Tripping with Dale…

In 1969 we discreetly decided to elope. No one needed to know beforehand. (My folks, well my mom, had done her darnedest to break us up. Multiple times). There were a couple glitches we needed to figure out first. One was the dang newspaper in Sioux City. The Journal published all marriage licenses, making it impossible for us to get hitched at the Woodbury County courthouse because half of our home town 60 miles due south subscribed to that daily publication. Everyone would know by 7 am, after one person read our names. (Small town living). Luckily Sioux City bordered 2 other states, Nebraska and South Dakota so we could just get married in either one. But we needed to have 2 witnesses to sign our marriage license after the ceremony. We both had friends in Sioux City but really didn’t want anyone in on our little caper.

Dale at our party in Sioux City 1973…

A few months prior, John (Hubs to be) was working at the television station KTIV. Most of his coworkers worked the night shift so they were not available. A friend from Rock Valley had just graduated from college and landed his first teaching job in South Sioux City. Since he’d hadn’t gotten paid yet he was planning on living in his car for the first month because he was broke. John rented a larger apartment and offered to share it with Dale, and pay all the bills until his big paychecks started rolling in. Dale paid him back immediately which took about every penny he had just gotten for a month of teaching. Many days after I got out of work and meandered to their apartment to find Dale sitting on the front porch railing, barefoot, wearing cutoffs, strumming his guitar.

Beth his pixie bride…

We decided Dale was the most logical person to bring into the fold about our diabolical plan to wed under the cloak of secrecy before our parents found out. He said he’d be honored to stand up for us. Nothing fancy, 10 minutes, start to finish. Ok, one down, one to go. But who could we trust to not spill the beans until it was legal? Dale actually came up with a good idea. He knew another rookie teacher who would be happy to sign his John Henry on our legal document for a burger and a beer. Funny how those 2 guys came through as witnesses for our wedding ceremony (which is now working on anniversary number 52).

Dreams of great hunting dogs…

Hubs was instrumental into the way life turned out for Dale. They were having a beer together one night when John tapped a gal. Insulted she turned around and slugged Dale, thinking it had been him. One flirtatious thing led to another and not too long afterwards Dale and Beth got married.

It was the summer of 1971 and our new baby girl was 8 months old. We dropped Shannon off at my parents house and headed to Minnesota. Hubs and I had discovered a vacation hideaway that we were sharing with 2 other couples for the long weekend. It was Lake Shoakatan, a small lake and not many vacationers. We were joined John’s brother Arly and his new bride, Vicky and Dale and his new bride, Beth. It was kinda weird because I knew the guys much better than either of the girls. John’s brother Jimmy loaned us his boat which proved to be the fodder for jokes for years to come.

Shannon got spoiled at Mimi and Poppa’s house while we were at Lake Shoakatan…

First Arly (a Navy man) was in the boat but the rest of us were not. Hubs threw him a rope which Arly promptly let go of and started drifting away. (To his credit, he thought he could just start the motor and back up for us). But Hubs had not put gas in the tank yet, so he slogged out to retrieve his brother and the boat. Then plopped down in the shallow water with his legs wrapped around the bow while he filled the tank, spilling about half of it on his crotch. He yelped like a junior high school girl and sprung outta that water like a Jack-in-the-box, trying in vain to soothe his nether-regions, while the rest of us howled on the shore.

Dutch bombshell SIL Vicky and BIL Arly, 1973…

Once we were all safely aboard and seated our goal for the afternoon was for all 3 girls to ‘get up’ on skis. Beth got up immediately. When they swung the boat around to pick her up Dale was full of praise on how well she did. Then he said, “now I’m gonna teach you how to swim.” (Holy shit). Vicky had a bit more trouble getting her long, slim body up but after a couple of tries she did well too. I was up next. It took me several attempts but I was finally sailing through the water-upright. I screamed at John, “don’t turn the boat, don’t turn,” but he eventually ran out of lake and I swung out doing about a hundred, flipping head over heels and lowering the lake by a foot after swallowing half of it.

Card games ruled! Hubs, Doug, Bob, Dale and Helen’s head…

What a great afternoon. We were all bushed but proud of ourselves. I remember looking at Vic and Beth. Beth was dark and petite, Vicky, an all American Dutch girl, blonde, lithe and leggy. Then there’s me. Brown hair, pouchy tummy from my 8 month old, yet thinking, you know for having a kid, I don’t look too bad. My tummy wasn’t any bigger than either of the newlyweds. So there. (Found out a couple weeks later, both were in their second trimester. My fragile high self esteem promptly deflated). Hubs turned off the motor and tossed the anchor overboard so we could just enjoy the lake and sun. Unfortunately the anchor rope was not tied to the boat. Hubs stood up with this shocked look on his face and immediately dove in the water after the anchor. Haha, another reason for peals of laughter at poor Hubs expense. (We knew we had to replace the anchor before we brought the boat back. An expense we absolutely could not afford but had to be done).

Joshua covered with Minnesota chicken pox, 1980…

A couple years later Dale and Beth moved to Minnesota and Arly and Vic moved to Montana. Things always gotta keep changing. The weekend get togethers, card parties were a thing of the past. We tried so hard to move to Minnesota and came ever so close in 1980. Hubs applied for the engineering manager’s position at Artic Cat in Thief River Falls. We spent time at Dale and Beth’s before heading further north for the interview. Beth was kind enough to watch our kids for a couple days (by then we had 3, Shannon, Joshua and Adam, plus they had 2, Sarah and Beau). The interview went great and Hubs got the job with all sorts of great perks.

At 10, Shannon had the pox the worst…

By the time we stopped to pick up our brood, their 2 had full blown cases of chicken pox so we knew what awaited us after we got back to Spencer. They all got the pox during Christmas break, Shannon and Josh much worse that 1 year old Adam. The job however was not to be. The economy was the pits and Artic Cat was on the verge of bankruptcy. They stood by their job offer and moving us but we thought it would be harder job hunting from the near Winnipeg than from Spencer, Iowa, so we turned the job down.

Bets got easier with a drink or 2…

A few years ago we were invited to Dale and Beth’s home again. They were still living on the farm but had recently bought a cabin on Otter Tail Lake, not very far away, so we spent most of our visit at the lake. Pontoon boat rides, eating out and one of the fanciest homemade meals I’ve ever had. Fried walleye. For breakfast. I kid you not. One of the cutest details I remember about the cabin was Beth’s window coverings made out of birch branches.

Winter of 2017, having margaritas with Dale and Beth, Les and Mary Jane taking our pic…

While we were there we convinced them they needed to come to Michigan because we were 8 hours from Niagara Falls. (Neither had ever been there). A couple years later they drove to our house, rested up for a spell and off we went. We drove on the American side because Dale had never been to Cleveland. He wasn’t that impressed although driving around the city, we went right past the Indian’s baseball stadium at night while they were playing a game which looked kinda cool. They were awestruck (who isn’t) with Niagara and we enjoyed the biggest bucket of Buffalo wings the Anchor Bar offered.

Dale…

During our lifelong friendships, this is a sample of the good times we shared with these amazing friends of ours. Last week, after opening the cabin for the season Dale was enjoying another sunset over Otter Tail when he suffered a fatal heart attack. From that laughable weekend in 1971 as 3 fairly newlywed couples just trying to figure out marriage and parenthood, three of our 6 are gone. My whole life I’ve heard older people complain that all their friends are dying. I can’t tell you how hard these constant deaths of my friends have hit me lately. Arly, Vicky and Dale. You are loved and missed more than you know…

Hits or Mrs…

I’ve never thought of myself as a women’s libber. I was never tempted to join a march or rally since the last time I was a drummer in my high school marching band. (Go Rockets) It was my choice to be a stay-at-home mom and not join the workforce until much later. It’s never been a goal of mine to be on a stage or in front of a microphone for any reason. Ever. That’s just not me. Definitely not a leader, but I don’t always follow very well either, and certainly not remembered or known for playing well with others. I am mostly content in my tiny group of one.

Yes I’m married but have never been a Mrs…

I read an obituary in a newspaper recently, which reminded me of my mom. Not the obit but the way it was titled. Something like Mrs. Bill Smith. What is it about the title Mrs. that bugs the ever lovin snot out of me? I don’t know but it always has.

