Dad’s Garden…

After 8 years of marriage, which had produced 2 children and another one on the way (me-unplanned), Mom and Dad began talking seriously about a job change. (Mom would not start working outside the home until the ‘unplanned’ was in school). Dad had been working on the railroad (all the live-long day) which included periodic layoffs. In November of 1950, a couple weeks before I was born, Dad took a job with the Iowa State Highway Commission where he would remain until he retired on the last day of 1981.

Dad, Denise & Larry, summer of 1951…

Working for the road commission in Iowa was not an easy job. Iowa’s extreme weather conditions often dictated what type of work was done on that particular day. During their blistering summers, the highway’s pavement actually buckled from the heat and humidity which is very dangerous for cars and drivers. A state work crew would be notified from a passing motorist or farmer, alerting them another ‘blowup’ occurred so many miles east or west of Rock Valley. The guys would remove the buckled portion (usually concrete) and replace it with nice flat blacktop (a quick fix).

A nice little ‘wall’ of snow in Iowa, probably ‘59-‘60. Never knew our license plate was our phone number!!

During the spring, Iowa’s ditches along the roads needed constant upkeep. Culverts needed cleaning out and weeds, wildflowers even errant asparagus patches needed to be mowed. Dad had this task often. I always knew when he was topping off the shoulders or riding a tractor through the ditch because he had awful allergies and his sneezing fits would start about 5 a.m. when the birds started singing. I was just down the hall sleeping, often finding myself wide awake by sneeze # 20 or so. Poor dad, I don’t ever remember him taking anything or doctoring for his allergies. He refused to use Kleenex and went through several hankies a day (blue and red paisley ones for work, white ironed one’s for church or elder duties). Red watery eyes with those long bouts of petite allergy/hay fever sneezes.

Dad driving the snowplow after a blizzard…

Iowa’s hardest season of work (and the longest) for Dad was winter. Often starting in November, the state seemed to be in a perpetual state of sleet, snow, ice, wind or blizzards. Boy howdy. We moved to Michigan almost 35 years ago and people like to compare the 2 states winter’s, but there’s no comparison. While Michigan might get more snow (especially lake effect near Lake Michigan’s shoreline) the big lake also keeps the temperatures warmer. Iowa has more days of below freezing and below zero. Way below. The other biggie is how the snow falls. In Michigan many times you’ll see several inches on snow on top of a tiny fence post. Aww, so cute. Most of Iowa’s snow comes to us in wretched fashion from Nebraska-accompanied by a 40 mph gentle breeze from the west-with nothing stopping its progression (Iowa does not have an over abundance of trees like Michigan). A portion of your yard might still boast a few blades of visible grass while the other side will have a ten foot drift trying to compete with your roofline.

See how high it piles up in Michigan without wind! Ugh, I hate every flake…

During these whiteouts, blizzards, ice storms, and tsunami winds Dad’s job was keeping highways 75 and 18 as safe and clear as humanly possible, and their work day never stopped at regular quitting time. He often got called into work during the middle of the night and would end up working 16-20 hours before coming home. Mom would have his supper in the fridge on a pie plate, covered with aluminum foil which he’d pop into the oven for a few minutes if we were already in bed.

Dad retiring after 31 years of sneezing, mowing and plowing snow on the roads of northwest Iowa. His ‘gift clock’ looks like the state of Michigan and now hangs in our family room…

It’s easy to understand dad’s lack of bubbling enthusiasm for most chores around our hovel. He literally updated our house on the inside for 50 years but never really cared for all the work involved on the outside. By the time he got home from work, he’d either been mowing for 8 hours or plowing snow for 8-or more. He mowed because he wanted the yard to look nice like the neighbors, shoveled because our sidewalk was used by students trudging their way to school 2 blocks away. He had no interest in landscaping, buying or planting shrubbery. That task belonged to Mom. However when she brought home a new Blue Spruce he’d plant it without complaint, exactly where she deemed appropriate.

One of Dad’s many signs over the years on Highway 18 or 75…

He loved to ‘tinker’ in our huge garage, hand painting large, religious signs he posted (along those same highways, 18 & 75 where he worked everyday) to encourage unbelievers to find their way to Christ with catchy, thought provoking statements.

One of Dad’s messages…

As much as Dad disliked mowing, raking and shoveling (I don’t think he ever used weed & feed) he enjoyed growing a garden. Mom might have had something to do with this. She loved green beans, peultjes (peas in the pod) soft garden lettuce, radishes but most of all-fresh tomatoes (my favorite food in the world). Lucky for us, Dad could grow tomatoes like nobody’s business (although he was growing veggies in the best soil on earth)! If there was a dry spell for a few days and Mom and I were in the midst of an uncomfortable tomato withdrawal, we’d drive to the west edge of town where Luke & Tilly Van Berkum (no relation) had a small acreage-green house cause they grew enough tomatoes to feed the town.

Ok, the biggest one’s mine. “Mom make some tuna salad please.”

There weren’t many meals from mid-August through September that didn’t include tomatoes. Mom and I always liked something cold with our meal like pickled beets, applesauce or cranberry sauce-unless there were fresh tomatoes. She’d slice (not thin, skimpy slices either) a cereal bowl full to go along with whatever she’d made for supper, meatloaf, ham, pork chops. Although we were not really a ‘sandwich’ family, BLT’s were on the menu every few days when tomatoes were at their peak.

A version of the garden salad Mom made with eggs, bacon, garden lettuce, potatoes and bacon dressing….

But my favorite way Mom served fresh tomatoes was with tuna salad (which Dad refused to eat so this was our lunch most days when he was at work). Don’t get in a snit about the way Mom made our tuna salad. Water based Starkist, drained with a couple diced sweet pickles, celery and just enough Miracle Whip to hold it together. (I add green onion). She would carefully look through Dad’s stash of fresh tomatoes sitting on the counter and pick out the 2 best, biggest ones available. She’d take a steak knife and cut/carve out a pretty big section surrounding the stem, then pack that gaping hole with tuna salad. (Not gonna lie, it makes my mouth water, it was so good).

The way I eat tomatoes and tuna salad these days…

Guess I’ve not changed much in the amount of fresh tomatoes I eat or how I eat them. If we’re having a ‘good’ supper I’ll eat at least one tomato sliced with my meal topped with salt. For lunch it’s a BLT or simply sliced tomato on buttered bread topped with sugar. I’ll make tuna salad every 10 days (it lasts me 3 meals) although I no longer dig out the tomato middle. I slice it thick and chunk the slices in a bowl topped with salt. Dip my fork into tuna then stab a big chunk of tomato. A fond memory of Dad’s gardens during the 50’s and 60’s, how many times and ways Mom and I managed to eat tomatoes for 2 months a year…

My favorite picture of Dad. He was embarrassed he was wearing ‘work clothes’ when he was interviewed for the newspaper, but this is how I remember him, overall, 2 or 3 layers of shirts because he was always cold like me…

‘A’ is for annoying…

The first car I ever drove didn’t belong to my parents. The year was 1964, I was 13 and Mom’s car was in the shop. Santema’s Chevy garage gave her a loaner for the day. I remember whining/zhanicking/begging her to take me out for my first driving lesson. The reason I was so adamant (and she so agreeable) was because the ‘55 Bel Air was an automatic. My parents only drove cars with a manual transmission and a clutch. No radio, no air and shifting from 1st, 2nd to 3rd was part of the package.

It wasn’t fancy and I don’t remember the color, but my love for driving started in a 1955…

I wouldn’t take driver’s training for another year. It would take lots of practice easing the clutch out while giving it some gas before I got my hand/feet/coordination while driving with no power steering. However, I have never tried harder about anything than learning to drive, passing the written test and driving our 1963 Chevy with an Iowa Highway Patrolman sitting next to me on our bench seat while I parallel parked the beast with ease.

