“My husband, William Riley is an attorney. We have two children. Billy is the oldest. We have another son named Charlie. My husband lived in Hamilton as a youngster. He did his undergraduate work at the college. We met when William attended the University of Chicago Law School. I was the assistant to a law professor. After we married, we came back here where William set up his law practice. He has done well.”
Did you live in Chicago?” Ken asked.
“Yes I lived on the near north side.”
“We lived south of you and a little west. Sixty Seventh and Damen area.”
“Do you think you’ll enjoy working at the University?” Elizabeth asked.
“I’m not sure Mrs. Riley. I guess I’ll find out this fall. I start in September.. I took business courses in college. The aptitude tests tell me I could be a salesperson. I’m not sure a selling career is what I want, however. Sometimes I think I’d prefer to be a teacher or a coach. That’s part of the reason why the little league job appealed to me.”
After lunch, she took Ken north of town. As they drove past, Mrs. Riley pointed out the new high school. “There’s the new high school. We’re very proud of it. My husband’s on the school board. He’s been working on all the details, so the construction can be completed before school opens in September.”
“Will they make it on time?” Ken asked.
“I hope so. William told me last night they have a real shot at being ready. However, I didn’t bring you out here to show you the school; I want to show you this new subdivision right behind it.”
They drove up a gentle hill, making a left turn into a subdivision called North Side Heights. Mrs. Riley stopped to get a key from the sales office. They drove along a curving street which wound its way down and up a couple of low hills. Ken noticed several new homes under construction on small lots. They came to an almost finished home at 55 North Side Heights Lane. She pulled in the driveway and parked.
Getting out of the car, Ken remembered his old baseball number was five. Would this prove to be an omen?
Ken liked the floor plan of the ranch style house, immediately. The living room was small but it did have a fireplace. The kitchen included eating space and nice large windows. The master bath was OK. The master bedroom boasted three big windows. The other two bedrooms were tiny; but, they weren’t important to Ken. He figured he would turn one of them into an office.
He looked out. There was a small back yard. The house was placed on a little hill which created a splendid view of the rich farmland of Illinois. Flat, but with a unique beauty all its own. Illinois farmland is what fed the world during WWII. I’ve always been intrigued when I look at the rich flat soil of Illinois.
He turned to Mrs. Riley, “Is this house priced within my budget?”
“Just barely. It’s a good value though. It should appreciate significantly over time.”
“What’s the story on this bare floor? Are they are planning wall to wall carpeting?”
“My understanding is you can pay extra for hardwood floors or pick carpet from a selection offered by the builder. It’s the same deal with the stove and refrigerator. You get an allowance for them. You can buy your own, or you can let the builder put in the appliances.”
“I think I should buy it. Hopefully, I can afford the hard wood floors. How soon do you suppose I can move in?”
“I imagine we can close in a week or two. One thing you’ll have to do right away is get to know someone at the bank. You will need to apply for a mortgage. I’m guessing the mortgage approval will take longer than finishing up the house.”