I remember mom writing checks when I was a kid. Back in my hometown she didn’t have her own checkbook. My parents paid cash for most things so she never carried a purse (how could she survive? Really? She carried keys, a pack of spearmint gum and her wallet. If she was heading out of town to shop, a tube of lipstick. She preferred blouses and slacks with pockets or topped with a shirt jacket to hold her stuff I guess, otherwise how could she manage without at least a small clutch? But if she wanted to write a check in Rock Valley, she’d just ask the clerk who magically produced a blank check bearing the name of Valley State Bank. The checks from the store were not individually numbered, yet somehow mom kept track of that running balance total of their joint checking account in her head. I never recall them arguing about a bank overdraft. She would have been mortified. I think she just kept more in their account than she ever planned on spending.

Aunt Lena, Mom (in a shirt jac/with pockets) and her twin brother Floyd 1980’s…

When I was in school I watched mom sign the few checks she wrote out like this: Mrs. Richard Gerritson. That just seemed wrong. So wrong. Her name was Florence. Why would she write my dad’s first and last name on a check she was signing? Like she was more of a secretary or less of a partner by signing for my dad. I used to tease her about the signature (but it really rubbed me the wrong way). I think it was just the way married women of that era (mom and dad got married in 1942) signed their name. But it wasn’t her name. Why would she do that?

By the time I got married in 1969, I’d decided I would never write Mrs. before my name. Thought I did ‘good’ by taking his last name, I certainly wasn’t taking his first. My name is Denise (though I’ve been called many other colorful monikers, not all of them kind). Please don’t add anything before my given name. Not Ms., Miss or Mrs. Just plain Denise. Or Duh. Better yet, Neese.

Mom and me, late 1970’s…

About the same time I was taking such a firm stand on my own self-salutations, there was a gal (gal is probably insulting to her, sorry) who was taking on a much bigger platform on women’s issues. Her name was Gloria Steinem. I didn’t pay much attention to her (remember I’m not a marcher or joiner). Hubs and I were newlyweds, broke but happy. We were starting a family. But mom was suddenly taking a bigger interest in what was going on in the women’s movement.

Sometime during the mid-70’s mom dropped the Mrs. Richard on her check signature. She simply signed them Mrs. Florence Gerritson. But this was merely the first baby step in her evolution. There might have been a bit of defiance on her part or maybe just trying to be more independent. But I think her minor assertiveness that was brewing was mostly to honor her paternal grandparents who raised her since she was 2 weeks old when her mom died. She adored both of them. (Mom married in her mid-teens, so maybe she just didn’t get to use that maiden name of hers long enough).

Grandma Jantje, grandpa Guert, Florence & Floyd, 1930…

We come from a long line of Dutch folks with lengthy last names. Many Dutch names have 2 words like my married name, Van Berkum. Neither mom’s maiden or married name had 2 words like mine but both names had double letters in them at least once. (Another quirky thing about the Dutch language, double letters appear frequently).

The line on a check blank where you scrawl your ‘John Henry’ is not quite 3 inches long, because many of us have longer, more complicated signatures than Jo Diaz. Mom gave her name and signature a lot of thought over the years. She finally chose to use her full, baptized name plus her married name when signing a check during the last couple decades of her life. That’s 32 letters plus 3 spaces. She filled up the allotted 2-3/4 inch line, then finished with a flourish on the invisible line beneath with almost as many letters on the second line as the first.

Florence Elaine Wanningen Gerritson. What a hoot!

Several years before she passed away mom was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. After a few chemo treatments she suffered a stroke which affected one whole side. She was unable to walk alone or sign her name because she was right handed. Dad had a suggestion. He often used ink stamps when he bought Bibles or tracks to pass out to the masses. If someone found one of his Bible’s he’d left (on purpose) somewhere, dad wanted to be available for them if they needed an extra nudge/encouragement before giving their life to Christ, so he added his name, address and phone number in the front or back. Simple and easy to use, the ink stamp sat in its own puddle (inkwell). He just grabbed the small handle and ‘stamp’ his name, sometimes with a small biblical quote like, “He Lives, or Jesus Saves.”

Wish I had a pic of mom’s signature but this is her handwriting…

That’s exactly what mom did. She chose one of her cursive, ‘paragraph long’ signatures from a used check as her template when she still had beautiful penmanship. The stamp still took up 2 lines like before, long, tiny and neat. But this was a hit. No more Mrs…

Hopper’s Rhubarb…

The Hubs sauntered in after feeding the birds and squirrels with a question, “when do I need to set out the hummingbird and Oriole feeders?” “First of May is when they arrive,” I replied. I was already gearing up and bought the 2 biggest jars of grape jelly Meijer had last week. (No I don’t feed them my homemade grape jelly, it’s too much work to make it and I don’t want to spoil the Orioles by giving them the good stuff). “Oh, by the way,” he continued, “your rhubarb is up if you want to pick some.”

Small spring stalks of raw, heavily salted rhubarb. Yum…

Memories flooded through me, and my mouth started watering (in the best way). I won’t say something crazy like I’ve had this obsession with rhubarb since I was born. Pretty clear I was about 6 when my lifelong devotion to this super/sour fruit began (I think it’s really a vegetable, but that doesn’t seem right). It was after we moved to 15th Street in 1955. I was almost 5. Our family of 5 moved into one of the oldest houses in town. My dad started remodeling and never stopped until he sold the place in 2005. Our lot wasn’t particularly wide (like most city lots except Rock Valley wasn’t a city, maybe 1,500 souls of mostly Dutch descent), but the backyard was deep. And it was all ours until you hit the alley that divided us from the backyards of the houses facing north on 16th street.

Me in front of our house, late 50’s…

At the back of our lot was a huge double garage with a dirt floor that bordered the alley. Dad kept all kinds of tools and building supplies on a workbench that ran almost the width of the garage. He wasn’t super neat but always seem to know exactly where everything was when he needed it. In the northwest corner of our yard was a patch of rhubarb half the size of dad’s big garage. And it was then I discovered my love for this strange plant. (Ha, I do eat plant based foods).

In front of the garage, Mona, me, Spitzy and Larry in 1958…

Mom warned me, “The leaves are poisonous. If you want to eat rhubarb, bring the stalks in the house and I’ll cut off the tops, bottoms and peel it.” (as if I could eat just one-haha) “After the outside is peeled, the rhubarb is kind of wet. Your uncle Floyd and I ate rhubarb when we were little. Grandma Jantje (yon-chee) would give us a small dish with a bit of sugar in it. We’d dip the rhubarb in the sugar before we took a bite. Want to try some?” “Sure,” I said with my mouth full of drool. It smelled so good.

Never forgot Mom’s warning about rhubarb leaves…

A new business had recently opened in Rock Valley. It was called a drive-in. You drove to the place, parked in the lot but didn’t get out of your car. The menu was printed on the side of the building. Usually a high school girl walked up to your car to take your order. She’d walk up to the window, hand the order to the cooks and a few minutes later she’d bring a heaping tray of food which she’d latch onto your partially lowered window. Dad would glance at the sandwiches and pass out the food. It was such a neat, new concept. Boiling ‘Hot August Nights’ (thanks Neil) and mom wouldn’t have to make our non-air-conditioned house any hotter. We’d just head over to the drive-in for supper. Or a dessert of soft serve ice cream after supper when we went for a ride to cool off.

This was an inspiration in our kid-friendly packed neighborhood. Let’s play ‘drive-in.’ We had a perfect spot in our backyard. Dad built a neat playhouse before we moved, complete with windows, door, even a chimney, which he loaded on a flatbed and moved to our new house. Our busy drive-in had the obligatory 3-C’s. Customers, cooks and carhops. A real pretend thriving business.

Lin, me, Larry & Doug. The rhubarb patch was behind our playhouse…

After learning how to trim rhubarb it became part of my daily diet all summer long, though not as good in July as in spring. The stalks get bigger and tougher. But over time there was a transformation in the way I ate rhubarb. I’m not sure how this particular change took place. Since we moved we had a lot of kids on our block. It might have been one of the Schmidt’s, Van Oort’s, Hamann’s or Beumer kids, or possibly my sibs Mona or Larry. However it came to be I’m not quite sure, but I stopped eating rhubarb with sugar.

Twins Floyd and my Mom looking for rhubarb around 1933…

It tasted so much better doused in salt. (For the record I’m not a salt eater, never have been. Don’t sprinkle it on baked potatoes, sweet corn or watermelon. However, rhubarb and French fries are my salt-free exceptions). We’d trim, peel and cut the rhubarb into bite size pieces. Grab a melmac bowl from mom’s cupboard, dump in the rhubarb, add some cold water and lots of salt. Let that marinate. Whatever you ordered at our state of the art drive-in, hot fudge sundae, hamburger and fries, chocolate milkshake, what came on your tray was a small bowl of dripping wet, salt infused, delicious rhubarb, sprinkled with more salt than you could shake a stick at. This is how we spent many days for a couple of our summers in the 1950’s.