Mom taught me to drive that day and I was in heaven! I drove for about 10 minutes, just 14th, 15th and 16th street. We never attempted crossing Main Street. Not many things in my life has been as exciting as the day barely-teen-Neese learned how to drive and I’ve loved driving ever since. But it would literally be 2 decades (1987 Astro Van) before I had dependable transportation.

Wish we still had a 1965 Impala…

When John and I eloped in 1969 we both had decent wheels. Hubs was driving a very cool 1965 2-door hardtop Impala. I was tooling around in a Cubby blue 1968 Ford Mustang, but there were red flags everywhere. Hubs (barely out of his teens) had gotten several tickets for drag racing his ‘65 on Douglas street in Sioux City, and had driven it, unintentionally over a cliff (cool as that car was, it couldn’t fly). So for the first couple years of wedded-frickin-bliss he was not allowed to drive anything as requested politely by the state.

One & done with this Ford lemon…

We could scarcely make one car payment let alone 2. Since there was only one driver who was street legal, we sold the ‘65. Making matters worse, the Mustang was proving to be a lemon. The passenger seat broke routinely, shooting half of you into the back seat while inflicting spine/neck injuries. When the temperature hovered between freezing & 45, the Mustang refused to leave the corral for the day (or week).

We didn’t exactly get off on the right foot where reliable transportation was concerned. The 1965 International pickup’s clutch went out, so we parked on inclines and popped it in gear after we were rolling downhill, plus the passenger door flew open randomly, threatening to fling all living souls out. Our 1968 Nova blew a gasket so often, Hubs carried 6 of them in the car at all times, just dangling from the gear shifter, each patiently waiting their installation turn.

Our family car in 1957…

The 1969 Toyota idled at about 4000 rpm which was nice when driving in town because you never had to step on the accelerator. It went 20 mph all by itself. One day the whole dash exploded. John was disenchanted with our first ‘foreign’ car, and paid to have it crushed. Four year old Josh was with daddy and crying as the yellow cab colored POS was being squished. “Oh Buddy, are you gonna miss that car?” “No, my bubblegum is in the glovebox.”

The 1976 Dodge Aspen Wagon was better-except when you turned left. It would stall every freaking time. We were living in Davenport, a pretty good sized city with traffic lights at most intersections. I became adept at driving and only making right turns. Took me longer, but hell hath no fury like rush hour traffic, a stalled car with a mom and kids (sitting dead in the water in the left turn lane).

Never did run right but we drove it anyway, the Sapporo….

We bought a 1978 Sapporo with a blown engine for a song. Hubs thought he could just slip in another engine without much fanfare. It was a lot of work, engine didn’t quite fit and he had to rebuild/refit the fuel system. It ran like a dilapidated POS, but looked cool.

In 1984 John bought a brand new Chevy S-10. Crowded with a family of 5 but Adam was small enough to sit among 3 sets of legs on the floor. At least it didn’t strand us anywhere. Three years later we got the Astro Van with 12,000 miles on it for me. Two dependable vehicles-finally.

The gasket guzzling Nova…

Let’s recap. These are just a few examples of the rundown, dilapidated modes of transportation I’ve been subjected to during 20 years of my life. Every single one of them left me stranded at least once while I was their embarrassed/frustrated owner. That dubious sinking feeling, my panicking racing heart, mouth void of spit when your car won’t start, or stalls at a stop sign/traffic light has a negative impact on the day. You’ve got kids with you, one of them has practice or a dentist appointment, the trunk is full of groceries and you’re stranded in a car that’s not going anywhere and no cell phone. Maddening/depressing.

I’m not fussy when it comes to cars. I want something that’s safe, drives great, keeps me warm or cool, has good brakes, tires and starts when you insert the key. (Haha, I’m becoming my folks. I’m deaf and never listen to the radio anymore) Doesn’t seem like I’m too needy or demanding.

Too dark to get a picture of my Jeep in the garage, but it’s like this one…

So why subject you to 2 miserable, morass filled decades about the junkers in my life? Because of a feature on my present means of moving me from one point to another. I drive a 2018 4-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee. It’s not fancy or expensive as cars go these days. I like my Jeep.

After I’d signed on the dotted line the salesman walked me out to show me a couple of ‘new features’ before I drove away. (I had traded in my 2014 Jeep and was familiar with the model). So there’s this capital ‘A’ button with a semi-circle around it. ‘A’ stands for Annoying. He explained when I stop at an intersection, turn lane, stop sign, or traffic light, the engine shuts off. To conserve gas of course. Feeling that engine die when you’re focused on driving is instantly disheartening. Immediately I think I gotta call Hubs to rescue his damsel in distress because the POS car has taken a dump and left me in a pickle.

The capital A circled gets punched every time I start the Jeep. How annoying is that?

Every time I start the Jeep, its default auto-stop state is activated. I am able to press this ‘Annoying’ button to temporarily disable the feature but I have to do it every time the Jeep is started or as soon as I come to a stop, the engine stops which produces a sweaty brow and heart palpitations-until I realize I forgot to hit the button. It’s not the running errands part like buying gas, groceries, bank, then picking up Klavon’s pizza because those stops require me to literally stop and get out of the Jeep. It’s the driving to all those destinations with starts, stops and lights. Let’s say those 4 destinations (maybe 15 miles of total driving) include 4 left hand turns, 4 stop signs and 8 stoplights resulting in approximately 15 automatic shutdowns. How much extra wear & tear is that doing to my starter? Battery? My patience? My nerves? My sanity? This auto-stop feature is a huge bust. Annoying isn’t my favorite’A’ word but it’s a close second. My favorite ‘A’ word I’ll save for the idiot environmental/design engineer who came up with this asinine idea (asinine-another great ‘A’ word but coming in third)…

167…

I love to walk and struggle physically and emotionally when I can’t do this simple activity which makes me feel better about life. I started walking in 1998 and with the exceptions of a few health hiccups during the last 23 years, I’ve never stopped my walks or reaping the benefits from it. The length of my walk ebbs and flows depending on how my body’s doing (legs and feet/blisters).

Has nothing to do with my story but my orchid is crazy blooming right now…

I resemble an uncoordinated, inflatable advertising ballon fighting gale force winds when I walk. If I’m being up-front about it, I need to own that statement. The first 5 years I was in great shape and I was fast. For a couple of those years I dipped my toe into lighting a fire under my big butt and added a bit of jogging to my 5 mile repertoire after watching the local high school cross country team train across the street. But I hadn’t hit 50 yet, had no arthritis or bad joints causing me grief.

Yeah, I’m usually leaning a bit one way or the other…

I’m deaf and suffer from Meniere’s which affects my balance, so I’m a weaver-walker. I have to closely monitor where each foot lands or I’m flat on the ground. Earbuds sound like tin cans so I wear humongous, expensive headphones which make me look like Mickey Mouse (our similarities don’t end there, I have his muscle-less arms, a big belly and butt but lack his cute little tail which could possibly help with my balance issues).

The shades says it all…

I love watching walkers and joggers, especially those who look like they’re floating-just above the ground. Gliding effortlessly, muscles flexed, head up, back straight, feet lightly pounding the pavement, arms bent at the elbow like a train on the track. A fine tuned machine. I look like every belt on this 1950 straight 6 has cracked, broke in half or slipped off it’s pulley under the hood. And fluids are leaking from every orifice. It’s not pretty.

Fit for a walk from head to my toes…

I am a loner and an introvert, except when I walk. My inhibitions go out the freakin door. I sing loudly (off-tune, I blame my deafness) to whatever playlist is throbbing in my one semi-hearing ear. People honk and wave, but for the most part I don’t pay attention. I’m definitely in my own little world when I walk. I like it there.

