By Debbie Stanton
My name is Francine, but my friends call me Franci.
My professional life began at a private university in the Northwoods region. It was quite secluded except for the huge student crossing on campus. The pavement was black-and-white striped, and it was kind of fun to walk across that intersection with my fellow students. It felt like we numbered in the thousands, but it couldn’t have been that large of a crowd. All I know, is we all wore colorful backpacks and walked quickly.
Occasionally, my course load left me feeling frazzled. I was taking 20 hours of class credits per term. Sixteen hours of credits takes a lot of time and energy, but 20 hours—well, that’s craziness or SuperWomanism—my title varied—but somehow I pulled it off.
I loved literature and I loved to write, so I set my sights on a master’s or doctorate degree in Literature or Creative Writing. I didn’t know how to choose between the two, so I embarked on having a double major.
Quite often, almost on schedule, really, the meadow at the edge of my campus called to me. Spring was my favorite season there, as after a good rain, the meadow was lush and its flowers abundant. I named the field Nzuri, the Swahili word for “beautiful.” See, Dad, I am making use of all the foreign languages I’ve learned.
If I walked over to the farthest-away point in the meadow, I could lie on a beach towel there and hear cowbells. Old-Man Dillon made his cows wear bells around their necks so he could find them if they got through the decrepit fence.
I loved spending time at Nzuri, because it helped me to feel peaceful, like I didn’t have a care in the world. It is where I dreamed my dreams for a future career and where I wanted to live.
After getting my doctorate in both of my majors, I traveled the country teaching at various colleges and universities. I don’t know why I was a sought-after professor.
This is why I became a nomad—I had to keep moving around to where the lectures and classes waited to be taught. Many years passed, and I was still teaching—but now I wanted to write–and write without stopping.
I was thankful for the invention of the Internet, because now I could finally work from home and settle down. All I had to do is figure out where “home” would be.
My mother died when she was eighty-four, and my father passed in his early 90s. My sister Ellen and brother Thomas were the only family I had left. One day, we had a three-way conference call, instigated by Thomas.
“Franci; Ellen. Hope you don’t mind, we didn’t have a formal reading of the will,” Thomas said.
“Why should we mind? Kevin and I have no plans on leaving Amsterdam, and I trust our family’s attorney,” Ellen said.
“I don’t care, either,” I said. “And you being a doctor and all, Thomas—maybe you wouldn’t have been able to get away, either.”
Thomas paused so long, I wondered if he fell asleep with the phone to his ear.
“I don’t mind because there’s basically nothing left,” he finally said.
“Nothing?” Ellen chirped.
“Nothing.” I pictured Thomas shrugging his shoulders. “It was the pandemic that led them to failure. They had to sell the restaurant and everything.”
“How come I didn’t know that?” I asked. A fresh wave of grief rolled over me. I wanted to go home to the house I’d been raised in. I wonder if it’s all in shambles by now.
“Mom and Pop told Mr. Setherby not to say anything. They had hoped we wouldn’t read it in the papers. Well, their hope was realized,” said Thomas, and he cleared his throat. “However, they did leave us the house. Would either of you girls want it? Susan and I don’t.”
Ellen’s reply was immediate. “That old house? No thanks.”
A pleasant warmth filled my chest. I wanted the house!
“Yes—I’ll take it. In fact, I’ll buy your shares of it from you and be sole owner. How would that be?”
“Fine,” Ellen said.
“I don’t want any money from you,” Thomas said. Good ol’ Thomas. He and I had always been a team when we were kids, even though he tormented me all the time. No matter what balcony I sat in, he’d always pelt me with something from an upper window—snowballs, marbles (they were quite painful), frogs (eww!); you name it, he threw it.
Ellen and Thomas hung up after we chatted a bit.
Once I took possession of our house, I flew there immediately. There it was, the pink brick house at the end of the block on a quiet cul-de-sac. It was the only house on the block that looked that way. It was a narrow three-story house, having a balcony on three of the six windows facing Baker Street.
My house framed the many experiences and love we shared at that house. It made me feel rich, way back then, even when we weren’t.
I named the house “Nzuri II” after that fabulous meadow in my university days. It was a beautiful house that I could finally call my home as an adult. Life couldn’t get more beautiful than that.