Mom and Mayo…

Ironic. Nearly a decade after the Hubs (my boyfriend then) accidentally broke my nose showing me one of his signature wrestling moves, Mom tripped over the vacuum cleaner cord upstairs-in the dark-smacked her face on the edge of the footboard of Dad’s twin bed-and broke her nose. A decade before she had researched where to have repair work done on my schnoz and chose Mayo Clinic, so it was a no brainer she’d have her beak tweaked at Mayo too. Awww. Mother/daughter share rhinoplasty stories.

Mom with her first and only granddaughter Shannon, 1971…

It was several years later as we were getting ready to move from Davenport (350 miles from Mom and Dad) to Jackson, Michigan (750 miles away) when Mom started experiencing a few disturbing symptoms. Itchy patches on her arms, bottom, stomach and legs. Small painful cracks on her hands and feet. She went to her primary care guy who sent her to a skin specialist in Sioux Falls. He and Mom talked it over and decided Mayo Clinic would likely come up with the right diagnosis and treatment plan for whatever this was.

Mom and I looking spiffy with patched up sniffers, mid-70’s…

Mom drove to Rochester after being referred to a dermatologist at Mayo. After running some tests, the results came back with a diagnosis of Mycosis Fungoides (my-koe-sis fun-goy-deez). A T-cell lymphoma caused when white blood cells grow out of control and move from the blood to the skin. Mom would need to stay while they came up with a treatment plan.

Mom and her twin brother Floyd in the late 1990’s…

About the same time we were gearing up for the Michigan move, we had a friend with a serious health issue. He lived on the Illinois side of the Mississippi and did business with JI Case selling coolant. His name was Creigh and he was a little older than us. He was an ardent Los Angeles Dodger fan and gave me boatloads of static about my Cubbies. When the Cubs were on a road trip on the west Coast, the games started about 10 pm Iowa time. If (when) the Dodgers went ahead, he’d call me to brag, harass and gloat. We were like the only 2 people still awake at 1 am, watching baseball. When Creigh was about 45, he was suddenly diagnosed with acute leukemia. He would spend many weeks at Mayo Clinic researching any options to slow down his cancer.

Can’t find a pic of Creigh and NOT going to post one of the Dodgers…

I really dropped the ball here, no excuse. Mom was going through something traumatic and I just wasn’t around enough. Hubs had a new job, we had just moved to a new house, in a new town and state. Three kids, 16, 12 and 8, I was busy and overwhelmed. But I should have paid more attention to what was going on with Mom.

Mom visiting us on the farm in eastern Iowa, 1977…

Over the span several months, there would be more trips to Mayo for Mom, and her Mycosis Fungoides, most of them by herself which was a couple hundred miles away. At the most serious, there were black tar treatments which is exactly like it sounds. They used copious amounts, slavering all the bumpy patches and cracks with stinky stuff that smelled like pitch and was as black as onyx. Mom was bedridden at times. The tiny cracks had morphed into huge fissures on her feet which were so painful she crawled around the house until they healed. Just awful.

Around the time when Mom had Mycosis Fungoides during the mid-80’s…

One of the trips I made to Mayo with Mom was while Creigh was hospitalized there too. I wanted to visit and maybe watch part of a baseball game with him. (Mom was a Mets fan. What’s with these folks from the Midwest who like teams on either coast? How about supporting the Cubs, Twins, Cardinals (ick) or the Royals? Dad was even worse. He was a Yankee fan) But Creigh was experiencing terrible side effects from the chemo and wasn’t allowed visitors besides immediate family. Creigh’s leukemia journey lasted only a matter of weeks before he passed away. Never got another phone call rubbing it in how well his Dodgers were doing compared to Chicago. I missed my avid baseball buddy, even if he rooted for the wrong team.

Who remembers the smell of Jergens?

After more than a year of misery, the tar treatments had eradicated the worst of the Mycosis Fungoides (MF, appropriate enough don’t ‘cha think?) and no longer needed. Now Mom was able to be treated in Sioux Falls with checkups every few months at Mayo. The new treatments were similar to standing in a tanning bed for 3 minutes. She went a couple times a weeks for several months. But it was definitely radiation and took a toll on her skin (burned) which was ironic. She was trying to heal her skin.

Amazing Vanicream prescribed for Mom but now available OTC. Yay…

So they prescribed this skin cream called Vanicream. I’ll never forget this side story of Mom’s illness. Mom was so impressed with the doctor’s pitch for the use of Vanicream. It had been developed by 2 pharmacists-working at Mayo Clinic in the mid 70’s! They were searching for a better lotion than what was available. (It looked like Crisco and had no smell-weird). Since Vanicream was more than regular old Jergens Lotion it was a prescription. Mom got it in small tubs. I tell you it was a cure-all. I can remember a dozen times when she’d scoop up a dollop of Vanicream and put it in an old pill bottle for me and my ultra dry face or itchy patches. (Imagine my shock a few years ago as I was wandering around a Walgreens and spotted a tub of Vanicream! No longer a prescription and now had several products in their line. I’ve been using Vanicream as my face moisturizer ever since).

Mom 1981…

Mom continued to get regular checkups at Mayo Clinic after her bout with Mycosis Fungoides through the 90’s. In fact she’d been given a clear bill of health a few months before she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins Lymphoma in the late 90’s. A fast growing cancer in her chest that responded well to chemotherapy. After a few treatments though she suffered a stroke. Not totally debilitating but she would never walk alone again. The lumps on her arms and head subsided and for a couple years she did pretty well, then the lumps returned. A couple more treatments held them at bay for a bit. When the massive lumps reappeared with a vengeance for a third time, she said, “no more chemo,” and lasted less than a year. I’ve often wondered if Mom’s Mycosis Fungoides was a precursor for the non-Hodgkins she suffered a decade later…

Saturday’s with Deming’s…

Long about 1960 my family fell back into a rhythm. Often painful, there was no argument that significant changes had begrudgingly settled in our home. Our numbers had been whittled down from 5 to 3. We lost Larry to a tragic accident in the fall of ’58 and my older sister Mona got married in 1960. Henceforth it was just Mom, Dad and me. The leftovers.

Dad, Mom and me, 1961…

Mom cooked 5 nights a week, Monday through Friday. The usual fare for small town living in the Midwest-with a Dutch twist. Meatloaf, spaghetti, goulash, pork chops, Taverns, tuna casserole, Tater tot casserole, fried chicken, roast beef, Saucijzbroodjes, scalloped potatoes with ham and soups up the wazoo-vegetable beef, chicken with rice, Navy bean, whole pea and chili. During the summer these menu items were added, BLT’s, hamburgers (fried-not on the grill), an occasional rib steak (also ‘done up’ in the fry pan), iceberg lettuce salad with spicy Western dressing, fresh stuffed tomatoes (with tuna salad in the center) and a summer salad using that soft butter lettuce from the garden.

The three of us went out for supper every Saturday night. Usually some nearby town within 30 miles of Rock Valley. There was a standing invitation for my bestie Char to join us. Her parents obliged most Saturday’s which added much to our evening. Char was comfortable with my mom and dad (she came from a big family and thought it was heaven to be singled out for a quiet night, no chores afterwards and a restaurant meal).