After the Hubs and I eloped we moved frequently the first few years, but I don’t think we ever lived where we didn’t have a nice patch of rhubarb for me to munch on from April through mid summer. As I (slowly) learned to cook and bake, Rhubarb cake was one of my first recipes to become a favorite. When I couldn’t keep pace just eating fresh rhubarb with an especially large crop, I’d freeze bags of 4 cups of diced rhubarb so I could make the cake or a new recipe for bars during the winter.

A lovely couple, Ed & Phyl Hopper were on my list to visit a couple times a month for several years when I was parish visitor. One day they were laughing as I was reminiscing about my love for fresh rhubarb as a kid. Phyl piped up, “we’ve always enjoyed rhubarb sauce. I used to make it all the time when the kids were home. I’m surprised you don’t make it since you’re such a rhubarb fan.” Told her I’d never heard of cooking rhubarb to make a sauce (wouldn’t it have to have a lot of sugar)? The next time they were on my visiting list I brought them a package of diced rhubarb from my freezer. Dang, you’d thought I’d catered them a 5 course meal! Plus she still had to cook it. Four cups of rhubarb. Frozen. Who knew how happy that could make someone? From then on I brought along a package of rhubarb, it was no big deal.

Ed and Phyl Hopper about 15 years ago…

Ed and Phyl ended up moving a hundred miles east to the Lansing area to be near their daughter as they grew more frail. When I drove to Jackson to visit my kids, Ed & Phyl’s assisted living place was 10 miles out of the way, so I often stopped to see them. They were taking most their meals in the dining room instead of cooking, so I never brought them rhubarb again which always made me feel bad. I should have learned how to make sauce and brought some for them, but I never did, just grabbed some cookies or sweet breads out of the freezer.

Sometimes it’s ok to stand out! (How did that tulip get in my pachysandra)?

I’m constantly thankful for the amazing/mundane moments I remember and forever grateful for my super sized storage bin which resides from my nose northward. While much of the space is taken up with useless dribble, the silly, heartfelt, poignant, painful, tear producing life events remain vitally important to me. Many have been there over 6 decades, others like the Hopper’s only a decade or 2. (While what I ate for lunch yesterday is forever gone. Meh, I’ve still got the pertinent stuff). You might want to heed this advice. I’m not suggesting you need to blog, but I’m strongly encouraging you to write your story down. Buy a cheap notebook, jot down memories you had when you were young or something significant that happened last month. The special times way back with your grandparents, classmates, kids, friends, spouse and parents. The not-so-great days when all you could muster was a shower and clean clothes. Start documenting the days of your lives. For when we can no longer remember…

Snookered…

Mom started an ongoing, amazing project with my kids when they were very small. Her first priority was only inviting one kid at a time to stay with her and Dad. That way, my one-of-three was the center of attention while they were in Rock Valley. She was convinced each were the brightest toddlers in the universe (which is a pretty standard behavior and belief of most grandparents). How they became so gifted with such superior intellect was never questioned. She knew from my report cards I was not cut from the same cloth as those individuals belonging to Mensa International.

Aww, the white high tops, the bell bottoms and a mutual admiration society, Shannon and Mimi, 1972…

Mom kept most everything, the most-organized-neatest-bordering-hoarder known to mankind. Worksheets from school, articles with my name in the school newspaper or The Bee, the dress I attempted to sew in Home Ec (the reality was actually 90% machined stitched by my teacher, Miss Weiner. Thanks for the help and passing me that year). Which is why it’s puzzling after Mom passed away in 2004 there were a few items I was expecting to see again but never found. One was a red wool jacket from Tijuana she bought me when we went to California in 1960. It had hand stitched appliqués and beadwork and fit this 9 year old for a couple years. After I outgrew it I never saw it again so assume she gave it to someone, which was not like her at all. With sentimental things, she was a saver-not a giver-awayer.

The other perplexing thing which disappeared could fill a 3 ring binder. Twice. She got on this kick when Shannon, our first born was about 16 months and started verbalizing, using the vocabulary of gifted kindergartners. (She was advanced for her age. Guess parents think the same as most grandparents right)? Mom started filling a notebook titled, “Conversations with Shannon.” Brilliant, hilarious, quote worthy quips from their littles (which moms and dads should write down but are too busy, frazzled or tired). But this is the kind of stuff mom, ‘Mimi’ to my kids had been waiting for her whole life.

Joshua, Mimi and Shannon, mid 70’s. Mom memorizing their conversations.. .

But when Dad, Mona and I cleaned out their house neither the Mexican jacket or Mom’s conversations with my kids were found. Hard to believe, she must have thrown them out. Or I missed finding them. She had some clever hiding places but these reams of paper would not be something she would have hidden. More likely sitting in a knitting basket next to her chair so she could peruse them over and over while laughing/crying about their content and the sweet memories they invoked. Whatever the reason, I did not find them.

A couple weeks ago my granddaughter Ariana asked if I could pick up her and my 4 year old great-granddaughter Jovi after they dropped her car off to be detailed (real meaning, shoveled, shampooed, hosed, vacuumed and have 3 layers of dirt and dust scraped from the dash and windshield). As adorable as those 2 are, both have issues keeping a car tidy, so they were letting someone else do the dirty job. Where’s Mike Rowe when you need him? I zoomed right past the place, had to turn around, waiting 2 minutes to drive 100 feet before hitting the right entrance.

Ariana and Jovi, 2020…

Ari lugged Jovi’s car seat (which needed a thorough scrubbing as bad as the car, but even a guy testing the waters of new business has his limits) to my car. Mommy snaked her way around my backseat, securing Jovi in her car seat and plops a small backpack on the floor and goes back to talk to the detailer (now on a backhoe). Jovi gives me a 100 watt smile and says, “hi grandma, you found us. Where’s grandpa?” (Guess we are forever known as a twosome, joined at the hip). “He’s waiting for us to come and have supper at our house.” “Ok,” she says dubiously, further confirming we obviously always need to be in the same place at the same time.

She leans over as far as her car seat belt allows and snags one strap of her backpack. “Do you have any snackies for me?” “Ah no, supper is ready and we don’t want to ruin your appetite. We’re gonna eat as soon as we get to our house.” “Can we check the magic drawer first?” She pronounces it do-war. (This tradition started a couple years ago when I had been on a trip and brought her back a t-shirt. I didn’t think she’d be very excited getting clothes so I added some M &M’s and a couple of circus peanuts to a snack bag on top of the t-shirt in a drawer of my dresser) “Sure but if there’s anything in the drawer you have to wait until we have supper and then ask mommy first, ok?”

Silk dyeing Easter eggs with Jovi, 2021…

Jovi unzips her backpack, grabs a small notepad and a miniature magic marker. (My jeep, yikes). Just then Ari slides in the front seat and says, “I don’t know if it’s a good idea to write or draw in grandma’s car Jovi. Can you wait until we get to grandma’s house?” “No, I’ll be careful. Will you take the lid off my marker please?” (Who can say no when she’s so polite, right)?

It’s only 3 miles to our house. About half way there, Miss quiet-as-a-mouse pipes up with, “I’m done with your letter grandma. Here, take it.” “Thanks so much Jovi, I didn’t know you were writing me a letter. But I’m driving and can’t look at it right now.” One minute later we’re at a stop sign, so Ari and I glance at the note that’s resting in my drink holder. Mommy quietly pointed out a logical sequence of letters (when you’re 4) to me. With a little squinting you could see what she was trying to convey.

O V I top line, J I middle, H O H, maybe Jovi, Hi-Ho? Close enough…

“Wow Jovi, this looks awesome, especially since I was driving on a bumpy road. You’re getting so good at writing your letters. I’m proud of you.”

“Thanks grandma. Read the letter to me.” A ‘gotcha moment’! Well played Jovi. My mini-Mensa snookered her grandma. I should have started documenting these snippets of conversations with my grands and great-grands years ago. While there should be a hundred conversations in a notebook by now, this is one of the few that’s written down. But this cute one just popped into my head from about 7 years ago.