My favorite playlist, but I save it for Monday’s to start my week off on the right foot…

After knee replacement in 2019, I was determined to start walking again ‘with purpose.’ But it took me a full year to recover (which is a major reason I’m putting off having my other knee done. After my cortisone shot this week, I told the surgeon I’d be happy to die with one new knee and one original).

Replacement scar isn’t too noticeable anymore, but that doesn’t mean I want a matching one on the left…

After I got psyched to start walking I decided for safety’s sake I needed to use a walking stick (Hubs was instrumental in this decision). I was determined not to let this change in my routine be anything but a helpful tool to keep my feet moving, my face off the pavement and my capped teeth still in my mouth. Had to swallow my pride and accept this change in my aging process. My balance is shit and I’d better to deal with it.

Love my gnarly walking stick. The black tape helps my hand not slip…

I installed an app on my phone to track how many steps I walked a day and set that sucker at 10,000-at first. Lofty goal which dwindled down to 9,000, then 7,500 as my leg worsened. The tricky part was trying to keep my new knee limber (ha-my range of motion is awful) but not do any more damage to my missing cartilage, sore, worn-out left one. For the first time in my life, I became inexplicably obsessed with an app. It owned me.

For a period of time during 2020 (everybody’s favorite year) when my app posted I had not made my goal for the day and it was 7 pm, I’d scoot down the basement and do some laps, which is laughable. This would be cool in a normal house, but lapping my basement actually makes me dizzy it’s so small. But I was determined not to miss my daily goal and break my ongoing streak.

My streak of walking 167 days in a row during 2020…

In the beginning of this miserable pandemic my life was not much different than before. I was home 90% of the time, cooking, reading, blogging, canning and making certain that little confetti parade showed up at the end of the day on my app, documenting another day’s goal had been reached and all was well in my little corner of the world.

But nothing ever stays the same and by Halloween my left leg was hurting. But I did not stop. (Curses on you app). Not my knee as much as the back of my leg from mid-thigh to mid-calf. If I stood for more than a few minutes, my leg would hardly bend when I sat down. When I sat longer than an hour, I could hardly get up and my leg felt like it wouldn’t support me. So there I’d stand, left leg bent enough not to buckle, waiting for my support system to kick in. It ached all night long. Every night.

His shit-eatin grin says it all…

My goal was 180 days without missing a day, but I missed it. We were leaving after Christmas for a couple months and I decided to rest my leg while we traveled. I love to drive, but there’s something about the way my leg rests on my Jeep seat that causes a lot of discomfort. It’s weird but the best remedy so far has been shoving a tennis ball under my thigh. Sounds like that should hurt like the devil but the ball relieves the pressure from whatever nerve/muscle/piriformus/hamstring/sciatica that’s causing my misery.

Five down, 163 to go…

I made an appointment with my surgeon when we returned home to figure out the pain in the back of my leg. Walking in Alabama was sporadic but I tried most days. Sleeping with a pillow under my knee helped but it wasn’t getting any better. After some tests showed nothing wrong with my back, a round of physical therapy was ordered. Three times a week for 3 months and not much to show for it. My limp was worse.

As fate would have it, something medically unrelated ended up helping my gimpy leg. My ‘hand’ doctor sent me to a rheumatologist for a follow up to determine if my arthritis was age related or rheumatoid. After bloodwork he ordered a 5 day prescription of prednisone to see if it might help the swelling and inflammation and give my hands more flexibility and strength.

I’ve fallen numerous times, but never backwards…

By day 3 on 20 mg. of prednisone I was able to wring out my dishcloth again and squeeze my fists tight. More surprising though, my limp disappeared and the pain in my leg was down from a 6 to a 2. I couldn’t believe how much better I felt when I wasn’t wincing in pain or limping. But the side effects from prednisone are no fun and not something to take long term unless absolutely necessary.

So I’m trying a different medication which takes 8 weeks to start working. To tide me over he prescribed a decreasing dosage of prednisone. While I’m not overjoyed with taking 2 new prescription medications, I gotta say I’m feeling really good and grateful something is working-finally.

The mace is in my left hand, the knife hooked on my waistband…

I haven’t used my fabulous walking path since heading to Alabama at the end of 2020. Six months without walking after we left Gulf Shores. But the other day I dusted off my New Balance shoes, made sure my Bose headphones were charged, started my Wednesday playlist, grabbed my walking stick, sunglasses, lip balm, a Kleenex, mace and my knife and lumbered out the door with the speed of sloth.

My small reward when I make my daily goal…

But there’s no way I’m capable of 10,000 steps a day, and I’m trying not to fall into old habits by checking that damn app 10 times a day. I’ve lowered my expectations and humbly accept that 5,000 steps is more suitable until I have more stamina and see how I feel. Doesn’t mean I’m without a goal. Just 163 more days in a row and I’ll break my own record. Piece of cake…

Losing my religion…

Traditional things during my life that used to bug me when I was young are now what I miss with such an acute ache, it almost feels physical. Many of these feelings I struggle with are about religion/church/preachers/customs. Not God so much. I feel like God and I are on the same page and doing relatively well, considering it’s me He’s trying to work with. (He said I can be trying at times. Who knew)? This disillusionment didn’t just creep up on me. No, this started well over a decade ago. I was immersed in a job, (a calling really) a church and felt my work/good deeds/volunteerism were needed, worthwhile and appreciated.

As Parish Visitor I was fortunate to attend Opal’s 100th Birthday party in 2010…

I might be thin-skinned. (Ok, I am. No denying it). Lengthy story I won’t get into about issues I have with the church and organized religion. (Ministers and church politics mostly). Suffice it to say, since 2009 my time spent inside a sanctuary has been limited. Bitterness blossomed after my feelings were hurt, and I stopped spending time in a house of worship. And I was ok with that for several years, but find I still have this ‘longing’ for all the things I disliked about church services when I was a kid. I know, it’s complicated.

Calvin Christian Reformed where I was baptized in 1953…

Some of my friends have embraced/accepted there’s no need to attend/belong to a specific church to know Jesus as your savior and rest assured that when the good Lord calls you home, you’re heaven bound. Most of me agrees with this, but part of me longs for the fellowship of belonging to an actual church. A building with a group of people who worship comfortably with you as a part of their church family. I know how easy it is to relinquish a habit which you’ve grown accustomed. When I’m physically hurt and can’t walk every morning, it’s not long before that daily habit is all but forgotten. Same thing when going to church on Sunday morning stops. Pretty soon it’s hardly missed. Not a feeling I’m comfortable with. Makes me uneasy.

First Reformed, the one I consider my home church, Rock Valley, Iowa…

We’ve been back in Jackson for 6 years. When we moved to Jackson the first time (from 1987-1994) we never went to church. It was like we moved out of Iowa and lost our religion. We had been very active in Davenport. But that would change during our 21 years in North Muskegon. Fifteen of those years were church infused. Equal parts of fulfilling and frustrating. The last couple years were downright unhappy-church wise. Once we settled back in Jackson, ‘going to church’ fell by the wayside. Again.

Communion Table we snagged for nothing. Refinished all the furniture for a start up church in Davenport…

But I got this hankering. Something’s missing. So I’m church shopping again. Sigh. I’ve been to 7 churches so far. I might be too picky. Seems like all the ‘old-fashioned’ church service customs/traditions/music I ‘crave’ are like me, worn out and no longer relevant. In roughly 20 worship services I’ve not heard the Lord’s Prayer or The Apostle Creed. Not once. Same goes for any responsive reading-save for one church who does their scripture reading responsively. No liturgy before Communion. Only a couple churches offered a bulletin. When I asked for one, a gal responded, “just download the church app, that’s the way we do our collection too.” Ugh. Just ugh. That same day as I wandered around looking for the non-existent bulletin I noticed a folding chair in the Narthex, just outside the sanctuary entrance. On the chair sat a forlorn Communion tray, half filled with the newest fad, ‘hermetically sealed lunchable communion.’ No explanation, just sat there like it had been forgotten since the prior Sunday.