Me & Char, on the same team but competing in badminton…

If Mom was working the weekend, Dad and I had Swanson’s TV dinners (turkey for me, Salisbury steak for him) after the morning church service on Sunday. If Mom had the weekend off, she’d usually start a roast in the oven as we headed out to church at 8:55. Services didn’t start until 9:30, we were only 3 blocks away, but it was imperative we arrive at church by 9. (We sat on the same side, in the same row and exact same spot every week. No one would dare sit in someone else’s real or imagined assigned church pew. Goodness, we weren’t barbarians). If dad was in the midst of serving another term as an elder in the consistory, they always met for a few minutes before church started. Either way Mom didn’t cook on Sunday night. We ate what was left from the previous week’s suppers.

Years later, but same table w/Shannon. Note Dad’s lunchbox and waxed paper. Makes me cry…

Mom cleaned the house on Saturday morning. That place had been spit shined by the best. Her. Oak floors were polished and buffed to a blinding high gloss finish. Not one dust mote tarried in our abode. If Mom had invited folks from church over after Sunday night’s church service, a dessert was already made. (My favorite? Angel food cake with her 7 minute frosting which tasted like soft divinity) I’ve never been able to duplicate hers, which was perfection. Dad was usually gone all morning. He did odd jobs around town, mostly for widows. Painting a room, shingling, putting up storm windows or screens. This was extra income for him to spend however he chose. 99% of the time it went for tracks, Bibles and other religious reading/study materials to share with prisoners or the mission.

This was Mom’s spot. Pretty crowded with table and cupboards…

If Dad was in town, he made a point of coming home to share mealtime with us. Saturday’s dinner (noon meal) remained a constant in our house for many years. It wasn’t anything special yet we did the same thing every single Saturday. I can just picture our small rectangular table in our tiny kitchen as if it were today. Since there were now only 3 of us, one side of the table butted up against the south kitchen wall. Dad practically sat in the doorway to the dining room, Mom was nestled pretty tight between the table and the cupboards. I sat between them with my back fairly close to the stove.

Mom in her usual spot giving Joshua a big hug…

On a saucer, nothing fancy, maybe even sporting a chip or 2 (similar to one with the round groove to place your coffee cup) was a chunk of butter (Hull Creamery)? Mom cut a wedge off the solid pound package and it always sat in our dish cupboard. She hated cold butter thus it was kept at room temperature unless it got up in the 90’s. Then it resembled a yellow oil slick. A loaf of Hillbilly bread sat near the butter. On another small plate were several green iceberg lettuce leaves, still damp from a good dousing from the best tasting tap water known to mankind, then patted dry. We each had a smaller version of our supper plates, a knife and a fork. Saturday meant I was allowed pop, most likely it was an ice cold glass bottle of RC Cola sitting by my plate. There might be a 39 cent bag of Lays Potato Chips leaning against the wall on the table.

Their small kitchen table was put to good use when Shannon was there…

Smack dab in the middle of the table was a small bowl. Although she was terribly busy with her Saturday chores, this was not a step to be rushed. In the bowl were the remains of a large can of Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon. She was fiercely loyal to the Deming’s brand and it had to be red sockeye salmon, never pink. Mom used the same skill set as a top notch brain surgeon when dissecting a can of Deming’s. She flaked apart every morsel looking for parts that were not up to her high specifications. First she poured off half the liquid. Then deftly removed every minuscule piece of silver/black, slimy skin. Each and every tiny spine bone with attached rib like bone were skillfully deemed unworthy, until all that remained was perfectly flaked red salmon. (But it was really orange).

The one and only…

Since the salmon was sitting in a bit of its own juice, Mom taught me to put a lettuce leaf on my Hillbilly buttered bread. Carefully add flaked salmon pretty thick to completely cover the lettuce. But here’s the kicker. Now I added another full leaf of lettuce per Mom’s instructions. (This prevented the soggy salmon from soaking into either slice of my bread). Genius Mom! I still do this religiously with salmon, tuna salad and BLT sandwiches. These 3 sandwich varieties are about the only ones which the Gerritson family partook. Once in a great while I might have peanut butter sandwich but never with jelly. And Mom put the butter on top of the peanut butter so it wouldn’t stick to the roof of my mouth.

I boiled some eggs yesterday for the Hubs’ egg salad (note: not on the menu in the Gerritson home), so I opened a small can of Deming’s for me and dutifully followed Mom’s Saturday’s ritualistic detailed, exorbitantly high standards of maneuvering her way through a can of salmon of its hazards before eating. Which reminded me of my first full day (after a 2 day honeymoon in Sioux Falls) as a married woman 50 years ago. (If you’ve not read some of my stories on the perils of Neese early in our marriage, it’s your loss. I did not know how to boil water. Seriously.)

Fifty years worth of disputes about Deming’s Salmon-on bread. We’ve weathered the storm…

Hubs and I were back at the grindstone (after eloping and being on the hot seat for it). I told him we’d have sandwiches the first night. (those days I was still trying to impress him) I bought Deming’s, Hillbilly bread, butter and a head of iceberg. Put the salmon under a microscope in my search for the inedible additives, so I’d get it perfect. He was less than impressed with my efforts. “Who eats plain salmon on bread? No one. No. One. And where’s the clump of little bones?” (I would soon realize, no, not the person who eats ketchup slathered on eggs, roast beef, pork chops and meat loaf. Yup some mighty particular taste buds you got there Hubs).

Ohhhhh, we’re halfway there, 25 years…

Marriage is all about compromise. I finally learned how to cook. He finally learned to leave the ketchup bottle in the fridge for most meals. He still thinks I’m weird for eating salmon on buttered bread. With two sided lettuce. This from the man who occasionally spots my hidden leftover container of salmon in the fridge, grabs a sleeve of ‘dry as a popcorn fart’ saltines and plops on a healthy portion of bone free, skin free, perfectly dissected Deming’s Red Sockeye Salmon…

The Streak…

I like routine. Prefer my life when nothing upsets my personal apple cart. I am loathe to change. I want things to stay the same. I like repetition. In this case, like many others over the years it’s something silly to trip up my mundane existence the wrong way.

What a gorgeous weed! A ‘star’ is born.

It’s been 15 months since my knee replacement and I’m finally starting to feel like my old self. My legs are significantly stronger. All because I started walking again. Everyday. Walking is not new to me. I started in 1998 to boost my weight loss. I became addicted to walking. My outlook, my mood was better when I walked at least a half hour every day. You gotta be consistent, that’s the key for me. It’s too easy to get out of a good habit. (Prayer, church, studying the Bible are other good habits that once broken-fall by the wayside. Sorry God).

Finally stopped long enough to ‘see’ the weeds on my walk…

But there’s this thing called life which includes hiccups, causing my walks to stop on occasion. Surgery on my frozen toe, broke my left elbow-twice all requiring a lengthy absence from my daily routine. My weight fluctuated right along with whatever issue was in my life at the time. Never reaching the point where I started in ’98 but more than once it’s inched precariously close. My ideal weight is much harder to maintain and keep off the older I get. We rarely go out to eat but I cook good food, bake too often and eat too much. Yeah, there’s that. After 40 and I swear every calorie packs on a pound. Really, how can you gain 10 pounds from one pound of fudge? That should be impossible and illegal. Immoral even.

My downfall-baking-well eating my baked goods. Peach cobbler this week…

I’ve worn New Balance shoes for my walks since I started. Had to switch styles several times because they discontinue the shoe you prefer rather quickly. The move to Jackson 5 years ago messed up my daily walk. Hurt my leg which took a year to heal, started working early mornings which messed up my walking habit. Face it, I’m lazy, tired and 20 years older. The last straw was a fall in 2018, hurting my right knee which didn’t help my non-existent cartilage, and I had to have it replaced in the spring of 2019.