Our grandson Graham was about 4 and spending the day at our house. We were making cookies for him to take home. I kept a large bag of assorted chips in the cupboard, milk chocolate, semi-sweet, white chocolate, mini morsels, butterscotch chips. When I opened the bag so Graham could pick what kind of chips he wanted in his cookies he said, “how come you have so many bags of chocolate chips?” “Hmmm, I like to keep a variety so when I decide to make something that calls for chips, I already that kind in the house. I really don’t like to run out of stuff.” His eyes were as big as saucers, he lowered his voice, glanced around and conspiratorially whispered, “does grandpa know how many chocolate chips you have in the house?”

Graham, animal lover and keeping an eye on my grocery supplies…

During the grind of every day life, oftentimes it’s the little things that count. We need to pay attention to those. And remember them…

The Rewards Program…

Michelle, one of my Facebook friends (I helped care for her son Nick when he was a baby in FCC’s daycare) posted a picture with both of her boys (Gabe & Nick) the other day. They were creating new ‘family moments’ and having the best time in their new hot tub. That one picture flooded me with warm, watery memories which started 35 years ago.

We were living in Davenport (1981-1986) and had some good friends named Mike and Paula. Mike sold tools to John at JI Case. We were pretty close in age but we’d been married longer and our kids were older. Their oldest son was about the same age as our youngest. We had supper at each other’s house and Paula was nearly as addicted to sunbathing as I was. On beautiful summer days I’d call in a lunch order at Yen Ching’s, ($3.35 for Mongolian Beef with an egg roll-Paula always got some chicken dish) load Adam in the car (Josh and Shannon were old enough to be left alone for a couple hours), pick up the food and head to Paula’s. The rugrats would lunch on PBJ, or Mac and cheese (not Chinese, you think we were made outta money)? Jenny still took naps but Adam and Mikey would play outside while the 2 sun goddesses devoured our Chinese food and soaked up some serious vitamin D. Paula was petite, dark and very cute. We were good friends although I was a bit intimidated by her. No grown woman should be that adorable.

Laying in the sun with a good who-done-it, 1984…

It was more fun to go to their house at night as a family, especially during the long, relentless, miserable winters in Iowa. They had a new hot tub, plus VCR’s (although I think Mike decided Beta Max was going to sink the VCR) had just been introduced so we could rent a movie for the kids, while the grownups enjoyed the hot tub. Temperatures would be hovering below freezing (sometimes below zero) when we donned swimming suits and stocking caps, tossed our robes onto frozen chairs and slunk into 102 degree water. Never failed, after a half hour Mike and Hubs would be too hot and full of piss and vinegar (ok, beer). They’d hop out of the tub, all white with red splotchy skin and run for the nearest snow pile and dive in. All of a sudden there’s 2 abominable snowmen squealing like pre-pubescent girls, racing their way back to the tub without slipping or freezing to the patio. Crazy goofballs.

Our brother-in-law Dewey visiting from Iowa, enjoying hot water and a cold drink…

We really missed Mike and Paula when we moved to Michigan in early ‘87, (ironically to the town where Paula was born and grew up). We saw them a couple times when they were visiting relatives but basically lost touch for a couple decades. Why do I let that happen? I should have tried harder to keep a connection with them. (And a lot of other friends too).

I’ve talked about this before but it’s pertinent to the story. So in 1990 the Hubs and I did something astonishing. On May 5th of that year we both stopped smoking-cold turkey. Whoo-ee, tough days for awhile. Months of unrest and uncivilized behavior, but eventually he got over it. Haha, I might have had a few issues too. But for the first time in our married life we were non-smokers. (Our kids thanked us profusely).

Hubs and I heading to the hot tub, 1992…

Back in the ‘90’s we weren’t much for traveling. All of our vacation time was spent going back to Iowa. John’s dad had passed away but his mom and my folks were there, all of our siblings and most of our nieces and nephews. Yet we wanted to acknowledge that quitting this ugly, smelling, disgusting, costly, unhealthy habit, should deserve some special recognition.

Josh and Adam used the hot tub the most…

By the time we decided to quit, Hubs was burning through 2 packs a day plus a pack for me. I think a carton was about 11 bucks, but Hubs never bought his smokes that way (and I refused to use my grocery money to buy his). He’d stop at this drive-thru gas station/party store and order 2 packs on his way to work (which cost significantly more buying by the carton. We were easily wasting a couple grand a year (which we could ill afford). I was anal about not running out of cigarettes, but that didn’t bother him. He just run to Buff’s Party store a mile down the road at 9 at night. He’d rarely ask to bum a cigarette from me. He wasn’t fussy about what he smoked, if they were out of Marlboro’s he’d just get a pack of Winston. On the other hand, if a store was out of Tareyton’s, I’d go to another store. He hated Tareyton’s, said they were as dry as a popcorn fart. Whatever. Didn’t want to share with him anyway.

Those were the days, younger, skinnier enjoying the hot tub in 1991…

A few months later we decided a hot tub was a great way to celebrate our momentous achievement to be enjoyed by the whole family. We searched long and hard for the perfect hot tub. Size and price mattered. The business we were dealing with in Brooklyn invited our family to come after they closed one night to try out tubs until we found the ONE. Hubs had already poured a large new patio and added a couple sections of privacy fence because our backyard was highly visible.

Josh and Adam during a ‘heated’ card game, 1991…

We all loved the hot tub. Joshua invited his high school friends over (mostly girls) after football and basketball games. Invariably the next morning John would lift the cover only to discover the scummy remnants of makeup, lotion and hair products from the teens. John asked the girls to rinse off before they got in. It was a lot of work to empty, clean, fill and heat it back up. We had recently acquired some new-fangled technology and were quite enamored with it. A cordless phone. Sure enough, a few weeks later John was hunting for the phone and found it on the bottom of the hot tub. Argh, kids. Shannon had Ariana and was attending MSU full time but still found opportunities to come home (30 miles) and play with Ari in the hot tub. But no one enjoyed the hot tub more than Adam.

Shannon, Ariana and probably Adam’s head, hot tubbing in ‘92…

He was 10 and assumed it was his personal swimming hole. While I thought the best outside temperature to use the hot tub was around freezing, Adam used it daily-year round. In the summer we’d just turn the heater off. He’d snorkel, dive under to save Ninja turtles, Star Wars action figures or see how long he could hold his breath. We bought a floating table, spill proof, double insulated cups. He could always find ways to stay amused in the hot tub. When he was sick of playing alone, he’d talk Josh into playing games with their plastic coated deck of cards. They spent hours in that tub.

Looks like Josh got the best of this hand, 1992…

The hot tub proved to be a fabulous reward for the whole family. We were in a quandary in 1994 when we were moving 150 miles west. We were buying a house on a lake near Lake Michigan. The house was fairly new and had a small deck off the back. But the back of the house faced the lake and we didn’t want our view blocked by a hot tub. By this time Josh was in college, Shannon was earning her Master’s degree and Adam was beginning 10th grade. So we sold it before we left Jackson. But the years of hot tubbing with the kids remains high on our list of great memories…

Tuesday’s purge…

I do some odd things on the second day of seven. Every week. It’s a sort of a cleansing, and I start thinking/anticipating about it on Monday. It’s a ritual. This week’s Tuesday started out when I noticed 2 jars of Parmesan cheese in the fridge. That shit drives me nuts. Not the cheese, but having duplicates in the fridge opened at the same time. I blame the Hubs because of a serious affliction he’s had during our married life. He cannot ‘spot/find’ anything in the fridge ranging in size from a gallon of milk to one lone jalapeño in its own zip lock bag in the veggie drawer. If he can’t find what he’s looking for in 1.2 seconds, it’s definitely not there and we need a new jar/container of whatever. Sigh. I combined the 2 jars and felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Ah, neater and more space. (It’s the little things in life folks).

You really didn’t want a picture of my trash now did ‘ya?

I thought the empty Parmesan jar might be good for something besides the garbage so I tossed it in a sink of hot, soapy water. Twenty minutes later, sweat poring off my forehead, the ‘stickum’ had not disintegrated from where the label was attached with 8 dollars worth of gorilla glue. I could have bought a set of 6 glass jars with 18 interchangeable lids in less time (and work). Why do I fart around endlessly with stuff like this? My bottle of Goo-Gone was gasping and pushing more air than goo spray so I gotta add that on my grocery list. Better yet, check under the sink first to see if I’ve already purchased a spare. Yup, brand new bottle. Combined those 2 bottles with one teaspoon leftover-which I couldn’t throw away. Argh. Dumped it in a throw away foil cake pan and nestled in the Parmesan jar to rid itself of its sticky residue sometime during my lifetime. I hope. It’s sitting on my counter which is looking cluttered, just what I’m trying to avoid on purge Tuesday.

