The Ronald McDonald House
Before you ask to see my red wig and yellow shoes, let me explain. In 1980, we moved to Atlanta, Georgia. Our new home in Sandy Springs was close to Scottish Rite Children’s Hospital, Northside Hospital, and St. Joseph Hospital. The hospital chaplains created an organization of Hospital Host Homes, and the Klingel household was enrolled.
Our task as a Hospital Host Home was taking in families from out of town who needed to come for hospital services. Many of the tests the sick children needed were first thing in the morning, so they needed to come into Atlanta the day before. Most of the families came from Tennessee, Alabama, and other parts of Georgia, some as far as Florida. Many were in borrowed vehicles, and none were prepared for the afternoon drive through Atlanta. By the time they arrived at our home, they were frazzled; children restless, mom near tears, everyone hungry.
The families were already in crisis with a sick child, often not yet diagnosed, facing a frightening future, fearing the C word. Most were economically challenged and worried about what was going to happen. They were tired. Supper, coffee, bath, clean bed…simple needs, were all we provided. Sometimes there was a sibling traveling, shy, scared, uncertain what was going on, worried, reacting to the turmoil. When one of my kids said, “Hey, do you want to play Legos?”, it was a blessing beyond anything greater for the parent and the child. Sometimes sitting at the table talking while I washed dishes or folded clothes, we just talked about normal things, ordinary things, from her life beyond this fear of a dreadful diagnosis. Sometimes the dad could forget while watching a game on TV with my husband or sons; a shift in focus for an hour, a chance to breathe. Even though they left the house early in the morning for the hospital, I was up to say goodbye to them, hand them coffee, sometimes a little toy for luck. I hugged them all. That was the last time I saw them or heard from them. I prayed for them all the day. And there was always another family coming.
The first Ronald McDonald House was built in Philadelphia in 1974. In Atlanta, the house wasn’t built until 1994. There are now 322 of them in 63 countries, all doing what we did in our own home: helping families stay strong together while focusing on the health of a sick child, not having to worry about the cost of a hotel room or where to eat, and giving the sick child the assurance of mom and dad close by. A Ronald McDonald House is home away from home; a place to lie down, a pillow to cry on, and Legos to build.
Our family was blessed to be an early version of the Ronald McDonald House. And no, I don’t have a red wig or yellow shoes. But, our son Billy did! They were in the attic when we packed to move. Being one of the first Ronald McDonald Homes in Atlanta was one of the nice memories of that house. (And people ask me where I get ideas for stories!)