I’m not one for resolutions because I don’t keep them, but when 2020 rang in I was determined to start walking again. And keep walking. Making it one of my (only) good habits. To make that happen I needed new shoes. Started out the year at a New Balance shoe store being properly fitted with a comfortable-plenty-of-toe-room-shoe.

Kinda reminds me of something I’ve seen far too often lately-COVID virus…

I’ve not said this very often in my life. In fact I don’t recall ever saying it before. Ah-hem: we had a nice winter in Michigan. Odd, that wasn’t as hard as I thought. Think Hubs used the snowblower 3 times. All winter. There’s been winters when he’s used it 3 times a day. But not this year.

So I started out walking a mile and a half a day in February. As long as the street and walking path were dry-I walked. I kept extending my walking time, but there’s a fine line I’m trying to balance. Getting stronger to achieve the maximum benefit from walking but not doing any further damage to my left knee, which is not in great shape. Two friends recently mentioned (trying to pound some sense into me) their take on what’s important about walking. Not necessarily the length of the your walk, it’s the simple act of walking every day. Being consistent.

This strange ‘hairnet type cluster’ looks tightly wound. When it opens-wow!

I strive for 10,000 steps a day and for the better part of April I did just that, but my left leg ached for the rest of the day. Ok, that wasn’t working, so I backed off from the 4-5 miles a day and found a sweet spot for me which is just over 3 miles which amounts to about 7,800 steps. If I sit on my butt for the rest of the day, the only way I can hit 10,000 steps would include a shopping trip to the grocery store. While I love Meijer I don’t want to go everyday (shock, right) so I’ve studied my movements in the house after my walk. Not a pretty picture. I sit too much and too long. I’m trying to change that. Learning that it’s not the end of the world if I have to go up and down the stairs 5 times a day. It’s actually a good thing.

This is the ‘wow’ part after opening. Some are really big…

I became inspired from a walking challenge in Sioux Falls, SD. The goal was to walk 100 miles in 100 days. No problem. I hit 100 miles at the end of the third week, but then realized 33 miles a week wasn’t doing me as much good as the total indicated. That’s when I backed off to 28 miles a week, but never skipping a day. Any day I ran errands, I walked less in the morning, knowing I’d get my steps in because I didn’t have my butt in the recliner. Until mid July my lowest daily step count was just below 5,000 steps and that was only for one day. Many were between 7,000-8,000 but the majority were still over 10,000 steps a day.

As weeds go downright pretty…

A few weeks ago we were in the middle of a unusual heatwave. I was walking as soon as it was light out just to beat the heat. I have a chronic spot on one toe which tends to blister. No surprise a blister formed during the hot spell. I wrapped a couple bandages around the toe and walked the next day. As soon as I got a mile from home I could feel friction on the toe next to my bandaged toe. The pain caused me to stop several times. (I don’t like stopping-or talking when I walk. Wonder if I look as unfriendly as I sound? Meh. I do wave and say good morning. Grudgingly pause to remove my headphones when I see somebody’s mouth moving in my general direction).

The upside to all these stops during my painful blister walk was actually seeing many ‘things’ I’d never noticed in nearly 200 days of walking the same path/routine. For the first time I nudged my phone out and took some pictures. Of weeds. Who knew they were beautiful in their own, unique way? On one 50 foot stretch I noticed hundreds of lavender flowers on clumps of weeds. Because I was so early as I approached 40-50 American goldfinches would scatter heavenward as I came around the bend. Black and yellow (go Hawks) fluttering everywhere. It was dramatic and delightful. Another stop a half mile away, I looked up and saw 3 gorgeous heart-shaped leaves just as the sun peeked through. One of my favorite pictures.

Only weed I recognize. I never knew it bloomed. This bull thistle is downhill and taller than me…

Probably the most surprising weed is what I refer to as a bull thistle, which I thought got a foot high. They’re not very attractive and have prickers like a freaking cactus. But alongside my walking path they grow very tall and have stunning, vivid fuscia flowers.

When I finally made it home, I was sporting 3 painful blisters. No way could I walk the next day. My walking streak ended after 85 days. Because of a stinking blister. I really wanted to make it to 100 days. I was bummed. But after taking one day off (6 tenths of one mile was all I could muster just limping around the house on my day off) my new walking streak is up to 15 days.

Blister day in the red zone…

I’ve got the strangest tan lines all over which is a hoot. I’m really only walking a half hour east towards the sun, and it’s barely up. All my shirts are V-neck and short sleeved so my neck is really brown but my upper arms are white like an Iowa farmer’s! My capris fall a couple inches past my knees, so below that line is very brown but just for a few inches, then more white from my short socks so I’ve got a golfer’s tan. Looks like my calves are dirty.

Right above my head one morning as I walked. I ‘heart’ this weed…

Still using my walking stick everyday. It’s prevented several mishaps. Sure wish I could do something to improve my balance, but I’m grateful each day I make it back to my driveway unscathed…

It was the Summer of ‘61…

The best months of the year were just beginning. Endless summer days, filled with Iowa’s bluest skies and brightest sun. The new fall school year was so far off in the distant future, we never gave it a second thought. I was 11. No more yelling up the stairs from Mom, “Denise, it’s time to get up for school. You’re gonna be late!”

My lazy days were semi-filled. I could take swimming or baton lessons. My home town of Rock Valley had recently stopped using a germ laden swimming hole and built a state of the art swimming pool. It was amazing. A separate ‘baby pool’ which was only a few inches deep and an enormous pool with a shallow end, deep end and 2 diving boards (I never went off the high dive. It peaked beyond heaven I think). So most of my afternoons were spent at the pool. I rode my bike, (about 8 blocks away) donning my swimsuit, flip flops and a butt ugly, rubber swimming cap with a strap under my chin, already snapped. My beach towel was tucked in the basket. Mom bought me a season pass but I usually had money for a treat. I didn’t bother with a locker unless I was wearing street clothes and had to change. It wasn’t politically correct but Mom always used to say by mid-June, “Denise is as brown as an Indian!” And I was.

Mom caught the flower arrangement bug. A very tan Neese to help center the pic…

Although northwest Iowa experienced an over abundance of plus 90 degree days, I only swam during the day. Seemed like evenings at the pool were geared for older kids and adults. I had other stuff to do anyway. After supper (when the town’s whistle blew-I’d better be in the kitchen, ready sit down, pray and eat) there were still hours of daylight left and I put them to good use. My bestie Char had completed whatever chores were on her list for the day (mowing the yard, working in the garden, baking, dusting, dishes. I had/did no chores). A bike ride was a welcome relief, no matter how hot. You always had a breeze while you were peddling. Up and down the streets, avoiding the houses we deemed too scary to ride past lest we kidnapped and/or killed ha-ha. It was all in our heads but that’s the way kids think.

Highlighting Mom’s beautiful flower garden, 1961…

When we got too sweaty from riding, we’d park our bikes at Char’s. She lived alongside our public school. The school’s playground was enormous. A big section had been black topped for basketball and the summer it was completed we walked, ran, chased each other. On stilts my Dad made for us. By the end of that summer our armpits were calloused from constant friction from the tops of the square stilts.

