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Those left behind coping with loss

By Jenni Carlson Published: April 17, 2005
Don and Sally Ferrell work in the garden of their daughter's home in Oklahoma City. Susie Ferrell was killed in the bombing. Don and Sally Ferrell sat in the shade, sipping coffee, watching Susie's garden grow.

The afternoon's work showed in the dirt smudges on their jeans. Their graying hair was tousled, and their 70something muscles were tired. They came from their home in Chandler to the house in Oklahoma City to plant and water, weed and tend the garden.

Their daughter Susan put down roots at the Edgemere Park home more than a decade ago, a purchase financed by her job as a lawyer with Housing and Urban Development. Her office was in the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.

So was Susie on April 19, 1995.

That morning she rode the elevator from the parking garage to the ninth floor with one of the legal assistants from her office. The women chatted about the warming weather.

"I'm so glad it's spring," Susie told her co-worker. "I can plant my flowers."

Don and Sally Ferrell found flats of wilted morning glories at her house later that week. Eventually, they planted more. Now, the yellow flowers have grown up and taken over the lattice work that frames the brick patio. Don recently cut them back while Sally planted petunias, begonias and azaleas.

They keep Susie's garden growing.

If it is alive, so is she.

Her family refused to let die the life that Susie had carved out. The Ferrells decided to keep their daughter's house, taking over the mortgage and overnighting there when they come to the city.

Their reasons for keeping the house are as much sentimental as they are practical. These are people who celebrate history, Don as a longtime newspaper publisher, Sally as an advocate of building preservation. No history is more dear, no legacy more important than their daughter's.

The Ferrells left the house much as it was the morning Susie left. Ceramic cats on the mantle. Lilac paint on the walls. Flowers in the garden.

"Certainly, we still feel like it's her house," Sally said.

Long search for the right home
Susie Ferrell searched for the brick house with the arched walkways and hardwood floors all her life.

She and her mother went on house-hunting expeditions for months, driving all over Oklahoma City. They wound though neighborhoods, turning where they might and losing themselves in the search. Nothing seemed to fit, so Susie stayed in a rent house on the west side of Edgemere Park.

Then, a friend who worked as a Realtor called about a house she had on the other side of the park. Built in 1935.

Susie went to see it and fell in love. The yellow and black tile in the master bath. The green and lavender tile in the second bath. The original light fixtures.

"This," she said, "is the house I've been looking for."

She moved in and changed little about the house. Not the wall color. Not the flooring. Yet she made it her own, hanging pictures of her belly dancing, transforming the second bedroom into an office filled with her books and photos and mementos from her travels around the world.

The house became a hub of activity. Women from the Wednesday night study group at the First Unitarian Church gathered there. Her sister, Cindy, stayed there the night before she and husband, Albert Ashwood, had their daughter.

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