Noticed when checking the nether regions beneath my sink, I spotted twin bottles of Easy Off window cleaner. One with 2 T. left, the other dang near full. Tried my best to combine them, alas the full one would only hold one of those 2 tablespoons. You know it, couldn’t throw that minuscule amount away either, so I ran around the house like a deranged cleaning woman, washing all the glass on every antique curved glass china closet, bookcase and secretary in the house. By then the bottle had to be pointed heavenward so the tube could suck up that last drop. It’s not that my antiques didn’t need the (Jovi) fingerprints, dust and grease removed. It’s just that an hour ago the simple act of spotting an extra Parmesan container, or the Easy-Off squirt bottles ends up making more work than either were worth. And yet I can’t stop myself.

Look at that sparkly glass…

I’m not against throwing stuff out. I throw junk away ALL THE TIME. That’s why it’s called my Tuesday purge. Tuesday is garbage day at our little house and I’m forever trying to find ways to make our itty-bitty space appear bigger and neater. I’d say I go through the fridge with a fine tooth comb, but just talking about my fridge and a hair comb in the same sentence makes me gag. But I am pretty thorough. Leftovers are particularly susceptible on Tuesday’s. My mind walks backwards trying to determine exactly what night we had that delectable supper. If I reach day number 4, it goes in the garbage.

The way we ‘roll.’

On Tuesday I want a fresh roll of toilet paper hanging (underneath, what’s wrong with you people)? Any sliver of bar soap, liquid soap, shampoo dispenser or toothpaste tube looking as flat as me goes in the garbage. Kleenex boxes that lift up when you try to pull out the next tissue is emptied and dumped. Any leftover Kleenex are stored neatly on top of new box. Newspaper ads, TV guide with listings until Sunday just might make the dumpster 5 days early. I got those programs memorized. “John, please eat that lone banana. Why not have it with the last serving of Raisin Bran and douse it with a good helping of 2% or I gotta make rice pudding with the leftover milk. Don’t want to waste the milk but the jug’s going in the garbage today.” You can see how this has become problematic right?

This was on Tuesday. Couldn’t throw it out because it had 4 more squirts left…

Hubs has his own chores on Tuesday’s. He brings the dumpster down to the end of the driveway. Our garbage service comes quite late in the day and I don’t want John hauling it down there too early because-something else might turn up ‘pritnear empty’ like the Bath & Bodyworks foam soap dispenser. If we each use the facilities and wash our hands a couple more times before 2 that sucker’s gone! I need to utilize every penny’s worth of my $27.10 garbage bill each month.

My bag of used bags. Is this a Dutch thing?

John’s duties include emptying every small trash bin from various rooms in the house and replacing with brand new, repurposed Meijer bags. If you don’t have a storage bag filled with bags for your little garbage receptacles, we are not in the same economical class/social circle. There might be a room or 2 that’s only yielded an errant fallen leaf from a plant or some ploujes (Dutch word pronounced plue-she’s) which are pieces of lint/fuzzy from socks picked off the carpet. These are not exempt from the Purge. Hubs empties them into another, fuller Meijer bag (yes we conserve) so we’ve got 7 more days before we see how full we can get those slackers. (Hubs thinks I manufacture garbage. I think I’ve just got an eagle eye and can spot a bit of trash much easier that he’s able. Yes, it’s a gift).

Enough ‘trash talking.’ How about ending this with a cute pic of Jovi?

Some weeks there’s not much in our garbage on Tuesday, other weeks, if I’ve been canning or on a ‘baking spree,’ (that’s what Mom used to call it) Hubs would be hard pressed to fit in another toothpick before he hears the Emmons truck rumbling down the street. He’s not one to leave our dumpster down by the road, so hauls it back to our convenient spot by the back door. For a couple days there’s not a lot to be thrown out (we’re only on day 2 from leftover suppers and I’m pretty good about snagging those dishes for my next day’s lunch, but it won’t be long before I’m giving the eagle eye around the house, gearing up for next Tuesday’s purge…

Within the sounds of silence…

Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again.

Because a vision softly creeping, left its seed while I was sleeping.

And the vision that was planted in my brain, still remains,

Within the sounds of silence… Paul Simon

The best duo…

One of my favorite Simon & Garfunkel songs since it came out in the mid-60’s. At my age however I view the lyrics much differently than I did going through my teenage angst years.

Life in the mid-60’s…

During my late 40’s I faced my first real health issue, although in seriousness, it was barely a blip on the radar screen. My overall health was excellent, Hubs was starting a new business, and our last kid was in college. Finally. (When you space each of your children 4-1/2 years apart, having ‘one’ in college literally lasts forever. Still, better for me than having them a year apart and going stark raving mad).

A small crisis started taking shape around 1998 in the life of this busy 40-something, wife, mom, grandma and Parish Visitor. I began to lose my ability to hear. While this was troubling, I was unsure of how far the domino effect of my deafness would affect the rest of my life. Without a doubt, every facet. I didn’t recognize these changing nuances at the time, only in my rear view, years later.

Upon its inception, the loss of hearing was minor. Confined only to my left ear for a couple years until my right ear concluded it was a competition and tried to out-deaf my left. Sibling rivalry at its finest.

Life as a grandma with Ariana in the Black Hills…

1. I had no real fear of darkness but suddenly I didn’t like the dark. As if I couldn’t hear in the dark, it somehow affected my sight. Crazy. Soon the house took on the appearance of a major airport runway. Strategically placed night lights gave me a better sense of security when I moved about.

2. I stopped blasting the radio when I was in the car. It was no longer carefree fun to sing to the oldies. I had to have it quiet so I could determine where outside noises were coming from like fire trucks and ambulances. I could hear sirens-but didn’t know what direction the sound was coming from-ahead or behind me until I spotted them.

3. Phone calls became annoying after being a favorite pastime. I missed a great deal of conversations and my usual response was, “what?” Luckily cell phones were making great strides with text messages, which has been a lifeline for me.

Spent a lot of hours on the phone before going deaf…

4. I didn’t ‘lose’ my sense of humor, just my ability to ‘use’ my sense of humor. I always had a quick wit (sometimes even clever) with a humorous, sarcastic, self-deprecating way with words. Now if I was with more than 2 people, I couldn’t keep up with conversations. I’d still be processing what was said 90 seconds ago, thus missing an opportunity to say ‘anything snarky.’ I can’t tell you how much I miss that. I really do. You lose a lot trying to add to a joke 2 minutes late. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But the biggest challenges/changes were just beginning. First I was diagnosed with Meniere’s, which sometimes accompanies a hearing loss. The minuscule inner ear ‘hair cells’ (affected by sounds flying past) were lying flat as a pancake when they should have been standing at attention and swaying in the breeze of sounds. Meniere’s causes fluctuation in the fluid of my inner ear which affects my balance. I get dizzy if I look up or down, don’t feel safe climbing higher than one step on a ladder. Any sudden/jerky movements of my head or laying down with my head flat makes me dizzy and nauseous.

You’ll never see me lying flat (or without a flannel shirt)…

Ever so slowly, (probably 3-5 years) with the stealth of a starving panther, my head started producing noise which goes against the very definition of DEAFNESS. When someone’s deaf, their world should be silent. My head was filled with annoying, obnoxious sounds-all the time. Wind tunnel, dentist drill, chain saw, aircraft carrier, the snowy sound of TV station after it went off the air, live electrical wires pinging off the pavement. The more hearing impaired I became, the louder the noises. My hearing specialist said it’s my brain’s way of substituting for the sounds it no longer hears, so it makes sounds up in their place. Believe me, it’s the only time in my life my brain has ever worked overtime. I begged the doctor for surgery to cut every nerve causing this incessant noise. I literally begged. Can’t be done.

Honest to God, it’s enough to drive one mad. That’s the gospel truth.

I became fairly proficient in blocking out the noise-during the day while I’m busy, working, cooking, chores, shopping. But late at night, my life becomes almost unbearable. Sleep is elusive. For a spell, the white noise from a fan helped. Now I can’t hear the fan, but Hubs has become so ingrained with that particular noise, he can’t sleep without it. Oh the irony.