Char, neighbor of my sister from Canton and brown Neese, 1961…

But there were other choices on the playground to keep us busy during the waning hours of a long summer day. Swings that could be pumped high enough to equal the high diving board at the pool. Why wasn’t I scared of swinging high enough to pass out from the atmosphere’s thin oxygen level? Dunno. The monkey bars were a good time. Back and forth, trying to hang on with sweaty hands. The drop to the ground wasn’t bad by the time we were 10. Our slide was legendary. Two freaking stories tall. They still have the same slide 60 years later. We used to sneak some waxed paper from Mom’s kitchen and plant our butts on the paper before we pushed off. You were flying by the time you got to the bottom. The slide was something to avoid when Iowa temps soared. You could do serious damage to your hind end and the backs of your legs. That slide was hotter than Mom’s oven.

What a slide! Two stories high…

But as dusk descended on the day, it was the merry-go-round we were drawn to. The number of kids gathering varied between just the two of us (Char & me) or a dozen kids. Maybe a sibling or 2 from Char’s clan, but just as likely to show up was a kid or two from the Bunch, Flanagan, Burgers, Wynia, Kosters, Plueger, McGill, Vande Velde, Reinke families-or several others. This was not the time of day where someone pushed the merry-go-round so hard the rest of us clung on for dear life to avoid flying off in a heap of broken bones.

This merry-go-round was at our park but similar to the schools…

No, this was the time of day where we wanted to be terrified. Why? I have no idea. I’ve never been a fan of scary shows. To this day. And the more unbelievable the plot, the more frightened I am. Makes no sense. I can watch psychological thrillers which certainly could be true, but the impossible, implausible plots scare the living shit out of me.

We could swing through these very fast…

So we’d tell scary/ghost/monster/serial killer stories. Yikes. The one I still have issues/recurring nightmares about is a tale of a couple. (So a few years older than the kids who were now sitting, loosely scattered on a slowly spinning merry-go-round with the last of day light disappearing. You couldn’t appear scared shitless because you’d lose your street cred. Yeah, it was a thing. No matter how scared, this 5th grader had 2 agonizing, terror filled blocks before I made it back to safety. Some nights I was so scared, I sang hymns on the way home, thinking God was gonna protect me. Guess what? He did. Thanks God). There was nothing wrong with our imagination.

Behind our elementary building was the merry-go-round just waiting to terrorize us with tales…

Ready to be spooked? This teen couple are old enough to drive. They’re on a date and want some serious make-out time, so it’s imperative they find a secluded spot (pronto) to ‘park.’ Luckily for them (and all of us merry-go-rounders in a few years) Iowa has an over abundance of corn/soybean fields. Literally hundreds of thousands of acres. (Rumor has it ha-ha-ha, like I wouldn’t know every single parking spot-in the county in a few years). All fields have a dirt entrance off their gravel road so the farmer can do whatever needs to be done with crops before harvest time. Weeding and fertilizer? Don’t judge, I was a townie.

Unfortunately, deer weren’t the only inhabitants of the corn fields in Iowa during the ‘60’s…

Every car (except the 2 my parents owned) had a radio. No 8-track, cassette, or CD’s. No Sirius, iTunes, Spotify. Just a radio. An AM radio. At night you got a better selection of radio stations from farther away. So this highly hormonal duo are listening to romantic/early/classic rock songs (Stand by Me, Runaway, Wooden Heart, Crying, Runaround Sue, The Lion Sleeps Tonight, Walk Right Back, Crazy) on their AM radio station in a deserted cornfield. Their only company was a star filled black sky. Or so they thought.

Mom and Dad’s car, a 1958 Chevy Biscayne-no radio, no air…

Suddenly the girl breaks away from a hot and heavy, part pleasurable/part torturous two minute filled tongue-fest. “Did you hear that? What was that funny noise?” (Oh good Lord girlfriend, not now. Please not now). Him: “Um, I didn’t hear anything. Maybe some cornstalks hitting each other?” She frowns, “no, I definitely heard something. Sounded like metal scraping on something. Are you gonna tell me you didn’t hear that noise?” Him: “No Neese, (just using a fabricated name here) I honestly didn’t hear anything.” (The kissing and petting resumes, much to his delight).

A fictional couple who might have parked-back in the day…

Scrape, scrape. Me: “Stop! You must have heard that. What’s making that noise? Could it be the radio?” (Sigh, mood is heading south at an alarming rate). Him: “No it can’t be the radio. I don’t know what to tell you. There’s no noise, nothing to hear and we’re all alone. Isn’t it great?” Me: “Yes it’s great except for that scraping, scratching noise. It’s scaring me. I think we should leave. I wanna go home.”

The menacing hook, minus the bloody stump found on the couple’s car door…

Him: “FINE!” Starts the car, rams it in reverse, drives like a maniac. Neese (again just happenstance with the name) puts herself back together, snuggles up and tries to make amends. But the mood is ruined and it’s back to the town with streetlights, stop signs and our one stoplight. They arrive at her house. He’s a gentleman, gets out, walks around to the passenger door and stops. Swallows a scream before it leaves his throat. On the handle of her door is a hanging apparatus. A pirate’s hook! Attached to some bloody flesh from a surgically repaired amputated arm. Gulp! (He’s gonna have to find a different corn field if this romance is headed to the next level).

All smiles until we scared the crap out of each other on the playground…

Now how was I supposed to serenely walk home in the dark, after my head was filled with this unimaginable horror? Couldn’t be done. Not without some serious hymn (Him) help…

Neese and the Rhinoplasty…

Given the location where I grew up, just a few miles from the South Dakota and Minnesota border, Rock Valley was tucked in the northwest corner of Iowa. I never realized or appreciated our proximity to a world famous institution. Bigger than the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha. More famous the The Grotto in West Bend. More important than the Falls in Sioux Falls. Ok, not as awesome as Mount Rushmore or The Black Hills but this place was in a very different category, not a vacation spot or sight seeing destination.

My first trip to Mt. Rushmore, late 1990’s…

It was Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, about 200 miles northeast of Rock Valley. The world renown hospital/clinic where people from all over the globe sought medical help for their complicated health issues. The facility where kings, queens, movie stars and athletes went when they had a serious medical problem. If our local doctor was stumped, (believe me, Dr. Hegg could fix about anything) he referred you to a specialist in Sioux Falls or Sioux City. If they couldn’t come up with the right diagnosis, they sent you to Mayo. Because they were the best. Still are. But Mayo didn’t limit their expertise to just royalty or the rich and famous. They treated the Gerritson’s too. Who knew? Although I don’t think Dad ever was a patient at Mayo. He went to the Veterans hospital in Minneapolis for back surgery when he had a ruptured disc. But Mom and I utilized Mayo Clinic on occasion.

St.Mary’s Hospital in Rochester a long time ago…

My first experience at Mayo Clinic was in 1966. I was dating John (later he would change his name to the Hubs). We were at a party at Denny Hamann’s, who lived a few blocks from my house. In Rock Valley everything but the farmer’s spreads were within a few blocks. It was late fall and John was shifting from football season to wrestling season, meaning he had to lose a few pounds if he hoped to reach the weight division he was striving for. (A normal struggle for him. Wanted to be heavier for football season but slimmer for his best wrestling weight. He made it every season, and often could be seen wearing a rubber suit while he jogged around Rock Valley, dropping weight at a very unhealthy clip. But he got down to his desired weight and was strong as an ox).

