A Christmas Message from Ed and Bobbie Chasteen
The year was 1964. I had a fellowship from the University of Missouri-Columbia that required my presence in Kansas City. I would do Civil Rights research there for a year. Get my PhD. And return to live and teach somewhere in Texas, where Bobbie and I had been born and raised. Where our first two children, Debbie and David, had been born. Brian was born during our two-year sojourn in Oklahoma, where my first college teaching revealed my life’s calling. But to have a future in higher education, I had to get a PhD. MU had a program I liked. Thus the five of us came to Columbia, Missouri: 2-E University Terrace became our home for a year. But now Kansas City beaconed. Where to live?
Liberty sounded nice. We came to look. No rental house available! So we took a place at 10920 Ewing in Hickman Mills. Nine months later I had finished my research and written it up. I was through. But the paperwork at MU had not run its course and my degree was not actually in hand. Bobbie and I were hesitant to leave the area. But my fellowship was coming to an end. Debbie, David and Brian had grown accustomed to eating on a regular basis. I needed a job that would keep me in the area for a while.
William Jewell College had a faculty position open in my field. I applied. And got the job. This time we found a rental, and 639 Morse became our home. “Daddy is at school,” Bobbie would tell Debbie during our year in Hickman Mills and Debbie asked why I was gone so much. “Daddy is through with school,” Bobbie told Debbie when she asked why we were moving to Liberty. Then came my first day of teaching at William Jewell. As I dressed to leave home, Debbie asked, “Where you going, Daddy?” “I’m going to school,” I said. She began to cry. “Mommy said you were through with school.”
That 1965 school year was heaven on earth to me. I discovered I was colleague to some of the finest teachers I had ever known. When spring came, I signed on for another year. And Bobbie and I went house hunting. We had never owned a house. We were ready. We discovered our tastes were not identical. Wayne Brodbeck persuaded us that the house at 1702 Magnolia could be modified to our satisfaction. Nineteen thousand dollars sounded like the national debt. But with 25 years to pay it off, we thought we could swing it. We became homeowners. Signed the papers in April 1966, just a few days from our ninth wedding anniversary. Moved in in June.
Dot and Gene Allen and their five children had bought the house next door the year before. The north end of our house faces the south end of theirs. Our driveways flow into each other across Natchez Street that dead ends just past our driveways, with a creek and a farm field beyond. The Allen kids and the Chasteen kids become friends as Dot and Gene, Bobbie and I go camping and canoeing and visit back and forth.
Gene is an engineer. I’m a social scientist. He put up the basketball goal in the corner of our yard, beside the driveway. Facing the street, which morphs into the court. I pay for replacement nets and once a new backboard. We bought a lawnmower together. He repairs it. I pay for the parts. Bobbie and Dot borrow sugar and cornmeal and eggs and milk and assorted other edibles back and forth. Each house becomes a convenience store for the other. We travel to Costa Rica and Australia together. Dot and Gene grew up in Independence and have extended family nearby. They invite us on family picnics and to graduations and weddings and baby showers and funerals.
The year now is 2005, soon to be 2006. I am retired from William Jewell. Debbie, David (now Dave) and Brian are Jewell grads. Debbie is a member of the faculty. And Bobbie and I still live at 1702 Magnolia. Dot and Gene are still our neighbors. Winter snows on our north driveway take days to melt. The Allen’s south driveway gets the afternoon sun and soon clears.
With Debbie, Dave and Brian grown and gone, Bobbie a retired elementary teacher and me, a retired college professor, we could move to another house, another town. We’ve discussed it. We love to travel. Other places have appeal. But this house long ago became our home. This town became our town. Thirty-nine of our 48 years as a couple have been spent here. Bobbie’s now deceased parents have slept in these beds, sat in these chairs, walked through these doors, driven our street, walked in our yard. My mother will visit this house again this Christmas. Friends long gone have come here for parties and to discuss community issues. Moving from this house would be to divorce ourselves from a pleasing past and separate ourselves voluntarily from precious memories.
Every Halloween our basement became a haunted house for the neighborhood. At Easter we hid eggs. Inside in bad weather. Outside in good. The Christmas tree went up on the day after Thanksgiving, standing in the living room, visible through the three big windows to our neighbors passing by. Magnolia Avenue ends one long block down the street where South Liberty Baptist Church sits. So we could all walk to church was a prime reason Bobbie and I bought this house. And for years with Casper, our dog, we all did just that. Then home after church, the kids and I would play games in the front yard while Bobbie got dinner ready. (Where we grew up in Texas, the noon meal was called dinner. The evening meal was supper.)
I dug huge holes in the back yard in the 1960s so a big truck could come with already giant Pin Oak trees and drop them in the ground. For all these years those trees have held their leaves long into the winter and offered shade against the afternoon sun as we move about in the kitchen and sit to eat.
Bobbie’s parents moved from their hometown before her last year of high school. Bobbie left the only people she had ever known. My parents moved from my hometown the year after I finished high school. So when Bobbie and I have gone to visit our parents over all these years, we have gone to towns where we did not grow up, where we know few people and have no history. Our parents had no choice but to leave their homes. Jobs demanded it. But there was a price to pay. Their children would not be coming to a place they knew when coming to visit their parents.
Bobbie and I had a choice. We could move to another town. To another house in the same town. Or we could stay. In the same house in the same town. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” captures in its inelegance a truth I think too few heed and hardly anyone widely applies. But I think applies here. Life in our home and our town has been good beyond our fondest hopes. Simply because we can is far from reason enough to pull up stakes and roll the dice to see if we hit the jackpot. When we already have, we need to know it.
Thank God, we do. We are not moving. Debbie, Dave and Brian all live just a few miles away. Son-in-law, Ed, and granddaughter, Laura, are here. Our house is a magnet, drawing us all together on all holidays, to watch ball games, play games*, dine on gourmet meals from Bobbie’s kitchen. Now and then for no reason at all one or more of the kids will pop over for a visit. Sometimes the Allen kids will have come to see their folks and everyone will stand around in the yard for a few minutes, reliving shared moments from years gone by.
Such serendipitous moments most likely come at Christmas time when everyone’s home draws its people back and everyone basks in memory’s warm glow.
*Of the many games we play, two deserve special mention. Marathon games of 42 we play. A domino game for four people, two each playing as partners, this is a Texas game long played by Bobbie’s family and mine and carefully taught to our children. Ed, Debbie’s husband, is a Yankee. Had never played the game. Resisted learning. Now plays cutthroat. For years we have sat at a card table in the living room to play. Neighbors have often asked, “What are you folks doing sitting at that table for hours on end?” Croquet is the other game. Played in our front yard. Lots of yelling and laughter and kidding and chasing balls down the street.
As the boys grew up, after school football and softball games kept our yard and the Allen’s with broken trees and worn grass.