My hearing loss was just beginning, North Muskegon, 2000…

It’s late, I’m tired and in bed. Thank God for my day, pray for my family and friends. Gave Him a quick heads up that I’m grateful it’s my ears affected and not my eyes. The house is quiet and dark (well except for the 20 strategically placed night lights, but none in the bedroom). The 747 in my head has not received the green light to land from the tower and has enough fuel to circle the airport (my head) all night. When I listen, really listen to the noise between my ears, I’m amazed I haven’t gone off the deep end. How can anyone live with this constant racket? It’s impossible. I’m depressed and isolated. The less I hear, the smaller my world becomes. I’m positive I can’t understand the words spoken to me because there’s so much interfering noise in my head. It now supersedes any loss of hearing. No doctor can convince me otherwise.

Sounds of silence. What I wouldn’t give if this were true for me. Almost anything.

The reason my whacked out head issues have been on my mind of late is because of a guy who made the news. A CEO of a chain of restaurants (he founded) that the Hubs and I frequent. This successful guy came down with COVID a few months ago. Since his recovery he’s encountered some debilitating side affects from COVID. The worst being tinnitus. Noises in his ears/head are so loud and distracting he thought he’d go crazy. (Inappropriate for me to say, “Dude, I hear ‘ya,” because I can’t, but I sympathize and know what he was going through). But not exactly. The difference is the way we came to be in the same boat, so to speak.

Coping with a slew of side effects from COVID proved life-threatening…

My profound hearing loss/Meniere’s/tinnitus has been a long, miserable journey, culminating in 2 decades-so far. Kent Taylor didn’t get that slow, subtle introduction. No pokey decline in his hearing, with little blips of distracting noises that increased over the years. I don’t know how long it took for his full, 130 decibels of mind blowing, gut wrenching noise that never lets up, but it hasn’t been a year since he had the virus. His head full of wretched noise was more of a wham/bam/thank you/ma’am/in your face.

This is the business Kent founded…

If that ‘full frontal assault’ had been the case with me, constant, unbearable noise you cannot fathom that no one else can hear, I can say without hesitation, I too would have taken my own life. Absolutely no doubt. Sorry God. I feel terrible for Kent Taylor and his family for the loss of his life, but certainly understand his motives and his escape clause…

The yellow scrap…

I’m a homebody. I’m in the house a lot. When I get twitchy, those feelings are released when I head to Meijer or the mall for an hour. I don’t have to ‘go anywhere with someone’ but it does me good to walk around other humans for a bit. Since everyone’s face is covered up, smiling is not mandatory. I miss that. The smiles and greetings to one another, often strangers.

Precious Moments melting snowman. A gift from Diane, 30 years ago…

But the pandemic’s ‘keep your butt at home’ felt different in 2020. Guess the old adage, you don’t miss something until it’s gone rings true. Once I was ordered not to go out, I missed the freedom of doing what I felt like doing-whenever-even though it wasn’t much different than my schedule since the fall of 2018. Still it goes against the grain of most of us being ordered to do or not do something.

I was looking for ways to fill the long hours of the day. Something with purpose. I’m not a good person without purpose. Last time I had real purpose it involved doing for others. I miss taking care of the babies. I miss visiting the elderly. I don’t like aimlessness. I’m heading up the creek in my own little boat but forgot the oars on the shore.

A scarf from Diane, she had such great taste. I lost one of the plum gloves the first week. Ugh…

It wasn’t too many years ago when I got an enormous sense of satisfaction writing cards and letters to friends and acquaintances. Blogging satisfies this somewhat but I used to zip off a couple dozen cards and notes every month. Something I stopped doing after I retired as Parish Visitor. I thought it might do me some good and perhaps add a smile to someone’s face once in a while.

A birthday card and note from Diane December, 2020. She suggested lunch when we got back from Alabama…

A couple of my classmates are facing serious health issues. While I can add them to my prayer list, I live a great distance away. It’s not like I can drop off a chicken pot pie, some Special K bars and visit them once a month. One dear friend lives close to me but has been quite ill. The other 2 gals-a bit older than me live within a couple hours, but visiting was not something I could do every 2-3 weeks. Besides the state was in lockdown.

My homemade chicken pot pie. Looks good enough to eat…

Thought I should start a card ministry. Not a big thing, just make a point to write and mail cards to a few folks twice a month. Choosing what to write on an all occasion card to let them know I’m thinking of them wasn’t always easy. I’m trying to brighten their day, not morosely fill them with my mundane life. However, I was stuck at home most of the time, not going to sporting events, eating out or concerts. They would have to accept ‘a day in the life of Neese.’ It’s all I got. Luckily some of those days included Jovi, our great granddaughter. I could write a page about her any day of the week.

Granddaughter Ariana and great-granddaughter Jovi…

When I run errands lately I stop in the greeting card section. (Have you priced cards lately? Yikes, they’ve gotten expensive). Usually though, there’s a small section with value priced cards. Sure, not as nice card stock/linen feel or as clever rhyming ditties, but my days of buying high priced cards are over. The lucky recipient’s would have to suffice with my clever quips instead. Haha.

When a week has passed and I’ve not written my batch of cards, it’s time to set down at the table and write a few. I usually complete them in one sitting but if I’m feeling real chatty, I gotta stand up and take a break. My left leg does not tolerate being bent very long and often threatens not to support that whole half of my body upon rising to full extension, no matter how much teasing, cajoling, encouraging, begging, compromising I do in my head.

A teapot from Diane. I hate snow but love snowmen…

So I brought along a stash of cards/stamps in a ziplock bag while we were snowbirding in Alabama for 2 months because I didn’t want to shirk my commitment to my fledgling card ministry. I might have stretched the length of time in between cards over the duration, but still I wrote my small gang of 5 friends. It was easier to find subjects to share because there was no snow, ice and freezing temps. Instead I was watching the Gulf of Mexico as I wrote. I mailed some a few days before we hiked back north 1,000 miles (not literally, no big hikers here) so I would have a few days to get the house back in running order.

My favorite snowman gift from Diane…

But the day we got back home, Diane, one of my five favorites passed away. While it wasn’t a complete shock (her daughter Tracy texted her mom was going under Hospice Care several days before) it packed a wallop. A sucker punch which I’ve not recovered from just yet. For days I went over the years of our friendship. Eating out, picking fresh Michigan fruit, canning together, painting t-shirts, long phone conversations. Perusing the gifts she gave me over the years.

Halloween treat bag I painted at class with Diane and the candy corn Longaberger basket she gave me…

Over a week at home passed and everyday I’d think, I’m gonna sit down and write cards today. (It’s not a chore, I usually look forward to it) But I avoided getting the ziplock bag of cards or even looking at the kitchen table. The biggest reason was a small note that was stuck in the bag. Ripped off a yellow lined tablet, in my half printed, half cursive scrawl were listed my 5 friends names and addresses. Now all these gals addresses are in my contacts on my phone and iPad but I don’t always have my phone with me at the table (and I’m too lazy to get up-which would probably do my left leg a lot of good, right)?

The repetition of choosing appropriate cards (or inappropriate one sometimes, sorry ladies) for the gal who’s receiving it, thinking about something during the last week of my life that was exciting enough to write about and addressing the envelopes would land another gut punch. Skipping Diane’s card. I wasn’t ready to eliminate her from my list. She was hard enough to put ON the list in the first place. Not really fair for the rest of my friends either though. I don’t know if they look forward to another chintzy card with a couple of short written paragraphs of misspelled words and crossed out mistakes, but I’m committed.

Part of my card stash for some of my friends….

So this week I did something really hard. I wrote four notes on 4 cards and covered up my yellow (cheat sheet) note and used my phone contact list to address the envelopes. (You know, even 10 years ago these 5 simple addresses would be committed to my memory bank forever, along with the phone numbers, and not just these gals, but a hundred friends and family. Constantly depending on my iPhone for such things, (and aging another decade) I’ve lost that amazing memorizing ability I’ve had all my life).

My small card list. Can’t bear to revise it just yet….

As I was walking out the door, I scooped up my smaller bundle of assorted sized envelopes in hopes they continue to brighten someone’s day. It did my heart good getting back into my card writing groove again. It also made me ache not to include a card written to Diane. No part of me was ready to accept it was time to exclude her. It feels like I’m letting her down. Or letting me down. But hopefully, next time I write cards it may be just a bit easier…

The bargains from St. Charles…

It’s odd when I describe our years in Spencer or Davenport, Iowa. I end up saying, “we loved it there and didn’t want to move!” Those two towns/cities are as different as night and day! Spencer had a small town vibe with maybe 8,000 people while Davenport was 100,000 and the largest quad of The Quad Cities, (Davenport/Bettendorf/Rock Island/Moline) which totaled significantly more.