John trying to flip his opponent, not using a cross face move, 1965…

So we were at this party and he was showing off a little. He was describing this wrestling move and eager to show me how it worked to his advantage. He used this move called a cross face. When both wrestlers were in the down position but John was on top. Right as the ref blew his whistle, Hubs tried to distract his opponent by slapping his own forearm (up to his elbow) across the other wrestler’s chin/mouth and cheeks. Then John would grab the guy’s left arm and pull hard, causing him to collapse. That’s the way it was supposed to work. At least in his own head. Uh, ok, I’m game. I’m not chicken (umm, some of my peers were watching) and I know he won’t hurt me. He’s still in the ‘trying to impress me’ stage. (Had I been wearing my thinking cap instead of a mini skirt/flirty face I might have known where this was headed). As he artfully (gently) applied the cross face to my face, I turned my head, (talking) right into the move, leading with the part of me that stuck out the farthest (on my face, work with me here people). My nose. Which made a sick crunching sound that caused my eyes to water profusely. Ok, part tears but mostly water cause that’s what happens when you have your nose smacked really hard. Not a fan. Don’t try this at home.

Post op visit at Mayo. You can still see bruising under my eye…

Without a doubt it was the easiest move Hubs had ever successfully planted on another wrestler, (I use that term loosely). Although in retrospect he might have tried this teaching moment on someone other than the girl he really, really liked. Can you imagine how he felt? About as bad as this chick with the watery eyes, swelling, snotty nose and fat lip. Yup my nose was broke. Unbelievable. My boyfriend broke my freaking nose. In front of a crowd. Even though it was an accident, witnessed by several kids, my folks were not pleased. Not much John could ever do would please them. Then or in the following decades after we got hitched and had adorable kids they both doted on.

I’ve looked at your nose from both sides now…

Mom initially took me to Dr. Hegg, but he was getting on in years and a rhinoplasty (what a perfect description, rino, which pretty much summed up my new look) for a deviated septum (nose job) wasn’t in his repertoire. He rattled off several eye, ear, nose, throat specialists from Sioux Falls, Sioux City or Mayo Clinic to have my nose tweaked (re-broke). Ugh. I was scared and looked like shit. Until that incident, I don’t think Mom had considered Mayo Clinic for anything, (more on Mom and Mayo later) but her interest was piqued. She jotted down a couple names of oral surgeons and simply called Mayo for an appointment for her teenage daughter’s broken schnoz.

After we arrived in Rochester, we learned surgery would be at St. Mary’s and I’d be staying for a couple days. (Now you have knee replacement and go home the next day) Mom was not keen on hotels and spotted a beautiful home nearby which rented out rooms to family members or outpatients so she reserved a room. My surgeon was young and cute. Very. Goodness but I looked grim. Nothing says a great first impression like a heavy-mouth-breathing-teen-with-a-crooked-nose. A couple bones in my nose which weren’t in the right spot. They took a lot of pictures and x-rays. I still have the pictures somewhere since Mom never threw anything away.

Mom went overboard tracking my nose after surgery…

While the actual operation is hazy, I totally freaked out when the cute doctor said I’d be awake during surgery. (He promptly lost a lot of appeal. Not really all that cute). No. Not in this lifetime. Really, no. Seriously, no. Absolutely not. However my vote counted for diddly squat and I remained awake throughout. They injected (too many to count) my nose/forehead/cheeks with a numbing agent, maybe novocaine or lidocaine. I vaguely remember the doctor discussing where and how he was going to use a chisel/screw driver type tool. UP MY NOSE. WHILE I WAS AWAKE. I opened my eyes just a slit for a couple seconds. And saw him grabbing a small HAMMER. Tap, tap, tapping on the end of the chisel handle near my mouth. I could feel nothing but the sensation of tiny thumps. But not much of the chisel/screw driver was visible anymore. So unbelievably gross. Had to be up in my brain. Squeezed my eyes shut for the rest of the operation.

To this day I don’t like my nose touched. Ever. By anyone. I’m pretty sure if I need to be tested for Covid, it will not be with a foot long Q-tip. Take blood, take a biopsy or knock me out but do not touch my nose, or stick anything up it.

Serial killer ‘Jason’s doppelgänger aka, Neese….

After surgery I had two black eyes and a fat face. Which lingered forever. My nose was swollen and covered with an enormous splint I wore for 6 weeks, causing all the skin underneath to peel off like a sunburn. Not really a cute phase I was going through during school that winter. But my handsome, young surgeon did a great job, (he was totally forgiven) putting all the pieces back in place. I could finally breathe through my nose again. My surgically repaired nose was awfully sensitive to touch and smells for the longest time. Now it was time for payback. I needed to practice some cheerleading moves. Kick my leg high enough or hard enough to inflict a bit of damage to someone’s face. Or another part of his (I mean their) anatomy. Not that I was vindictive or anything…

Two Families…

They grew up about a mile apart. Had the girl not moved in 1955 (at age 4-1/2) to the center of town, by 1958 they would have been neighbors when his folks built a new home around the corner from where she was born. (And yes she was literally born at home. On the kitchen table. Blech. Her Mom had changed doctors late during the pregnancy to avoid going to a hospital 15 miles away for her world changing birth. She jests. About her world changing birth-not about the kitchen table).

Mom and her youngest, early 1951…

She knew nothing of him or his family until 1963 when he was involved in a terrible accident a couple blocks from her house, although she did not witness the accident. His pinto mare reared up and the bulk of the horse’s substantial weight landed on his 15 year old foot. But she does remember hearing about it through our own small town social media grapevine outlet. Back in prehistoric times it was called-Word of mouth.

The age I heard of the boy’s horse accident. I remained unfazed…

In many ways their families were a lot alike. Middle class, 2 parent households, no divorces, or illegitimate children in their pasts. His mom joined the workforce sooner than hers (his parents were roughly 10-15 years older than hers). Both sets of parents had Dutch ancestors, all born in Sioux County, Iowa. The unlikely duo (us) were born and raised in the same small, fairly isolated, Dutch community. Both mom’s cooked supper every night, both dad’s were used to hard physical labor. Both families worshipped EVERY Sunday without fail. Different denominations but she likes to think they could agree, they all worshipped the same God. Maybe. Maybe not.

Vacation at The Grotto a few months before Larry was killed, 1958…

Any major family differences mushroomed during the fall in 1958. One family (hers) would suffer a tragedy from which they would never recover. Much worse than the boy’s terrible horse accident (still a few years away in the future).

Her family total numbered 5, his was 7. Her total fell to 4 one Saturday in 1958 when her older brother was struck by a car and killed instantly. His name was Larry and he was 12. She was 7. Until that day, the differences in the two families, their way of life might have been interchangeable. But grief does so much undetected damage to those who suffered the loss. She’s often wondered who’s the idiot who coined the phrase, ‘good grief?’ Through almost 7 decades of life she’s suffered grief from the loss of her brother, mother, dad, sister, grandparents, countless fringe relatives, friends and those she lost when working as a Parish Visitor. Not one minute of wading through her miserable grief could ever be construed as good. Devastating, heartbreaking, life changing yes, but ‘good grief,’ never.

The boy was a couple years younger than Larry…

The differences/changes in the girl’s family after the death of Larry were not all bad, just dramatic. But many of them were hard to accept, at least for the young girl. Her Mom turned inward, preferring her own company to that of others. Her Dad turned outward, accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal savior. His mission in life thereafter was to bring others to know the same joy he had found. He was rarely home after that. Saving souls was time consuming.

Thus began the subtle dynamic shift of the two once similar families. His family remained outgoing. Card playing, beer drinking, boisterous, seeking out other couples/families with similar interests and tastes. Her family folded up tight. The hurt and pain were just too much.

