My life

My grandparents’ house on Google Maps, and some reflections on Grandma’s death and the family doctor

Grandma's house
My grandparents had this house built in the 1920s in Merriam, KS. My mom and most of her five siblings were born while the family lived here. It was an odd design; a full but only roughly finished basement, first floor with two bedrooms and the only bath, and a large second floor divided into two rooms. Eventually a toilet and shower were added to the basement, screened off by a shower curtain, and my dad built a Florida room onto the back. On the left end was a screened porch, where I used to sleep when I visited. There was usually a bed and a glider out there.

During WWII, when many of the male relatives were off fighting in Europe, there were as many as 17 members of the extended family living in the house. Grandma had a huge heart and a gift of hospitality. In 1965-1966, during our first furlough from Colombia, Grandma and Grandpa stayed with a son-in-law, and we occupied the house. For our second furlough in 1970-1971, we rented a house in Kansas City, Missouri, but had lunch every Sunday with the grandparents. It was a weekend haven for me during my college years in the late 1970s, a 45-minute trip from Lawrence when I could bum a ride.

Grandma and Grandpa both died in 1980. My sister lived there for a year or two, and then the house was sold. The current owners have enclosed the screen porch and made many other necessary improvements, such as central air conditioning. My grandparents lived there for more than 50 years without so much as a window unit. I installed the first one after my Grandma’s stroke the summer of 1980, when the record was set for most days with temps over 100.

The family doctor was an excellent man named Dr. Leigh. He delivered my mom and her siblings back in the 1920 and 1930s, cared for them through childhood and adolescence, and then delivered me and my older sisters in the 1950s and made sure we got all of our immunizations. We consulted him during that furlough in 1965-1966 and again in 1970-1971. When I had a swollen lymph node in my neck in 1977 just before I went off to college, Grandma took me to see Dr. Leigh. He looked after her in 1980 when she had a stroke. She was hospitalized for a week or two, then sent home.

That weekend, a Sunday in August, I took her to see Grandpa at the horrible nursing home where he was staying. It was clean, but the poor old men just lay around on beds with no entertainment or activities, nothing to look at or do. Grandma and Grandpa had a very touching visit; Grandpa clutched her for a very long time. Later, when I wheeled her out and stopped in front of the car, she sat there until I asked her to get up. “Where’s the car?” she asked.

“Right in front of you, Grandma,” I said.

She couldn’t see it. I finally picked her up by the armpits, turned her so she was over the seat, and held her there until she finally relaxed and dropped into the seat that she couldn’t see. When we pulled into the driveway back at the house, she commented that the neighbors must be off camping, because their RV was gone. It was actually parked in its usual spot next to their shed.

I took her into the house, helped her to bed, and went off to do some shopping. Upon my return, I showed her a corduroy jacket I had bought at Burlington, and then left for Lawrence.

My aunt told me later that Dr. Leigh came by that Sunday afternoon after I left, peered into Grandma’s eyes, and said in no uncertain terms that she needed to be hospitalized because she was having a brain hemorrhage. Somehow, no one thought to call me, and it was Thursday when I found out that she was in the hospital and had been comatose since Monday. I took my sister’s car and hurried to Kansas City. My aunt was sitting with her in the hospital, and Grandma appeared to be sleeping peacefully. Aunt Dorothy showed me where she had jotted down things Grandma had said over the past few days. She was under the illusion that she was in the hospital to have a baby, and had asked when she could see it, and if Dorothy’s son Joel would mind if she named the baby after him.

She died quietly that next Sunday, without waking from her coma. Grandpa died that October of pneumonia contracted in that miserable nursing home. His heels were raw to the bone with bedsores.

I’m not sure what became of Dr. Leigh. I think he died a few years later. It is remarkable that he was the family physician during seven decades!


10 thoughts on “My grandparents’ house on Google Maps, and some reflections on Grandma’s death and the family doctor

    • Thanks. I catch all but the first word: “___ paint a poignant set of pictures with emotion to make them come alive”

      It’s amazing what a glimpse of the past will evoke. I have showed this house to my kids on visits to KC, but of course it means very little to them since they had no experience with the family reunions or family dinners held there, and my Grandma and Grandpa died long before they were born.

      • I can relate as my mom took me by this weird house nearer my paternal grandmother’s saying all this stuff about it being my first home…like who cares I can remember my maternal grandmother’s in a single fragment before I moved to colorado permanently…but not the “first” home

  1. What you relate here is exactly what I feel when I visit the cemeteries twice a year in my homeland . In fact I live again with all the family members passed on the other side .
    This story is especially poignant and is touching me very much,Tim .
    In friendqhip
    ps ; in mygfamily there was also a family doctor before, during and after the War II., another Mr Leigh.

  2. Thank you for sharing this house and your memories, Tim.
    This made me cry…sad tears and joy tears. (Nursing homes make me sad. But, I go in them to visit people and to do volunteer work.)
    You were fortunate to have such wonderful grandparents. And your family was fortunate to have such an amazing doctor. 🙂
    HUGS!!! 🙂

    • I think nursing homes are better than they used to be, in general. Grandma put Grandpa in that one when she could no longer care for him at home. I only visited him there two or three times, which I feel bad about now. He was there for a few months, as I recall. I think he was already there when Grandma had her stroke, because I remember her agonizing over the decision to move him. He was quite limited by that point and she had to use a hoist to get him out of bed.

  3. This reminds me of the strange feelings I have when I pass by my grandparents old house. Likewise, it was sold, and other people live there now (in fact probably changed hands 3 times by now). However, I still can’t rid myself of the feeling that ‘this place is ours’, as if I have a right to walk up and pick pears off the tree.

    • Fortunately, the current owners are very nice people and have been willing to show us around on several occasions. I’ve never felt tempted to pick the fruit, because my grandma had a plum tree rather than a pear tree and I don’t much care for plums.

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