Monday, December 8, 2008

In memory of Nena Kalil, 1913-2008


I had a home growing up; most of us did, I expect. My home centered around my room. Action figures on the dresser, desk in the corner, Star Wars – then, later, bikini – posters on the wall. This was the center of my world, largely controlled by me, but only a part of a larger world including the whole house.

But I, and many others in this room, had a second home. The home on Main Street; the former Elkhart mayor’s home that was purchased by a grocer and his growing family. I inhabited this home for several hours every Sunday after church, along with my extended family. Once a week, this was my other home, and was just as much a part of my make-up as my room. Once a week, we would gather, not only as family, but as friends. Eating eggs with hot dogs, donuts, and juice. Playing piano with Uncle Mike. Creating carnivals and churches on the porch. Playing games from the seat in the dining room.

Some homes are just buildings. But others are alive. They breathe and exist and have personalities. And the heart of this home was Grandma. Every corner, every knickknack, every aspect of the home bore signs of her. The stocking with an orange in it on the fireplace was a signal she’d been there. The cookies in the cabinet were a clue that she liked putting smiles on our faces. The pictures on the mantle were evidence that she wished always to be surrounded by family.

If this house had a spirit, it was Grandma. Her laughter at the antics of her children and grandchildren was the house’s laughter. Her footsteps as she kept the house spotless were the house’s pulse. The smells coming from the kitchen on Christmas day were the house’s breath. The conversations around the table were the house’s mind. Her great strength through tough times, for her or for her children, was the house’s soul. And her abiding love for all who were privileged to be a part of her world was the house’s heart. She was the home, and the home was her.

And when Grandpa passed on, she remained in the house. She remained, because she belonged there. As far as she was concerned, her husband still dwelt there. She, as the living, breathing heart of the home, remained so even as the neighborhood changed around her. The Nena-Home stood as a beacon to all of us; as a symbol of what family could be; as a testament to the enduring strength of the woman who served as its heart.

And at the end of her life, she chose, as was right, to go on her own terms. Though her body gave out at the hospital, Grandma’s spirit truly faded in the place to which it had been inexorably linked.

In her home.

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