We were a family of 4, down by one in 1959…

A couple years after the horse/foot accident, the boy who swore to the orthopedic surgeon he absolutely would not maneuver through life with a limp, and the girl from the tragic, unhappy family started dating. The girl never realized just how different their 2 families were. His parents enjoyed sitting on their front lawn after supper. Honest, right out in front. Weird. Townsfolk going for a ride would stop, letting their car idle (gas was a quarter a gallon or less) while they talked/gossiped for a few minutes. With her Dad gone every night after supper, her Mom would pull down the front window shades and lock the door. Closing off the outside world. Trying to cope. Accepting life on the new terms of unimaginable pain and loneliness. By herself.

Dressed up and ready to save some souls…

In his family, holidays meant one thing-celebrating. Potlucks, cookouts, fireworks, Pinochle marathons, 25 people gnawing on turkey/duck/goose, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a half dozen homemade pies to choose from. (if there was room for another bite). After her sister married in 1960 (she too joined a HUGE-ER family) the 3 remainers went to The Normandy Restaurant in Sioux Falls for turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.

Cards, serious stuff. She might not have made it to the “main table” yet…

Although the laws were never explicitly written down, there was a code, a set of rules that his family adhered to if you were interested in joining their merry band of misfits.

1. You had to have an above average working knowledge of the game of Pinochle. Card games were sacred in their family. You’d better be capable of remembering what suit had been called trump during every hand and never renege. Ever. Seriously.

2. It might not be written down on paper but the message was clear, at least part of all major holidays were spent together. They might fuss, fight and yell occasionally but through thick & thin holidays were celebrated as one a big family unit. Together. With lots of food. And cards before and after. Using the lame excuse of turkey tryptophan which made you sleepy/dulled your senses, even for a minute was null and void in their abode. Bid your hand and no table talk.

The in-laws house on Christmas Eve, 1972…

3. You’d better be an above average cook/baker. (The girl’s downfall right here folks. How they ever let/welcomed her in, lacking every basic cooking concept known to womankind was a miracle. She did not know how to boil water. Honest). His mom saw/felt she had potential, his dad thought she was hopeless. Had she not been able to avoid ‘going set nearly 100%’ of the time in the game of Pinochle by the time the boy and girl were seriously contemplating marriage, she certainly would have been blackballed. During their first decade, every trip to her in-laws included some type of cooking/baking lesson. His mom was patient with her 3rd daughter-in-law. And like remembering what suit was trump and never reneging, the young woman/new mom absorbed what her mother-in-law was trying to teach, otherwise she might have been ousted. (The mother-in-law was a great cook and terrific baker).

Had to be taught all the aspects of cooking which included clean up…

Though there was a considerable amount of disapproval/discouragement/denial from one set of parents (hers-duh) the boy and the girl simply took the plunge without their blessing (or knowledge on either side) and eloped when they were still of a tender age. No one and I mean NO ONE thought it would last. They were too young, too dumb and too different to establish a long-lasting relationship. Oh ye (all) of little faith.

In the beginning. Us, 1965…

Through the years the man and woman embraced some of their family’s traditions but forged ahead, determining their own trail too. Mistakes were frequent, spats less often (still they kept moving forward-together). Their strong, idealistic bond, uttered during a hasty 5 minute, unromantic ceremony in a judge’s chamber in Elk Point, South Dakota during the fall of 1969 never wavered much. And the journey continues…

The Channel 4 Crew…

Hubs and I were reminiscing about our early years of wedlock. Let’s just call them the floundering first 5. It was the summer of ’69. (Sounds almost lyrical) John was working at the NBC affiliate, KTIV in Sioux City, Iowa as a projectionist. I was a nurse’s aide at a local nursing home. I was on my parent’s shit list, so rather than start another war, we told no one (besides our buddy Dale-the witness) and eloped in Elk Point, South Dakota one Monday night in September. I was almost 19, he was 21. (I’m now convinced it’s gonna last). The floundering first 5 were tough in every category. Getting used to cohabitating, not much parental support, bills up the wazoo and not nearly enough money coming in to pay them, yet when we reflect back, those were some great years. I attribute some small successes and one huge defeat to the gang/job in the very beginning, while he worked at Channel 4.

Family life while at Channel 4, 1972…

The Enforcer:

A highly structured guy named Don who was Channel 4’s station manager. He was well known throughout Sioux City, as was his distinctive voice and big black glasses. (Also for firing Tom Brokaw, wishing him well but concluding there was no future for Tom in television. Ha-ha-ha).

Don Stone, station manager…

The Rising Star:

By the time we got hitched, Hubs had moved from the projection room into the Control room as a director. Started running commercials during the day during game shows and soap operas (These are the Days of our Lives), and directing the 5 minute mini-newscast at 8:25 am. Soon he was proficient directing the noon news and began producing commercials for local businesses like Toy National Bank and The Red Barn Bridal Shop in Cherokee. After a few months Hubs was requested in the legal contract by several companies when they called Channel 4 to arrange for new commercials to be made.

Hubs in the projection room at Channel 4, 1968…

Local Talent:

Hubs was responsible for 2 local programs at Channel 4. Every year during the month of December, various schools and churches were invited to do live Christmas concerts lasting an hour called, Songs in the Night. (What could possibly go wrong with 50 teenage singers and a couple of nuns)? The choirs were lackadaisical about their song timing which really concerned the rising star director after having a couple groups go longer than their time allotments. There were no commercials during this hour. He then insisted they give him their program selections, including the length of each song ahead of time. Why? Because 90% of the choirs wanted to sing the Hallelujah Chorus last-which proved disastrous. Back in the 70’s it was illegal/blasphemous/morally corrupt/atheistic to interrupt the Hallelujah Chorus-after it started. That magnificent song lasts about 5 minutes. The groups could still sing the Hallelujah Chorus anytime during their concert, but never as their last number after Hubs started doing the shows.

The other program Hubs directed weekly was a Billy Graham/Orel Roberts wannabe. Some minister with a huge, wealthy congregation who liked what he saw on the pulpit. (Himself) He’d roll in the lot with his new Lincoln, pop off a few dirty jokes with the guys, then give a sermon on how sinful people are. His hour of worship included special musical groups, famous guests, and his lovely, diamond studded wife, wearing a dress with 30 pounds of sequins. He gave some serious consideration to taking his show on the road across America. (“Love, Brother Love, say Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show. Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies, and everyone goes, cause everyone knows, Brother Love’s show). Preacher offered John the director’s job, going on the road with him. Not only was John completely turned off by this charlatan, we now were parents of Shannon and months on the road apart wasn’t appealing.

Where the Floyd River meets the Missouri in Sioux City…

There were some quirky perks that went along with being in the station’s control room. The days after we became first time parents, Shannon’s birth and newborn pictures were touted during every newscast. Whenever Shannon and I stopped to visit Daddy at work, a black & white photo session was included because he could develop them right at the station.

Couldn’t resist taking black and whites when we were at Channel 4, 1972…

Comic Relief:

The cast of characters he worked with from the late 60’s to the mid 70’s have not yet been forgotten by either of us. There was an arrangement between Channel 4 and Briar Cliff College. Students from the school were hired at a special rate to become cameramen. Now this was not as easy as you might think. Channel 4 had one color camera (the other local station had 2) to do the newscast. And it was the size of our bathroom. Not kidding. They also had 2 black & white cameras for slides and when any of the news or sports were read from a teleprompter, it had to be hand cranked. Literally. There were usually 4 guys doing the legwork on the camera side.