The way Communion was served when I was young…

I’ve tried non-denominational, Presbyterian, Community, High Praise, Christian Reformed and 2 Baptists. Any more than ONE loud band-led, drum thumping, arms in the air, including 2 repetitive, monotonous verses sung over and over and I’m out. I just don’t get the allure of praise songs. Nothing excites me less about God than these awful songs except standing to sing them for 15 unbearable minutes. Nothing.

Yep, I thought you might notice. A Baptist Church. Actually, two of them. This from a Calvin Christian Reformed/First Reformed kid who memorized all traditional hymns/Lord’s Prayer/Apostles Creed sixty years ago. But there’s something spiking my radar when I stepped inside this big Baptist Church. (I checked out their website for service times beforehand and was happy to see 3 pastors-2 with small children. Children are a healthy part of Christian fellowship I think). Picked up a bulletin, stepped into the sanctuary, found a seat near the back and was blown away looking where the pulpit should be. Looked like a scene on a movie set from, ‘Under the Sea.’ The pastor explained Vacation Bible School was starting on Monday. Don’t know if this was a kit they purchased or their original concept but it was far superior from when I helped with VBS 40 years ago. Impressive. Slightly humorous that the small portable stand preacher man used for his sermon was sitting directly under a great white but I guess the lesson here is, the good Shepherd protects His sheep from the wolves or in this case, the shark.

The pastor stood right beneath the shark through the service. “Never fear, I am with you always.”

Immediately I spot Bibles and Hymnals in every row. Hallelujah! I flipped through a hundred pages of the hymn book and recognized half of them (although they’ve not sung one that I know so far but they are traditional hymns). The bulletin lists several activities for men, women, teens and younger. By the time the service starts I gauge around 200 people in attendance, and I can see I’m in the minority in a couple categories. Not a lot folks with grey/white/silver hair (another good sign of a healthy congregation) and I’m about the only lady not wearing a dress, which I find a bit odd. (I won’t be dyeing my hair nor will I be wearing a dress. We’ve talked it over and God agrees to let me slide on both matters).

Set for VBS. Pastor didn’t stand under friendly dolphin. “I am with you always.”

No praise music (thank you Jesus, can I get an amen)? A choir of about 20 line up to sing their special number first so they can disperse and sit with their families. Couple of hymns, prayer, announcements, then scripture is read responsively. His sermon explains the Bible verses in detail. Service was about 90 minutes. My reasoning has always been, God gives you a whole week, you can certainly give Him an hour (in this case hour and a half, probably making up so I don’t lose any more of my religion)…

Baby love, my baby love…

For the first 4 plus years of my life our family of 5 (me the youngest) lived in a small house on the west edge of town. Surrounded by mostly empty lots and fields, a couple blocks north of Highway 18, this was the section of town that would get an enormous building boost in the years ahead. We didn’t have a lot of neighbors or kids my age but I was little and stayed close to home anyway. That would change when we moved a few blocks north and east, into the heart of Rock Valley. Houses in back of our alley facing 16th Street, more houses across 15th street. Not long city blocks, small town sized blocks. On the northeast lot of our block was the Methodist Church. As far as I can remember we had 5 houses and one church in my little corner of the world.

Our house on RV’s west side, 1955 before I got my hair cut and we moved to 15th St….

The neighborhood was a mixture of young growing families with a few older couples nearing retirement or already ensconced in their slower lifestyle. Seems odd that a young girl could spend as much time with the older folks on the block as I did with kids my age. A morning spent sitting in the enclosed front porch of Bessie Jacobs, listening to her stories or watching as she hand stitched a doll quilt for my doll that I still have. Her husband worked for the railroad and was gone a lot. She didn’t seem to mind the interruption when I knocked on her door. Sometimes she made me a 7-Up float (sure doesn’t sound very appealing now). Bessie lived just west of the church.

A buggy rescued from a building dad was taking down, the quilt Bessie made, and the faceless doll Mag made for me from a tatted pillowcase…

In between her house and ours but after the older couple moved out (related to the Ribbons’ family maybe) was a young couple, fairly new to marriage, their name escapes me, Ver Steeg perhaps)? They had a baby boy named Miles. (I had never heard of that name before). I must have been around 9. I went over as often as she’d let me in to play and ogle Miles. This wasn’t my first baby crush. That ‘bug’ had hit me hard soon after we moved to 15th street.

Holding ‘the real’ Cindy in our back yard on 15th Street, 1957…

Her name was Cindy. She was the baby sister of my first bestie, Lori who lived in the corner house of my block. (In between us was another older lady but my ‘senior citizen empathy app’ didn’t shine as brightly for her). She crossed the wrong side of Neese. Although it wasn’t really her fault, she was blamed nonetheless. My parents decided to take a ‘real’ vacation in 1960 and visit some of their sibs on both sides in California. This was in our pink (Canyon Coral) 2-door 1958 Chevy Biscayne, with no air. During late June. I would have the whole backseat to myself-or so I thought. This older neighbor lady offered to pay mom and dad to ride along in our stifling hot 2-door car all the way to the west coast. Sigh. Then she asked if her granddaughter could tag along? I was allotted about a foot of space in the backseat. Miserable trip until we dropped them off. But I digress.

1958 Biscayne parked in California trailer park during vacation, 1960…

So between old people, a strange family that was a little scary but truly fascinating, babies, my playhouse, homemade swing set, eating rhubarb with gobs of salt as we played drive-inn (something radically new in our small town) and kids ranging from younger than me (finally) to some high school boys across the street, my little corner of the world was sweet indeed. Plus there were new worlds just a couple blocks away-in both directions. The school was another block east and had an awesome playground, a slide that reached the stratosphere (honestly 2 stories tall) and burned the backs of your legs from May until September. So hot but so cool!

Nice to know our slide is still burning kid’s butts at the playground…

To the west another block was our budding metropolis-downtown Rock Valley. Restaurants, hardware stores, dime store, grocery store, bakery, post office, couple of lawyer’s offices, bowling alley, car dealerships, gas station, utilities office, my doctor’s and dentist’s offices, even a clothing store. A true shopping Mecca. It looked a mile long to this young girl but actually was a few blocks long and just as wide.

No wonder I wasn’t allowed to cross Main Street…

From the time I was old enough to cross the street by myself (after my big brother Larry was hit and killed by a car while riding his bike), these precautions were repeated daily. For the first couple years I was not allowed to cross Main Street if mom wasn’t with me. It was very wide and quite busy. Our infamous “One Stoplight” was one block south from where I walked, but the 3 (if you count the grocery store) which captured my attention and money were all on ‘my’ side of the street so I wasn’t tempted to disobey my parents. (I was young, there was plenty time for me to get in trouble in a few years when I became a rousing success at it).

Our swing set on 15th street, 1956…

The store closest to our house that got the juices flowing was our bakery. Van Olst’s Bakery. When I was a teen it was a frequent stop on Friday nights after football or basketball games because they baked drool worthy confections all night long. The whole town smelled like donuts after 10. Heaven. Pure heaven. Bismarks, glazed, frosted, long johns, date filled bars, cookies, cones with that sickeningly sweet white creamy filling, almond patties, unsliced bread. Just thinking about that smell wafting through town makes my mouth water. And the Van Olst’s liked to talk after we snuck in the back door while they worked through the night. A mom and pop operation who worked very hard, as did their kids to make their business thrive. But my nighttime teen visits weren’t for a few years yet, so I brought my nickel or dime to spend during regular business hours, usually after school.