Shannon, Elly, Adam, Dewey and Josh at our house in Spencer, Ia, 1981…

The reason we loved Spencer was family. We were 60 miles from both sets of parents (which was close enough). The Hubs, (youngest of 5) was born when his sister Elly was 18. She got married a couple years later, so he (we) never really knew her or her family. We moved to Spencer when John was about 30. Elly and Dewey had been there for years, thus began our incredible part-best/sibling/in-law/aunt/uncle-but more like grandparents to our kid’s friendship/relationship we could imagine. We had them over for supper once a week. They had us over for a meal just as often. We bowled on a couple’s league together. We went antiquing together as often as we could afford (or even when we couldn’t). I can’t count how many times we went out for Miller’s Bay Friday night fish fry up at the Lakes (think the fish fry cost $2.35 but even that was a stretch). I wouldn’t say we were inseparable-but it was mighty close.

Elly, me wearing flannel (haha) and Kerrie in Spencer, 1980…

More often though we didn’t ‘do stuff, go places or spend money’ with Elly & Dewey. Many times it was just supper and cards, take a ride after supper or stop for an ice cream cone. Watch the kids play in the park while we solved the problems of the world. These were lean years for us and we all knew it. We were constantly on the lookout for a bargain. It would take 2 decades of marriage before I bought an expensive antique (300 bucks) that didn’t need a ton of work done on it before it was presentable. For the most part, that discretionary spending didn’t happen until we moved to Michigan.

Having supper at the Lawrence’s. Dewey, me and Adam, 1979…

Hubs company in Spencer downsized 5 years later and he was laid, off which meant a move. We were devastated and I think Elly and Dewey were too. John found a job in Davenport, about 350 miles from Spencer. All the things we loved doing together were over.

Iowa and Illinois separated by the mighty Mississippi…

Davenport was a hip, urban city which grew on us though. Situated on the mighty Mississippi it was a shopping mecca and had restaurants up the wazoo. Some of my closest and best friendships sprouted in Davenport, but it was hard because we saw Elly and Dewey infrequently. They had been such an integral part of our lives. This is the story about one of our fun, cheap adventures after we had moved away.

The fam, Davenport 1982…

I don’t know how we first heard about St. Charles, Illinois. Located about 150 miles east of the Quad Cities, they boasted one of the biggest and best flea/antique markets one Sunday a month. Acres upon acres of miscellaneous odds and ends, vendors and antique dealers, plus carnival food! It opened at 7 am and you had to be there early for the good stuff. This was one place where hesitation or deliberation was a fault. You snooze, you lose. Dealers didn’t want to ‘hold’ a piece for a couple hours while you debated how badly you wanted, needed or could afford it. Want a sure way to sell an item 50 times over? Put a ‘hold’ sign on it. For buyers, it was that one unattainable piece which held more appeal. For the dealers, they kept seeing dollars slip through their fingers. “Damn, I coulda’ sold that piece a dozen times.” A no win situation.

Not being able to ‘mull over’ something before buying it though rubs me the wrong way. I’m not into impulsive buys, especially when ‘spending’ money was hard to come by, but at St. Charles, my brain needed needed to be retrained. If you spotted something that made your heart beat unfamiliarly hard, but you weren’t quite ready to commit and wanted to process while you walked a half mile aisle and circle back, forgetaboutit. Way too late. That piece had been sold, refinished and was now setting in someone’s home. This was the place for split second decisions.

Dewey and Joshua by Elly’s exquisite Christmas tree, 1980…

Elly and Dewey had zipped across Iowa to stay with us in Davenport for a few days. This was not a last second decision. This trip was well planned out (but for one minor detail). It was St. Charles weekend and the four of us were leaving in the middle of the night to get there by the crack of dawn. Shannon was babysitting Josh and Adam (much to their dismay), but this is not the kind of flea market for little kids. Too easy to lose track of one and all that walking wasn’t much fun. Standing near a booth while boring old grown-ups looked at every stinking dish, tool, wooden box, hair pin and piece of furniture got old after 10 minutes.

Not old enough to spend a long day antiquing, 1984…

We left extra early so we had time to stop in Dixon, Illinois (Ronald Reagan’s childhood home) for breakfast. By the time we hit the massive fairgrounds parking lot it was just getting light out. As well as we had planned out their visit, we had minimized something crucial. Hubs wasn’t clicking on all cylinders. As a teen he had taken a nasty spill from his horse, which had landed on him, crushing his foot. Lengthy recovery time in a wheelchair and crutches had taken its toll over the years. Twenty years later his foot was badly misshapen, causing pain and unable to wear most shoes. (The front third of your foot is supposed to face forward, not look like it’s taken a right turn on 2 wheels).

So the Hubs had just gone through some comprehensive, complicated foot surgery. He had 5 various sized, thin, razor sharp crochet hook type needles, each one sticking out of his bare toes for 5 weeks. (Then the doc just yanked them out with a pliers! Yikes)! The toe joints had all been removed due to arthritis. So John was on crutches (why didn’t we get him a wheelchair that day? My guess is he thought walking around 100 acres on crowded, uneven grounds were doable when you’re 35 and a tough guy). His pits were the pits by the time he called it quits after a long day. Dang crutches.

The twine chifferobe passed down from us to Shannon, to Ari and now looking for a new home in the family…

So 10 minutes in, he’s already a mass of sweat (it was very cool) and lagging behind the rest of us. I spotted a piece of furniture that piqued my interest so we waited for him to catch up and help me decide. The dealers were downright scary. Two brothers, wearing bib overalls (sans shirts underneath, remember it’s very cool) with one set of teeth between them. John was the better price negotiator, besides this piece was a mess. Not real big, 40 inches wide, 6 feet tall and dark oak. The technical name is chifferobe. One half is a door resembling a closet for hanging clothes, the other half are drawers. It was cute, but sagging, drawers askew, nearly tipping over. Had to see if Hubs could put it back together to be useful in a house with 3 wild kids.

The ‘toothless moonshine brothers’ were willing to dicker but not hold it for us. If we wanted it, we had to decide and pay. As John’s going over the piece, it nearly breaks apart and falls on him. It’s too wobbly to move. Hubs got them down to almost nothing and the deal was struck. One of the ‘good old boys’ grabbed a ball of twine from his pocket (I believe its real purpose was used as floss), and start circling the cifferobe a few times to hold it together when we lifted it.

St. Charles rocker on the left after stripping. The one on the right was in a fire in a Davenport hotel back in the day…

Elly and Dewey go for the truck, slowly driving through a maze of thousands. We loaded the piece and Dewey heads back to park. Hubs takes a load off, sitting on a bench for a half hour, Elly and I keep shopping. She has more interest in glassware, I’m still trying to find antiques for our house. They’re at the point where they have most of the furniture they want or need. It would take us another 15 years of buying, trading-up, selling, fixing, giving away and refinishing antiques until I’m at that point.

Within a half hour I spot a rocker that shows promise. Pressed back, fancy spools, curved seat but has been painted multiple times. Ugh. So much work. John would think he was down to bare oak every time he stripped another coat of paint off, which included brown, red and John Deere green. Every time he stripped one side of a spoke, runner, arm, rocker, there’s more sides to do. But it was magnificent. And cheap. We end up buying it so our wad is spent. Elly has to cruise through another 30 acres, but Dewey and John are pretty much done for the day. We’re leaving just past noon with a few nice pieces of glassware. Some for Elly’s house and others she’ll sell. It’s been a good day for everyone but John. His armpits are sore and raw and he’ll feel this trip for the rest of the week. But there’s not much he wouldn’t do for me or his favorite Sis…

Diane, 1949-2021

She wasn’t the first person I met after the boxes were shoved through the door of our rambling ranch on McCain Road in February of ’87. That was Pat Olsen who lived behind us, introducing herself and bringing us a pie. She invited me over for coffee to meet her next door neighbor, an older lady named Mildred who remained my dear friend until her death 20 years later. Pat and Mildred were hashing over the disparity in the ages between the 3 of us when Pat snapped her fingers and said, “I know who you have to meet. Her name is Diane, she’s about your age and lives a couple houses down on McCain. I’ll give her a call.”