These camera guys were about the same age as Hubs, very smart, but with the mentality and maturity level of a boundary pushing toddler. One of them was a wild and crazy guy named Jake. Jake is the only person I ever knew who actually went to Woodstock. John was telling someone about his brother Arly who was in the Navy, doing a tour in Vietnam and had recently sent us his new stereo system to use until he was discharged. Enormous Pioneer speakers, Roberts reel to reel, turntable, along with every recorded song by the Beatles and The Doors thus far in their careers (1970). Jake happened to be walking by and said he had just bought a new record by a (yet) unknown group he thought we’d enjoy. So he made a tape for us. The band was The Virgin Fugs. Some of the raunchy tunes were, Saran Wrap, The Ten Commandments (they did acknowledge God as a co-writer for the song), and Coca Cola Douche. Lord have mercy. We listened and thought it was hilarious but not very good. We saved the tape and gave it to Arly when he came to collect his fabulous stereo system.

Hubs snapping his camera at Channel 4, 1973…

The Brains behind the scene:

The chief engineer, Al was the guy who drove to Rock Valley and offered the projectionist’s job to John. Al was a genius. When Channel 4 was changing from black and white to color news film (the ABC station used color film for their news stories), Channel 4’s owner balked at the idea. Too expensive. He was frugal. Al (the genius) designed and built a homemade color film developer for Channel 4.

The Talking Heads:

Carl, the news guy was appalled when the young snot nose director of the 6 & 10 o’clock newscasts insisted on getting a copy of every story before the news started. If the story lacked documentation or hadn’t been verified, it was John’s responsibility to deny letting him read the copy. Used to drive Carl nuts. Wasn’t a power trip, just Hubs job.

Downtown Sioux City…

The sportscaster was a guy named Roger, who was in his 40’s. One night John was directing the 10 o’clock news and had cued up a commercial film still frame for the next break in between the news and sports. That was so their bathroom sized color camera could be shifted from Carl to Roger. Right before the break, cameraman Doug (the biggest prankster and worst offender of everything) would grab the humongous circular handle on the camera and slowly ease it backwards, allowing both Carl and Roger in the same shot. Roger would have a short introduction of his first story, then John would start the commercial film at the break.

The commercial was for DX Super Boron. In the beginning of the commercial there was a Super Boron mascot monkey climbing up the DX sign. Unfortunately at the same time Roger’s sports intro was a story on “Broadway Joe Namath” which is the slide that should have been used instead of the adorable monkey. (Hubs fault) But Roger was a basket case. He bit down hard on his lip but could not stifle a huge guffaw which turned into a hearty laugh. Which turned into a five minute hysterical giggle fit including tears, slapping the desk and a bowing his head. He could not stop laughing. It lasted the entire length of his sports segment. John finally broke away, Roger left the news set and the weather segment lasted an eternity.

Could not find the DX monkey, or Broadway Joe for that matter…

The Revolving Door:

The weathermen/women at Channel 4 never stayed long. They were like disposable gloves. The station usually hired recent college graduates because they were inexperienced and inexpensive. I remember a nice guy named Al and a neat young gal named Kathy (who got teased mercilessly but could dish it out too) but both were gone to greener pastures before we really got to know them.

Chief Financial Guru who refused to spend a buck:

His name was Flaherty and he was past retirement when Hubs was hired. He didn’t come to the station very often but his idiosyncrasies were well known on a daily basis. You’d think he’d get upset about the 10 minute giggle fest during the sports section but nah, that stuff never bothered him. He had one standing rule that was not to be broken. Ever. John wasn’t permitted to let the NBC network run a Preparation H commercial on Channel 4. I am freakin’ serious people. John got a list daily of the network’s commercials 24 hours in advance. He’d go through it, noting when the Preparation H commercials were scheduled to run. He couldn’t just let those 30 or 60 seconds of air time be a blank screen so John would run Public Service Announcements (PSA’s) while every other NBC affiliate station in the country was learning how to relieve your painful hemorrhoids. He was totally anal about it.

Woodbury County where Sioux City’s located on the Missouri River…

To this day, Hubs says working at Channel 4 was the best job he ever had, and he was superb at it. He loved the pressure of directing newscasts. He was innovative, creating commercials that were technologically advanced, discovering new ways of editing and using special effects. He had an unusual vision producing programs. He enjoyed meeting famous people (Chet Huntley & David Brinkley). But the pay was pitifully meager and we were falling farther and farther behind. We almost accepted a job offer from a larger market share station in Minneapolis but dreaded moving to such a big city to raise our young family. To make big bucks we would eventually end up in Chicago or New York. That did nothing for either of us. But I think he would have enjoyed his work career much more and I know he would have been highly successful…

The VCR…

It became a ‘thing’ in our house around 1985, gaining momentum through the next 2 moves in Michigan, once in 1987 and again in 1994. We were living in the Quad Cities when it started. I had no idea what was in store for my life over the next 15 years when the Hubs moseyed through the door carrying a large box with Toshiba stamped on it.

Me, Joshua, Shannon & Adam eating watching something on the VCR, 1985…

It was a new fangled video cassette recorder/player. VCR for short. Designed to record programs right off your TV. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, Amen. Suddenly we were no longer required to watch ‘Moonlighting’ at 8 on Tuesday night, or ‘LA Law’ on Friday’s. It was a miracle. I can’t tell you how many times I missed a favorite show during the early years of motherhood because it was bath or story time, or I had to start another load of wash. Guess what? When you missed an episode of ‘Bewitched’ you might get a second chance to catch it during the summer reruns, otherwise you were screwed. Period.

Moonlighting…

This wonderful gizmo also played pre-recorded movies which had recently played in theaters. What? With a family of five and a very limited spending budget on any extracurricular activities, we could now watch popular movies. At home. Brilliant. At first it wasn’t easy finding the newest movies. No Blockbuster or Family Video just yet. But it didn’t take long before independent businesses began popping up throughout the Quad Cities, renting movies for 99 cents. We’d rent the daily limit, bringing home a variety of kid and adult movies. Four of the five of us were completely enthralled with this new form of entertainment. Shannon was in her mid-teens and not so enamored. She was too busy reading, doing homework, babysitting, cheerleading, playing music or yakking on the phone to be bothered by a two hour movie with 2 younger brothers and a pair of very dull parents, (who were actually quite young and hip).

Exactly how do they know what size TV I’m watching? Huh?

A few months later I became somewhat distrustful/disillusioned with Big Brother’s ability to get inside my head because of how closely ‘they’ were tracking me. Every time I inserted a videotape into the magical VCR, pushed play, up on the screen would pop this disturbing disclaimer. “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV.” (Yikes! How did ‘they’ know what size TV I was watching? Freaked me out so bad I didn’t dare ask John about it for a couple years in case ‘they’ were listening as ‘they’ adjusted every movie I rented to fit my screen. When I was finally brave enough to ask how this was even possible, Hubs laughed til he cried. The Sadist).

Adventure’s in Babysitting, great comedy…

After we moved to Michigan my movie/VCR obsession continued and my trivia knowledge on the subject grew to epic proportions. On any given night, if the kids were with friends I could expect a phone call from one of them (two were teens) asking me a question of no consequence to anyone. “Ma, who played the girl who lost her glasses in the bus station in Adventures in Babysitting?” “Penelope Ann Miller, rookie.” (This is the movie where I fell hard for Vincent D’Orofrio with his portrayal of Dawson/Thor). “Hey Mom, who played the veteran catcher with bum knees in Major League?” “Tom Berenger,” another one of my heartthrobs.