My early shopping was limited to the stores on the right side, Koster’s on the corner, Ben Franklin in the middle and Van Olst’s on the far corner…

Life was all about hard choices back then. If I stopped with my nickel or dime at the bakery then I would have no money to spend at Ben Franklin, and that store was the bomb. Near the store’s entrance, a couple doors south of Van Olst’s stood an epic candy counter. Almost a square, missing a couple feet on one side so a clerk could sashay in and out while you were making your selection. Consisting of glass on 2 sides and dark wood, the different candies were divided into large compartments. This necessitated a couple of trips around the loop. Tough decisions in the life of an under 10 year old. A nickel bought a sizable paper bag of chocolate stars, chocolate covered peanuts or malt balls (my favorite). Mom left loose change (nickels and dimes) in a yellow candy dish with a glass lid that eluded dings and chips through my chubby finger days, a miracle in itself. The candy dish was one of mom’s parent’s wedding presents and sat daintily in the middle of our dining room table. If she was at work I was allowed to walk to town and use this money as I saw fit (a nickel at a time).

Grandpa and grandma’s Wanningen’s candy dish where mom kept change for me to spend…

While I was enamored with the 2 live babies on the block, my dolls at home were just as important. Oh I had a fancy lady doll who had seams in the back of her nylons, and a walking doll (named Cindy, after the real baby on the block) that was nearly my size. But they both paled in comparison to my favorite, a baby doll named Lori Jean (yup after my best friend). I played with that baby doll for at least 5 years. Mom even had a seamstress make some clothes for Lori so I could change her outfits.

My dolls, left is Cindy, Lori Jean is my bonnet wearing, lotion soft baby doll…

One day I asked mom for some money and not just for my nickels worth of candy. I had been visiting Miles while his mom gave him a bath. After she hoisted him out of the baby tub and dried him off, she took baby lotion and rubbed some on his arms and legs. Johnson’s baby lotion in a pink plastic bottle. He smelled so good while she got him dressed. Right then I decided I needed lotion to make Lori Jean softer and smell gooder.

Stretching outside the car at Disneyland, 1960…

Far away from the candy counter in the dime store was a section for babies. Goodness, I could spend some serious money here. Rubber pants, baby oil, lotion, booties, special soap, nighties, I wanted it all for my baby-doll. But with a limited budget my money would only go so far. I bought a white bonnet and the smallest bottle of baby lotion. Do you know how long it takes to rub a glop of lotion on a hard plastic doll? The friction alone nearly heated that doll to the melting point. These are some of my best childhood memories. Picking out and paying for after school treats by all by myself. Visiting my elderly neighbors, playing with new babies and friends on the block and my favorite standby, babydoll Lori Jean…

It’s me, it’s me oh Lord…

We didn’t watch a lot of television when I was a kid. Our black and white TV was in a small room off the living room that had been Larry’s bedroom before he died. I remember watching Captain Kangaroo before school and sometimes Captain 11 after school, but not many programs after supper. Ordinarily Dad had church commitments most nights. Mom was an avid knitter/reader, plus housework and laundry. I think TV bored her, so immersing myself with hours of the boob tube was frowned upon.

Smokin cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo, now don’t tell me, I’ve nothin to do…

For the first decade of my life the only music I was familiar with came from school, church or TV. School consisted of, “Touch down every morning, 10 times, not just now and then. Give that chicken fat back to the chicken, and don’t be chicken again. Push up every morning, 10 times, push up, starting low. Once more on the rise, nuts to the flabby guys. Go you chicken fat go!”

Church songs were whatever our choir director had us practicing for our turn of special music during the morning worship service, or the songs we learned at summer church camp like, “We are climbing Ja-cob’s ladder, we are climbing Ja-cob’s ladder, we are climbing Ja-cob’s ladder, sold-iers of the cross.”

TV songs were usually the themes from popular programs like, “Keep rollin rollin, rollin, though the streams are swollen. Keep them doggies rollin, rawhide! Through rain and wind and weather, hell bent for leather, wishin my gal was by my side. All the things I’m missin, good vittles, love and kissin, are waiting at the end of my ride. Move ‘em out, head ‘em up, head ‘em up, move ‘em on, move ‘em out, head ‘em up-Rawhide!

Head ‘em up, rawhide!

Somewhere around 1960 (I was about 9) mom purchased something that revolutionized home entertainment for this family of 3. I think mom’s paycheck was used for discretionary spending and saving. When she had a hankering for something new, she’d head to Vander Ploeg’s furniture in Sioux Center. It was her choice, dad was not interested in furnishing our home which was fine by mom. She wasn’t an impulsive shopper and rarely bought something ‘expensive’ on the spot. She needed to mull that over for a bit before deciding.

Most of the rooms in our house were not big. The dining room was the largest but used the least. The living room was square with a double wide opening off the dining room, 2 windows and a narrow door leading to the TV room. We had a couch, 2 chairs, mom’s knitting basket, magazine rack, ugly hanging light fixture (off-center), a pole lamp, a shelf holding a few pieces of mom’s milk glass collection and a nice early American maple bookcase filled with World Book Encyclopedias.

The shelf, the cheerleader & the RCA Victor stereo console…

The new piece of furniture (adding class to the room) was perched on the north paneled wall, under the milk glass shelf. It went along with the early American theme and was about as long as a compact car these days. A real piece of Americana, an RCA Victor Stereo Console (with a genuine diamond needle)! Goodness the times I was scolded for ruining another dang needle. I thought I was helping by removing the minuscule dust bunny which collected at the tip of the needle when I usually yanked the whole thing out by mistake. Mom would traipse down to Van Manaan’s Electric to replace the one I broke.

Pretty fancy…

There was a sliding door on the top of the cabinet to hold records (we didn’t call them albums back then), the turntable/radio (AM, don’t remember if the stereo had the FM band yet) was the other half. Quite the centerpiece for our nondescript room. Mom and I were fascinated with the wizardry of this new fangled way of listening to music. Dad, not so much. I was never allowed to use the stereo console for my music. Once I became a teen I got a radio and small record player for my room. Until then though, I had to be content with the music mom bought.

Not used as often ten years later. Shannon & me 1971…

Records by George Beverly Shea, Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Tennessee Ernie Ford and various orchestra’s playing every waltz known to mankind. Each orchestra record included, The Blue Danube which was ok because it was mom’s favorite.

Tennessee Ernie Ford…

Mom was born and raised in the nearby town of Sioux Center and always had a soft spot for it (however, Sioux Center was our arch rivals in school sports, we hated them). One day after she had been shopping in Sioux Center she brought home a new record to play. I’d give my eye teeth to have that vinyl today because I can’t remember the name of the quartet and can only recall about half the songs on it when I had every lyric of every song memorized for a couple of reasons. Not all the songs were religious, (yay, I was a kid after all, but some of the songs had a gospel feel to them) plus none of the orchestra (waltz after waltz) albums had words.

What would have I done without my World Book Encyclopedias?

I remember the group was made up of 4 young men (college or mid-20’s, maybe Dordt College?) who harmonized magnificently. I’ve sung the few songs I memorized from that album all my life. Kind of strange that the one most often screeched by this deaf person is religious, as if Ernie Ford, George Beverly Shea or the big group of Mormons wasn’t sufficient.

One of the songs was a bit risqué for this quiet household. For the life of me, I can’t remember the verse, but I loved it. The line ended with the word ‘swell,’ so the last word of rhyming line should have been ‘hell.’ Couldn’t have that out of Sioux Center boys, so they sang, “wella, wella, wella.” The song was Little Liza. “I had a dream the other night-and baby it was nice. I dreamt I saw a crowd outside-and they were throwing rice, wella, wella, wella. Little Liza, I love you, Little Liza I love you. I love you in the springtime and the fall, honey, honey, honey. Little Liza I love you, little Liza I love you, I love you best of all.”

