How my family’s move to Kirkwood filled the “empty spot” in an elderly widow’s heart

We learned that “empty spot” means a lot more than just a slice of ham

Thoughts of home

Illustration by Babeth Lafon

The old green 1939 Dodge made it from Savannah to Atlanta in 1956, carrying everything we owned in a blond cedar chest. We were newlyweds, moving into our first home on Warren Street, which featured a bedroom, a kitchen, and a bathroom to share with the owner, an elderly widow.

Mrs. Langley met us at the front door. She offered a lovely house, enclosed by a chain-link fence. A baby grand piano graced the living room. Rent was $55 a month to live in this prime location of Kirkwood.

This was a new adventure. I’d gotten a job at the C & S Bank in Avondale Estates and my husband, Clifford, was attending Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur.

We were busy most of the time, with school and work. In the evenings, Mrs. Langley would stay in her bedroom, watching a small black-and-white TV, allowing us privacy and access to the only bathroom.

Dragnet was her favorite show. Sometimes she would knock on my bedroom door and say, “Dragnet’s on.” That was my invitation to go in and watch it with her; she knew I enjoyed that show too. Some evenings she would enter the living room, sit down at the piano, and play “Beneath the Cross of Jesus” two or three times—always that same hymn. One evening, Clifford and I finished our dinner of fried ham and side dishes and quickly left for prayer meeting at the church, where Clifford assisted in the service. On arriving home and opening the front door, the strong smell of fried ham met us. “My, what a lingering smell,” I thought.

Mrs. Langley appeared in the hallway. “I’m frying a slice of ham I got from your refrigerator—I didn’t think you’d mind,” she said. “I felt a little empty spot after you left.” Of course we didn’t mind, but thoughts of that “empty spot” stayed with us, and we have referred to it many times—sometimes jokingly but always with love.

“We were her first and last tenants; she never found another suitable occupant.”

After seminary graduation, we moved back to Savannah, where Clifford was called to pastor a church. We carried with us many memories and that same blond cedar chest, now heavier. We lost touch with Mrs. Langley after a time, but a few years later, we got a big surprise. Her son George was driving her to Quitman, Georgia, near the Florida line, to live in a convalescent home. She told him that she had one request before entering the home—to go by way of Savannah and see her friends, Rachael and Clifford, one more time. Unfortunately we were out of town when they came, but they were able to find my mother’s address and visited her.

Hearing about their visit was very touching. We learned that we were her first and last tenants; she never found another suitable occupant. The rooms had remained vacant, and she was no longer able to live in her home alone.

Today, my thoughts of Warren Street in Kirkwood are still vivid, and the blond cedar chest sits at the foot of our bed like a box full of dreams and memories.

Now, living again in the Atlanta area, we enjoy riding through historic Kirkwood, sometimes on our wedding anniversary. I am thrilled to see that same house where we lived beautifully refurbished, between Trotti Street and Boulevard Drive (now Hosea L. Williams Drive). On these drives, we are flooded with nostalgia for a time when we learned that an “empty spot” means more than a slice of ham.

This article appears in our Spring 2019 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.