Diane, one of my dearest friends…

Another coffee date was set so I could meet Diane. This was the first time in my life where I felt an instant connection. When I reflect on how different we were, it’s hard to believe how close we became. She had been married (to the same guy) for 16 years, Hubs and I were jogging towards number 18. She had 2 kids, I had her beat by one, but that’s where the similarities ended. I was the baby of the family and for the most part an only child since I was 10. Diane was second oldest (first girl) in her large Catholic family. And I do mean LARGE. There were 12 kids. Seems like several times a year, at least 2 of them were the same age for a couple months. Yikes. Diane did a lot of sib-raising while she was growing up. I was spoiled and did nothing.

Diane and Fred, some of God’s best people ever…

During our 2 hour yak-fest, a special friendship sprouted and grew to epic proportions over the years. We were talking about our ‘new’ house and yard (house was about 30 years old, all shrubs and trees overgrown and unsightly). Every yard in the housing division was an acre and our acre contained 40 trees. The boys (11 and 7) couldn’t play catch without running into a tree. I told Diane it was gonna take us a couple years to get rid of half of them. Not only for the kids to play football but to grow some grass. Too much shade. She said to pick a night and Fred would come over to help.

Overgrown shrubs and dead grass when Mag visited…

A couple nights later Fred ambled over-driving a BACKHOE! He and John were discussing which trees had to go when Diane (the foreman) piped in, “none of the shrubbery around the house can be saved. If you trim to get below the windows, you’ve removed everything green. Just yank it all out.” Three hours later, our acre plot looked as though a category 3 tornado had graced our yard. Twenty trees plus every shrub had been toppled, ripped, shredded and lay completely spent by our mini-man-made-hurricane. Fred hopped on the big rig one more time, gave a little nod and headed home. Diane walked in to say goodnight, adding, “don’t worry, we’ll be back tomorrow with the flat bed and haul everything away.” (Who were these people)? Three months later we were planting new dwarf shrubs, bonsai’s and one weeping cherry tree.

New landscaping in background of Josh & Jody for prom, 1993…

We invited them over for a barbecue to convey our thanks for all their hard work in transforming our dated, tired yard into a showplace. Diane offered to bring dessert. It was rainy and cool when the Smith’s showed up for supper. As she waltzed in my eyes immediately strayed to the flower pot of tulips she was carrying. Obviously there had been a miscommunication. Diane brought a centerpiece when I thought she was bringing dessert. (Now what am I gonna serve)? Diane noticed my disappointed face and quickly explained. “This IS dessert. It’s called Dirt. Crushed Oreo cookies, layered with a pudding/cream cheese/milk/cool whip/powdered sugar mixture. Complete with gummy worms throughout and artificial flowers. Isn’t it cute?” (This woman was incredible)

There was a nice house hidden behind those overgrown bushes…

She walked over to admire our landscaping choices and suggested some ground cover to trim the new sidewalk leading to the front door. “It’s called pachysandra. I got it from my folk’s place when they put in new landscaping. It stays green all year, has tiny white flowers in April. You will have to edge it or it will spread. I’ll bring some over so you won’t have to buy any.” (She brought pachysandra with her when we moved to North Muskegon 7 years later. More pachysandra 22 years later when we moved back to Jackson. All from her mother’s abandoned crop that had been waiting to be hauled away when Diane rescued it in the early 80’s).

One of my beautiful beds of Diane’s pachysandra in North Muskegon…

That summer Diane carted me all over Jackson county. We picked strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, apples and pumpkins. She loved fresh fruit and veggies and knew where and when every crop was at its peak. She taught me how to make freezer jams. During July she took me to a place called Gee Farms. She was picking up a specific size cucumber she had ordered. (Up to this point, in nearly 20 years of marriage, I had never bought one single cucumber-and I was ok with that). Diane asked if I would come over the next night and help make Bread & Butter Pickles because her sister Karen couldn’t make it. I had no idea what this pickle making business entailed but I was game. We canned 55 pints of pickles by midnight (we were both under 40 and didn’t require a lot of sleep back then to function the next morning. Besides, it was summer and the kids slept in. Ok, my ass was dragging. Didn’t this woman ever get tired? Was there nothing she was incapable of excelling in? No & no. These are the things I pondered, lugging home 8 perfect pints of the best pickles known to mankind). Make that 7 pints, I ate an entire pint before hitting the hay. This ‘by chance’ invitation to help with Bread & Butter pickles would inspire me to learn how to ‘can’ pickled beets, jams, fruit, meat, plus her signature bread and butters every year since 1988, and I have Diane to thank for that. She also got me hooked on Lladro figurines and Longaberger Baskets. She had great (but expensive) tastes.

Diane’s Bread & Butter pickle recipe…

Diane’s idea of decorating was different/unusual and she loved decorating for the holidays. Any holiday. She was never content to just put up a Christmas tree. Her whole house was decorated, laundry room and bathrooms included. Next to her stunning tree stood Mr. & Mrs. Claus, about 3 feet tall. Her mom was throwing them out so it was up to ‘Diane the Rescuer’ to find them a safe haven. They were made out of felt with hand painted, one of a kind faces, stuffed and standing-supported with a wire base. I thought they were adorable, so of course we headed for the store where their large Anna Lee inventory was whimsically featured. (Over the years I collected a couple dozen larger figurines for various holidays, and at least that many Christmas decorations. Not one member of my family think they’re cute. My cross to bear).

Mr. & Mrs. Claus Anna Lee’s and Ariana by my Precious Moments tree, North Muskegon…

Diane was the most talented woman I have ever known. She sewed lined suits, dresses and drapes. She could knit or crochet any pattern, no matter how complicated. Her cross stitching pillows and framed scene pieces were really works of art. She made deer out of birch trees for lawn decor. She decorated custom wreaths, garland and did I mention bows? Fancy, frilly, small, large bows were her specialty. You never just got a gift from Diane. It was a decorated package that was too pretty to open, usually containing something she’d made herself. Ever know someone you love with all your heart, but were kinda jealous of and intimidated by? Diane literally could do anything. She worked in advertising, selling logos on pens, clothing, paper products etc. She could sell ice to an Eskimo. With all that talent oozing from her pores, it was hard not to question God, “are you kidding me? Bows? You couldn’t just let me have one small talent to make frilly bows?” And God said, “nope, sorry. It really is a God given talent and she’s got it all and you got zip. Go bake something. It’ll make you feel better.”

About the only thing I was kinda good at, but nothing compared to Diane…

In 35 years of friendship there’s not many area restaurants where we haven’t met to share a meal in mid Michigan. She loved eating out for breakfast and our go-to place for many years was Jacobson’s (a local chain of pricey clothing/home stores in between Macy’s and Lord and Taylor). Diane’s cholesterol ran very high and she did everything she could to curb it, often ordering oatmeal which came with the tiniest 3 containers of brown sugar, raisins and milk. When she splurged and ordered an egg, it was over easy and always accompanied by 2 slices of bacon which she would dip into the yolk, for the good part.

Fred, Diane and ‘Oh Deer.’

In early November of 1987, John’s dad passed away so we were in Iowa for a week. We decided we would stay in Michigan for Thanksgiving and not make another Iowa trip until Christmas. When Diane found out we were celebrating without family she invited us to join hers for turkey time. (We did not realize the extent of their ‘immediate family’ which was the size of a small Iowa town). It was like renting an event center and filling it to capacity. I think we probably went unnoticed by at least 50 people.

Diane, busy in the kitchen…

Sad to say over the last couple years I’ve not seen Diane very often. She hadn’t been feeling well and had quite a few appointments with different specialists. We texted, talked on the phone and I wrote cards to let her know that without talking/canning/shopping/eating out, she remained an important part of my life and was thought about/prayed over and loved. We had breakfast for her birthday around Halloween. We talked and texted a few times about testing/biopsies/diagnosis she was going through. She sent me a birthday card and suggested lunch after we got back from Alabama. Her daughter Tracy let me know Diane went into Hospice care a couple weeks before we came home. Just after we got home Tracy texted her mom had been unconscious for a day and had slipped away during the night.

My bestie when we first met…

To friends and family in Diane’s life, the loss of such a wonderful, kind, dynamic, talented person cannot be replaced. But it’s our loss and heaven’s gain. Everyone knows she’s busier than a one-armed paper hanger (of course she could wallpaper) in heaven, adding beautiful baskets of hanging flowers, painted murals, decorations for the appropriate holiday and willowy bows to every Angel’s wings. Diane Marie Dunigan Smith, you are loved and missed…

Diane’s devoted family…