Probably listening to our RCA Victor stereo console while mom and I were reading…

Another song was, “Yellow Bird, so high in banana tree. Yellow bird, who sits all alone like me. Did your lady friend leave the nest again? That is very sad-makes me feel so bad. You can fly away, in the sky away, you’re more lucky than I. Wish that I was a yellow bird, I’d fly away with you. But I am not a yellow bird-so here I sit, nothin’ else to dooooo.”

For all my whining about the religious records mom had in the house, my favorite song from the “I can’t remember the group’s name,” was, Standing in the need of Prayer, with that gospel vibe. “It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer. It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standing’ in the need of prayer. Not my father, not my mother, but it’s me oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer. Not my sister, not my brother but it’s me oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer!”

Yellow bird, so high in banana tree…

At the age of 10 I recognized the significance of that catchy gospel tune asking for God’s help, guidance and forgiveness. Sixty years later, nothing has changed. “It’s me, it’s me oh Lord, standin’ in the need of prayer.”…

The International…

This young married couple just couldn’t catch a break. Dire straits. They liked where they lived though the house and yard needed work. (Real definition of work, infuse lots of money). They loved where they worshipped. Living just far enough away from parents so they were unable to monitor every second of this young couple’s life. He had quit the job he loved for better pay and hours. She worked too but most of her money went to pay for childcare for their bright, beautiful toddler. But with house and car payments, a credit card bill that grew even though it had been a couple years since they charged anything, they were falling farther behind.

Shannon and mommy, early 1972…

Starting year 4 of their marriage and they both knew some major changes were in order if they were to succeed. So the Hubs contacted a headhunter who signed him up and began looking for a different job. The house they bought a couple years earlier and had lovingly picked out bright, outrageous room colors would go back on the market. The car was a sticky issue. It was relatively new but needed tires, brakes and pads. Plus the payments were too steep.

The high priced car (1972 Vega) we couldn’t afford…

A friend offered to buy the car for a bit more than they owed. Dave, the headhunter called with a promising job lead 350 miles away, still barely in Iowa. Manufacturing toys-sounded like fun. Things might be looking up. Several couples toured the house and it looked as though they might come out ahead. They were young and dumb and didn’t do enough research on the job opportunity. And the company offering the job wasn’t as forthcoming as they should have been, but with the car and house payment eliminated, a lot of the stress was gone.

Easter eggs with all that snow on the ground. New Vienna, 1974…

The job would require more hours and the new company helped find a house to rent and paid to move their belongings. Transportation was gonna be a problem. The choices for ‘means of travel’ were severely hampered by lack of funds. They had a few bucks but could ill afford a payment, which meant a junker requiring constant upkeep. Luckily, the Hubs was handy.

What Hubs found in their price range of $.01 to $600. was meager. The clunker that found its way to their driveway was a 15 year-old, worn-out, half ton, humongous, white International pickup with two wheel drive. Sigh. But it was paid for. Not one of their smarter decisions since they were now several hours away from the rest of the family. (Another negative they realized after the move was there was only one public school for the whole county. Each little town, village, parish boasted their own Catholic school). The local priest preferred calling this young family “his non-practicing Catholics,” hahaha.

Shannon sprucing up the International before it became red…

The pickup was a beast. No power steering, 4 on the floor and a cab bigger than their first rental in Hinton 4 years prior. They were living about 10 miles from ‘the job’ so there weren’t many days when stay-at-home mom ‘had’ the truck. A friend convinced Hubs the truck would look better if it was painted any other color than white. In Gary’s department at work he found some leftover red International Harvester (toy tractor) paint which would be perfect. He offered his garage and a paint sprayer for this update on their cool set of wheels. Unfortunately the sprayer’s coverage was the size of Shannon’s 3 year old fist. Took forever. It looked fabulous-from 15 feet away, kinda like dim polka dots. But outward appearances were the least of our worries with “Goliath.”

One of the main concerns with the International was the passenger door. It had a problem staying closed, but only when the truck was moving. No car seats or safety belts to clutter up the interior, just a vast wasteland for a 3-year old to fly from one side (about a block long) to the other. This really hampered any travel when Shannon was involved. The requirements were a driver, plus a full sized human to hang onto the ‘kid in peril,’ to minimize the likelihood that she would get sucked out of the truck during a right turn. But with a bench seat larger than a queen size mattress the ‘hanger on of 3-year-olds slid precariously close to the swinging door at times too. This added another feature for the driver when he wasn’t shifting every 5 seconds. Grab the wife, hang on for dear life so she could keep the kid safe. Going anywhere turned out to be quite an adventure. What else could go wrong? Well.

Eastern Iowa 1973…

Getting back to the ‘young and dumb’ part of the equation. They still felt the need to ‘go home’ every few months. Why? They couldn’t afford the gas or the extra mileage on Goliath, yet they found themselves meandering westerly on Highway 20, which was two lane until they got to 35 North near Ames. No matter, the truck didn’t approve of speeds above 50 anyway.

But this particular trip was one for the books. They probably had 50 bucks to their name and were maybe a 100 miles from Rock Valley. They spotted a gas station and needed to fill the beast, but when the Hubs tried to downshift, there was no clutch. Goliath just coasted kinda fast to the pump where it promptly stalled. No money for a clutch, now how in heaven’s name were they going to drive that thing?

Red International tractor daddy made, 1974…

Hubs had a plan. With mama in the driver’s seat and Shannon carefully tucked behind/beside her (and as far away from the gruesome door as possible) He-man started pushing. Her job was to have the gearshift thingy in neutral and when he screamed, “put it in first,” shift-without the clutch. So much pressure! She couldn’t slow down or it would stall. But if she went too fast, Hubs ‘the sprinter’ wouldn’t be able to open the driver’s door while she slid over, protecting the kid from sudden death with their killer passenger door.

He got the hang of shifting without the clutch, although it sounded rather bad. (Upon arrival, the family was unconcerned with their zany story, nor did anyone offer help. We were always on our own). They didn’t drive much during their visit though.

Shannon 4-1/2 with newborn Joshua 1975…

Leaving for eastern Iowa suddenly seemed much farther away than 350 miles but the Hubs had been mulling their predicament. They would only stop where there was a slight incline/decline so he could be in the truck, ready to shift instead of pushing, then leaping for his life. Getting through towns proved to be the toughest part of the trip, and Highway 20 hit every conceivable small town Iowa had to offer. Stopping for red lights would certainly cause a stall and if the street was flat, even harder to get moving again. When possible they took side streets, running a few stop signs and questionable lights (turning red) but never got stopped (which would have resulted in another stall). They made it back safely and started saving for a new clutch. In the meantime Hubs continued to drive it while learning where all the slight inclines were.

Daddy bringing home new wheels for his growing family, 1975…

A year later, the family of 3 added another member (baby boy Joshua) forcing them to get serious about Goliath and the errant door. Money was saved and one day the Hubs came home from work driving a 6 year-old Chevy Nova. Four doors, but they all closed like it just came off the assembly line. Oh happy day! Unfortunately it wouldn’t be long before it (and us) blew a gasket. Literally. The gasket leading from the muffler to the engine blew, breaking the sound barrier until it was replaced. Hubs would replace it, a month later it would blow again. He wised up, bought a half dozen of the dollar parts and hung them on the 3-on-the-tree. But that’s a story for another day…

Five years-thereabouts…

I give thanks on the day he was born every year. July 24, 1946 is worth mentioning. Taking into consideration I wouldn’t be born for another 4-1/2 years, Larry was not part of my life very long, but what an impact he made. I used to dream what life would have been like had he lived longer, but the decades flew by and it’s hard to imagine my life with Larry still in it, so I tend to focus on short section of my life when he was a part of it. A big part. After discounting the years I was a baby and adding up the total however, not very long. Five years-thereabouts.

