UPublish story by Kelsey Misbrener
In a lamp-lit Rellim Drive home, an unlikely pair sits smiling across the wooden table. Dawn Carson sits on the left, piles of fluffy gray hair bouncing on top of her head. Yuri Kim sits on the right, her straight wires of Pocahontas-black hair falling past her shoulders. Dawn is American. Yuri is Korean. Dawn is 70. Yuri is 21.
“We’re on the wrong sides!” Dawn exclaims giddily, becauseYuri sat down in the right chair accidentally, and the two have unspoken assigned seats at the dinner table.Yuri’s only been living with Dawn since December, but they already share household routines. Dawn cooks the meals, and Yuri washes the dishes afterwards. Dawn vacuums the floors, and Yuri dusts the shelves. Dawn has been sharing chores, dinners and homes with complete strangers since 1981.
She doesn’t seek out roommates; they find her. And she never says no. Dawn’s latest attic resident, Yuri, is the 19th to live with her.
She doesn’t accept roommates because she’s lonely. The outspoken woman could be perfectly content by herself with her books, puzzles, Friday night television and elderly dog Annie, who despite her age in puppy years, is as young at heart as her owner.
Dawn doesn’t accept roommates for the money, though they do pay their share of living expenses. She wouldn’t need to turn on the heater upstairs if Yuri wasn’t there.
“To say that I charge rent really is a misinterpretation of the situation,” a mildly irked Dawn explains.
Dawn could easily afford living by herself; she’s a retired professor. Instead, she opens her home because she’s passionate about people. She loves to learn from them, and she loves to teach them what she knows.
Dawn’s first roommate came upon her by accident while teaching Music Education at West Virginia University. Tricia, a grad student in applied violin at WVU, loved fish. Dawn had many fish. Dawn’s secretary friend told her about Tricia and her love of fish, and
Dawn said, “Why don’t you bring her over?”
Tricia couldn’t resist the fish offer, and she showed up at Dawn’s Morgantown house. The two instantly jived. Tricia mentioned her lease was about to run out and she needed a place to stay.
Though Dawn hardly believes she spoke these words: “If all else fails, you can always move in here,” reality hit when Tricia called her up a month later and asked if she could take advantage of the offer. Though Dawn was only in her late 40’s then, the age gap between her and the graduate student was considerable. It was never a problem, though, and Tricia was the domino that triggered the ripple effect of 18 more houseguests.
“We just absolutely adored each other from the beginning,” Dawn says. “And it worked out.”
After Tricia’s time in the house was over, the next one called up Dawn’s phone looking for a place to stay. Dawn, giggling, still surprised her housemate legacy unfolded as it did, said she had no problem bringing another desperate college student into her home.
She obtained most of her roommates through friends telling friends about her openness. Most of them were college students who desperately needed a place to lay their head.
After West Virginia University, she began teaching at the University of Maryland where she had more roommates. She got along with one so well that she came along when Dawn moved to Kent in 1988.
Open door policy
Dawn moved around quite a bit, but never stopped taking in houseguests. Not even when her daughter moved out and her new husband David moved in did she stop the open door policy, much to David’s surprise.
“He’s like ‘Oh my heavens!’ Dawn exclaimed, half-penciled-in eyebrows and wrinkled hands raised.“He had never met anybody who had so many people prancing in and out of the house!”
When he passed away in 2006, she thought her roommate days were over. She moved back to Kent and settled into the house she loved so dearly alone with her golden puppy.
But then, three years ago, her late husband’s nephew got out of jail and had nowhere to stay. She knew he needed her help.
“He just didn’t know where to go, and I called and I said well, I guess I’m the one, because I have the room, and I have the time to give him some guidance,” Dawn shrugged.
He stayed with Dawn for a year. Then Dawn was alone again, but not for long. In December 2011, her friend Chloe Makarick, whom she’d met walking by the Cuyahoga River in the Kent summertime, asked if she had room in her life for another attic dweller. Chloe knew Yuri Kim needed somewhere to stay. She and her dorm roommate were not getting along, and Yuri wanted out.
Chloe approached Dawn with her head down and a mumble in her voice.
“And I said ‘Chloe, look at me when you talk to me’,” Dawn, never one to hide any thoughts, said. “And she looked at me and I said, ‘Now, why are you really here.’ And she said ‘Well, can Yuri live with you?’”
Dawn threw her head back; laughing so hard her dog stirred in the corner and said she answered, “I think that would be okay.”
“We went and got her that same day,” Dawn beamed. “We were talking about, when does she want to move in and she said, well maybe tomorrow? And I said, well, how about now?”
In just thirty minutes, the three of thempacked all of Yuri’s belongings into Dawn’s Chevy Malibu and then drove to Yuri’s new home.
Yuri’s now settled into her upstairs wing in the house. Yuri’s level has its own bathroom, sitting area, television room, and bedroom. A goosebump-raising gust of air rushes out into the warmer downstairs air when Yuri opens the door to her living space. She chooses to save money and keep the heat to a minimum, since she’s hardly upstairs anyway. Yuri spends the majority of her day on campus or in the rustic kitchen/living room area with Dawn in the evenings.
“We each have our own space and yet we can be together. It really is an ideal situation,” Dawn says while a smile spreads across her face. Sitting across from her at the wooden kitchen table, the low-hanging ceiling lamp illuminates Dawn’s face in the otherwise dim-lit, sea foam green dining room.
Every time Yuri speaks, Dawn nods her gray head as if encouraging Yuri to work hard to find the tricky English words that are baffling her. If ever Yuri struggles with a word, Dawn gives her a second to come up with it herself, and if she can’t, Dawn patiently tells her the missing word.
Right now, Yuri is learning about musicals in her Art of the Theater class. She and Dawn went to the library and rented classics like West Side Story so Yuri can get jump start on the class content and have some fun at the same time.
The two of them also go shopping, visit Dawn’s family, and do puzzles together. Like many things that may seem like everyday events to the average eye, Dawn finds a deeper meaning in the puzzles they do, “I mean, learning to do a puzzle is like learning to do other things in life. You have to know how to approach it. What do you look for? You don’t just grab randomly,” Dawn says.
Yuri listens intently every time Dawn speaks. She’s never been so close with someone older than her before she met Dawn. In Korea, the age gap is hardly ever bridged. Elders don’t interact with young people very often.
“You’re pretty open to the younger generation,” Yuri says, thankfully, to Dawn.
“And I’m extremely liberal and extremely accepting,” Dawn adds stoically.
“A lot of people in Korea your age, they don’t try to learn about young generations and what they’re interested in,” Yuri explained, carefully choosing the right words. “I never talked to people in your age, like anything like deep. I didn’t want to start a conversation because I knew that they’re not interested in listening.”
The two don’t just accept and listen to each other: they agree they are like family.
Although Yuri missesher family in Korea, living with Dawn helps her combat the loneliness that sometimes creeps over her. Dawn keeps her occupied with evening dinners, movie nights, and grocery shopping trips.
Tonight is no exception, and Dawn peels the potatoes with perfection, making sure to remove every brown splotch on the light beige, naked potato. She plops it in a bowl on the kitchen counter and starts peeling the carrots next.
“We’re having chicken in a bag tonight, right Yuri?” Dawn nudges.
“Yep!” Yuri replies with a shy smile.