Larry 2, Mona 5 with dad 1948…

I wasn’t planned. Oops. Mom and Dad had the all-American family, a girl and a boy. Money was tight, the house was small, pay on the railroad was not great and I think an occasional lay-off from work was involved every year. Mom stayed home with my sibs but was determined to find a job as soon as Mona and Larry were in school full time. (Kindergarten was half days back then). Just as Mom was seeing light at the end of tunnel after 8 years of marriage and 2 school age kids, I was getting ready to make my entrance at the end of 1950.

Larry & me, early 1951…

I never felt unwanted though. The four of them doted on their new baby sister, especially Larry. He could have been resentful, assuming he was the baby of the family but he loved me. When I was a toddler he let me tag along in our big back yard or empty lots across the street. He stopped me once after a neighbor kid told me we were growing raisins in our yard. They were actually bunny turds on the ground below the rabbit hutches. Larry always had my back. Even when it was a pain or embarrassing.

Larry and Mona, 1949…

When we moved a mile away and a mere block and a half from Main Street, we didn’t play together as much as living on the west edge of town. There were more kids scrunched together in the middle of town. The school playground was 2 blocks east, and a shopping mecca to meet the simple needs of consumers-young and old, a block away in the other direction. Where you could buy multiple sweet treats when you had one thin dime in your pocket.

Mona 13, Neese 5-1/2, Spitzy & Larry 10, 1956…

It was 1955 and there were limitations to where this 4-1/2 year-old could venture, but Larry was 9 and had the run of the town. He had tons of friends, was crazy about baseball and shooting marbles in our driveway. He had a BB gun, a Schwinn bike, baseball cards up the wazoo (early to late 1950’s, what some of those cards must be worth today!) and always had a baseball card of a less popular player/team clicking in the spoke of his bike. Dad was a big Yankee fan so Larry probably followed suit. The difference in our ages really started to dictate how much we saw of each other. I was busy making friends. Girls my own age who wanted to play dolls or drive-inn using my cool play house in the backyard.

Larry’s kindergarten hand plaque…

Being born after him means I missed much of Larry’s already too short life. It still makes me part envious and a little bitter. So many everyday occurrences happened in his life I wasn’t privy to, him just being a daredevil boy. The 3 years we lived on 15th street before he died, he was this big kid who could be gone for hours without my parents worrying about him or getting in trouble. He was zipping around town with Dickie, Norm and Ken. These kids saw the goofy Larry, the baseball crazy friend who shot marbles left-handed. The fair haired, super blonde with a funny lisp. They had endless days with him hanging out at the dump and Van Zee’s sand pit with a small enticing island. Or catching pigeons in the rafters of barns after it was dark. I never got to go pigeon hunting with him and dad. Not that I wanted to but causes me pain to realize how much of his life I missed.

Day-cation 1956, Larry behind me, Mona and dad…

But we always had family time too. Mom cooked supper every night which was on the table by 5:30. Pretty standard procedure, no one was late or missed supper. We didn’t take long vacations, (I’m sure they were too expensive) but I remember several day-trips to Lake Okoboji, the Spencer County fair, visiting the Grotto in West Bend, Iowa, and the dam at Yankton, South Dakota on a miserably cold, wet day.

Visiting the Grotto in 1956, Larry, Mona and me…

Larry mowed yards, shoveled snow, helped our grandpa Gerritson and sold pigeons for spending money. One Christmas he bought mom a new fry pan. A little bit on the small side, maybe an 8” for our family of 5 but she was thrilled. Many years after he was gone she continued to use his last gift. The black Bakelite handle had long since crumbled into pieces so she always had a potholder handy when she grabbed the naked metal. That was the year he bought me a small, stuffed brown bear, which I still have.

Larry’s baseball glove…

No matter how hard I rack my brain, I’ve only got so many memories of Larry and nothing I can do to change that. Five year’s worth-not much. The Saturday morning he was riding (my bike, because he needed the basket) bike and got hit by a car remains vivid but horrific. Mom screaming, running in the street after a phone call. An hour later there was no place to park for 2 blocks on 15th street-waiting for dad to get home from Hawarden-30 miles away. Members from our church-wanting to help mom break the news to dad their only son had been killed.

Can’t help it, I love his headstone with his last school picture…

Still, it feels good to write another story about life with my big brother (repetitious, sorry about that). Larry would be 75 today so it’s been 63 years since I saw his beaming smile, blonde head or heard him speak. Each year brings me a bit closer to my reunion not only with Larry, but mom, dad, Mona and the grandmother I never met who died when mom was 2 weeks old. What a day that will be! Happy heavenly birthday Larry Wayne, July 24, 1946 to October 11, 1958…

Menial Tasks…

When you’re young and strong, they’re the mundane chores you never think about until you can no longer perform them. All of a sudden the little things you’ve always taken for granted are not only elusive but pritnear impossible to accomplish. What a difference 5 years makes.

Lugging wet laundry out to the clothesline, 1977…

Seems like I just got this 70 year old body out of the repair shop for a routine maintenance check after my warranty expired, when another part wears out, cracks or freezes up. While none have had a devastating affect on my life, it’s become exceedingly frustrating.

Since when did mash potatoes become hard? (They aren’t if you cook them long enough! Some starchy humor). We often have mashed potatoes on Tuesday’s when Ariana and Jovi come over for supper. I blaming the Hubs (that was easy). About two years ago he made fried shrimp for supper (yum). We’re old and lazy and rarely eat at the table anymore unless some serious cutting with a steak knife is involved. BTW, not eating at the table goes against everything I grew up with or we did as a family when our kids were little. We ate supper together at the kitchen or dining room table more often than not. Now John and I fill our plates, and watch a 42 minute program while we eat before I clean up the kitchen.

So getting back to our little shrimp fest. Hubs forgot to turn the burner off which housed the pan of oil. (Had we been seated at the table like civilized humans instead of in the next room, one of us certainly would have noticed or smelled hot oil-I hope). It was on low but the pan was scorched beyond the two days I was willing to try and clean it. Well that was my potato pan, so I had to move up to a bigger sized pan when I’m cooking. Unfortunately I can no longer lift the pan from the stove to the sink, (3 lousy feet) drain the water and place it on a hot pad for mashing. I now prop it precariously on the side of the sink, tip the lid a half inch (doing my best to avoid the free steam bath burn) to get rid of the water. Ten years ago I could lift a peck of cooked beets in an 8 quart pan filled with purple boiling water and drain them suckers. Now I can’t do 2 pounds of spuds. How did this happen?

This worked to open jars and bottles until recently…

When we were in Yuma 5 years ago I went to a church craft show with my sister-in-law and bought a small rectangular piece of gorilla shelf liner used in cupboards so tableware doesn’t slip and slide around. The outside edge is crocheted. My purpose was using it to open jars and plastic screw topped Diet Pepsi bottles. Kept conveniently on the counter and it’s worked until 2021. My hand no longer has the strength to twist this grippy cloth and if I do get the lid to budge, pain shoots through my hand, pulsating in the bottom of my thumb for several minutes. Dang it, this is making me crazy.

What I use now. For how long remains a mystery…

Hubs ordered a gadget with several sized openings which have tiny grippers which hugs whatever sized lid you’ve inserted. Instead of my fingers and thumb doing most of the work, my supper bottle of Diet Pepsi is unscrewed with more of a twist of my wrist causing no discomfort. So far it’s worked great.

Love the smell but it’s not relieving my stress very much…

My next annoying ‘why can’t I do this anymore’ is my stinking ‘smells wonderful’ shampoo. The 16 ounce plastic bottle has a lid where the top part opens when you ‘pop’ it up with your thumb. My thumb has decided its no longer going to participate in this daily exercise. There’s not a big enough gap between the lid and microscopic indentation where my thumb should easily be able to snap that sucker open. Most days I can’t get it open using both thumbs. Argh. Now I have to grab the wet washcloth, using 2 thumbs and push up on the lid flipper.

Looks easy enough to flip open but is beyond my capabilities…

I know what you’re thinking. Just leave the exasperating, aggravating lid off the shampoo and pour a dot every morning, eliminating that minor irritant. However, you simply can not grasp how obsessive I am about my shampoo. That little quirk started 20 years ago when I got hooked on a John Frieda Shampoo for colored hair (by accident-the shampoo not the coloring part. I was still doing that on purpose). I forgot my overnight bag when I was driving 800 miles to visit my parents. Stopped at Walgreens during the trip and bought a set of travel sized hair care products. After using it once I wanted to grow my hair long just so it would be easier to smell. Sick, I know. A few years later Frieda discontinued the hair color treated type, forcing me to buy every bottle available on the black (after) market. Ok, it was e-Bay but every bottle was exorbitantly expensive. And I ran out of the shampoo (but not the conditioner-might have enough for my life expectancy) maybe 3 years ago. No problem because I stopped dyeing my hair about the same time.

My over abundance of conditioner…

Stumbled upon a great Bath and Body Works shampoo soon after only to realize they produced it occasionally. Our local store just started carrying the shampoo again so now I’m up to my eyeballs with bottles of the stuff which should suffice for my lifetime. Should I leave the bottle open and unprotected, my fear is when Hubs is showering he might fall prey to one of his sneezing fits (which last about 5 minutes with wind gusts between a Category 2 and 3). The tile wall is fairly safe but a less than pound plastic bottle of my favorite smelly shampoo on a dinky tiled, grouted shelf would be toast. You understand my concern now right? I should just look for a generic bottle that’s easier to open and fill it with my shampoo.

Here’s my last irksome task which has become combative. Everything gets placed in the sink before I do dishes (yes I still wash them by hand and never use my dishwasher. A waste of kitchen space in my tiny kitchen) that has a lid, like our double wall, insulated water glasses, Hubs loosens them or I end up carrying it into the family room, soap suds running down my arm and I’m about to fling that sucker across the street! The big picture is my overall health is excellent and I fully recognize and accept these loathsome changes as part of my aging process. I have much to be grateful for but that doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to ‘pitch a bitch’ about what’s happening in my life that’s driving me to distraction. Anyone younger than 60, you’ve been warned…

The Comment Debate…

Facebook. I love it half the time and hate it just as often. I realize without FB I would have 100 less people that I’m friends with, mostly from my Iowa childhood hometown. For a loner that’s significant and I’m grateful. But FB is nosey and likes to keep track of everything. So I don’t post or comment very often. Pictures of my grandchildren, food or canning pictures and my WordPress blog post that I move from their platform to share on my FB home page. I stay away from all quizzes where they ask leading questions like, “what would your first name be if it was your grandmother’s maiden name?”

Mag (the good cook) and her baby (the Hubs) 1990…

Nearly four months ago it started out simple enough. It must have been posted by one of my friends but I don’t recall who. A question posted from The Slow-roasted Italian. Worded like, “Who adds mustard to Mayo when you’re making potato salad?” Oh my goodness. I’d say I started a shitshow or shitstorm but I’m trying to refrain from saying shit so often. (I don’t think it’s working). Well sh—. Never mind.

The delicious or offensive bowl of potato salad causing all the ruckus…

For the record, I don’t care for Mayo (whatever brand, but dang folks are passionately loyal and vocal on that subject), or Miracle Whip, the brand I prefer and never add either to my sandwich, not even my favorite, the BLT. But something’s gotta hold my Pea, 7-layer, Veggie slaw or potato salads together right? So it’s got to be one or the other as the base for my dressings. In my defense I don’t use one more often than the other in the various salads I make. But if I’ve always used Mayo for my pea salad, I would never switch it to Miracle Whip. Wouldn’t taste right. And I would never use anything but Miracle Whip in my potato salad. Period. There lies the rub. I never imagined there would be such a heated debate on my humbly written comment on how I make potato salad and what goes in it (or even on top of it). “Paprika you fool,” not sliced egg dusted with black pepper.

Being taught clean up duty followed cooking…

Anyone who follows my blog knows I couldn’t cook or bake when the Hubs and I eloped in 1969. Not because my mom was a bad cook. She was a good cook but never wanted me in her kitchen or messing it up. She wasn’t eager to teach me and I was less than eager to learn.

It seemed innocent and hardly offensive at the time…

Once the Hubs and I got hitched, I knew that had to change. We had to eat-period-and dining out wasn’t an option. (Payday was every other Friday, and a stop at McDonald’s was a big stretch on our minuscule budget). John’s mom, Mag was willing (even enthusiastic) to share her prowess in the kitchen. She was a fantastic cook and baker and I was better at retaining skills if the lesson was visual. So that’s the way she taught me. By standing side-by-side in her kitchen or mine. The only problem, Mag rarely measured ingredients. She just added a dash of this, a squirt of that, a small amount from the palm of her hand, a rounded spoonful, a titch or a pinch to most of her entrees and salads. Who needs those pesky measuring spoons anyway? So that’s how I learned. A few years ago, Erica my daughter-in-law asked for my potato salad recipe, I finally had to break down and make a big bowl with measuring cups and spoons handy. (After she made a large quantity for a potluck she lamented what a pain-in-the-ass it was and it would be long while before she offered to bring that stuff again). Hahaha.

And now some of my favorite comments
Haha…
This woman is hard to please…
Ok I’m done here…

Verbatim this is the comment I wrote: Miracle Whip, titch of yellow mustard, sugar, salt, pepper, potatoes, eggs, diced celery, radishes, sweet pickles, green onion. You’re welcome…

Live long and prosper…
Opposing views…

To which I added a picture of a bowl of my potato salad in my beautiful Blue Delft Bowl. Over the past several weeks there’s been 550 comments-about my comment. Holy sh—. Granted I answered almost half of those. Many were positive, heartfelt, grateful and nice. No one knocked my bowl. Duh. A few were downright unkind and most of those were written by guys. Sous-chef? Gourmet cook? Asswipe? I don’t know, but I never answered with a negative comment. Not once. (Although I did bless a few of their hearts).

He’s probably my age…
He didn’t think it was as funny as I did…
Graphic…
Hahaha…

The words in my comment causing the most discussion was MIRACLE WHIP and SUGAR, followed by hotly contested RADISHES and SWEET GHERKINS. (I mean who in their right mind would add such outlandish ingredients)? Only me I guess. Probably 50-50 on MW vs. Mayo. The Miracle Whip-ers were “yum,” “that’s my recipe,” “sounds good,” and “looks delicious “ while the Mayo enthusiasts were, “Hellman’s,” “Best Foods,” “never MW,” and a gif of Jim Carrey gagging (which makes me gag just to think of him-period).

That’s a long time…
Strong conviction…
Rather harsh…
Maybe a bit harsh back too…

But I learned a lot about the tastes we’ve grown accustomed to when talking about “their family’s recipe for the best potato salad in the world! And don’t you dare try anything different or change my mind.” Olives, bacon, orange juice, vinegar, green peppers, paprika, Bermuda onions, garlic powder, tomatoes, (my favorite food but not in potato salad) cucumbers, jalapeños, dill pickles. The list of people’s favorite ‘must include’ ingredients was lengthy. Others thought potatoes and eggs were enough and came down pretty hard on “too many crunchy things in there,” “or is this really just a dessert?”

Spelling lesson was well deserved…
Another teaching moment for Richard…

For a gal who avoids confrontation at all costs, it was an interesting few weeks. A couple times a day I’d read through the 40-50 new comments and answer a few, smiling, nodding or shaking my head in amazement thinking, it’s just a picture of the way I make my potato salad. Cool your jets. Be nice. Heaven help me should I actually ever write something controversial. Not in this lifetime…

A compliment and in my defense…