My hero, Vincent D’Orofrio’s Thor in Adventures in Babysitting…

But I wasn’t content with simply renting the best action adventures (Die Hard, Quigley Down Under, True Lies), rom-coms (There’s Something about Mary, Notting Hill, Green Card, Dave, Benny & Joon, Hope Floats), comedies, (Kindergarten Cop, “it’s not a brain tumor,” Major League, The Money Pit, Uncle Buck, Parenthood, Three Amigos, “You scum sucking pig! You son of a motherless goat).” Our two boys yelled this at each other for years. Years. Or psychological thrillers, (Sleeping with the Enemy, Sixth Sense, Pacific Heights, (who knew Mr. Mom’s, Michael Keaton could be so menacing)?

Quigley Down Under. Yummmmmmmmmm…

No, if I liked the movie enough to rent it a second or third time, the movie had to come stay in my house-forever. I had a quirky deal going for the movies I had to have. Knew a great gal who worked in the video rental department at (you know what’s coming) my favorite store, Meijer. Meijer would get several copies of a highly anticipated movie like Die Hard. After a few weeks my gal (on the inside) would research the tape’s rental history on the computer. Which copy of Die Hard (yippee-ky-yay-mf) had been rented the least number of times. And she’d sell it to me. Sometimes it hadn’t been out of the store twice, but I’d get it for a fraction of the cost. So my movie library was extensive-yet inexpensive.

One of the best-ever…

I knew only one other family who were as ga-ga about movies like us. But they used a different method. They had two VCR’s and piggybacked it somehow so when they rented a movie, they copied it before returning it. (Hollywood figured this out after a couple years). This family attended movies different than we did too. The whole group (3 or 4 boys I think) paid to see a movie on Saturday. Not everyone wanted to see the same flick, but there were several movies to choose from at the theater. After the first movie ended, instead of loading up in the car and heading home, everyone chose a different movie (however not paying again) and sneak into a second, then a third and so on. Spent the whole day at the theatre on the weekends.

Harry Connick Jr. Nuff said…

Hollywood had since lost their ability to come up with any new plots or originality, they settled for monotonous remakes of decent movies and duplicated them with lame facsimiles. I became disenfranchised. But all was not lost for my favorite piece of equipment beside my Kitchenaid mixer. We had moved to our lake home in North Muskegon and had 4 TV’s in that house for a few years. (The boys were still around and I had to have a TV in the kitchen to watch my Cubbies-duh). With the explosion of multiple cable stations we found ourselves watching series on channels besides the major networks. Sometimes there were 2 shows on at the same time but on different channels. When we watched a VHS tape (I bought them by the skid) Hubs could fast forward through the commercials. (Actually I think the last commercial I watched in it’s entirety was in 1995. And I’m still not ready to watch another). The problem was our TV’s were not yet capable of changing channels without me. Major bummer. If I wanted to tape a program at 8 on NBC, then a 9 o’clock show on CBS, I had to literally change the channel exactly at 9. That proved to be a bigger pain than watching commercials, so we just added more VCR’s than we had children.

Three Amigos, gotta love slapstick…

After acquiring a degree in rocket science, my job was to program all the VRC’s in the house. Tried to leave the kitchen TV alone because it had to be on WGN most of the time for the Cub games. One TV was designated for CBS, one for NBC and so on. And I had to keep track how many hours I’d programmed on each one before I had to replace the tape, sometimes midweek. Bought a tape rewinder to save on the VRC mechanisms, then had to place all the unwatched tapes in the right sequence so we’d watch them in the right order. The. Struggle. Was. Real.

Major League’s Tom Berenger & Charlie Sheen…

Got to mention this zinger. One of our favorite shows at the height of my VCR madness was NYPD Blue on Tuesday nights at 10. After we moved to North Muskegon (160 miles northwest of Jackson) in 1994, we were dismayed (ok, royally pissed off) to learn we no longer had access to NYPD. The local ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids deemed NYPD Blue to racy for their delicate constituent’s Dutch ears and eyes and blocked it out, running a lame rerun of something more suitable for the masses. Unbelievable. Just because Andy Sipowitz grabbed his crotch when disagreeing with a female attorney (whom he would marry later on the show). Now the whole Super Bowl half time show was filled with crotch grabs). I enlisted my friend from Jackson (sin city) to tape NYPD Blue for a month at a time and mail the tapes to me for a couple years.

Yup, too racy for West Michigan folk. WTH…

My 15 year obsession with my trusty batch of VCR’s dwindled to one for watching rentals in 2003, when we signed up for Directv. Part of the package was a built-in, tape less recorder with the ability to record multiple programs at the same time. With oodles of hours of taped TV. Now my job was studiously pouring over the TV guide, then instructing Hubs which program/series, channel number, day, time, first run only, start recording one minute early and add 2 minutes at the end. Lucky I still had that degree…

The Significance of May 30th…

There’s no denying it, I’m a homebody. My house is my sanctuary and I’m pretty content to stay home. A lot. We eat in 90% of the time and that’s usually my decision. I don’t mind meal planning, cooking, baking, cleanup or dishes (except for utensils. Geez I hate washing every stinking piece of silverware). I’m happy at home. I’ve never had a case of wanderlust, although I enjoy visiting new places. Maybe it’s the hotels, restaurants and hours in a car or plane which lend to my dislike of being gone for more than a couple days. I get homesick for my kids, grands, house, bed, bathroom, even my own cooking. Bizarre I know but it’s the way I’m wired.

Now you can see why I can’t stay away for an indefinite time. I miss this goofy bunch…

My first long adult vacation outside my comfort zone was at a resort in Cancun for 8 days in 2012 for Josh and Erica’s destination wedding. (I had vacationed elsewhere, never as far away or as long). What made Cancun immensely enjoyable (besides J & E’s lovely ceremony overlooking the Caribbean) was having most of our immediate family at the same resort. I tried new things like scuba diving, drinking margaritas until my nose and lips were partially paralyzed (it was two, honest 2), shopping for souvenirs, eating different foods. Besides narrowly avoiding slamming my head on several 8 inch nails protruding on the underside of their less than OSHA approved massive dock at the resort there is not one negative I have about that fabulous trip. The rooms were beautiful (ours had the best view), the staff was attentive and polite, the food in several restaurants onsite, above average.

Joshua & Erica, Cancun, 2012…

But I’ve never been bit by the bug to see the world. So why did this stay at home grandma take not one, but 2 trips abroad-2 years in a row? What would possess me when I’d managed to stay state side (besides the wedding) for 65 years with nary a inkling to travel outside the US? Guess that depends on who was asking. It was my daughter Shannon-both times. (She’s got the travel bug). The first trip was 12 days in Italy. Rome, Florence, Assisi and Venice. I literally knew nothing about any of these cities or the popular spots that made them famous. Once we landed and began to tour, it was overwhelming. My mind (and body) just couldn’t keep up. Sistene Chapel, Vatican, Duomo Cathedral (it’s pink, white and green marble) Michelangelo’s David, Priscilla’s catacombs, Saint Francis in Assisi and my top vote getter, The Coliseum. And the few I mentioned were just the tip of the iceberg that our group took in. But the stop I think about most often? Just hold on for a sec.

Venice, 2016…

My trip to France in 2017 (Germany was just a quickie side trip) wasn’t well planned. No tour guide who had you at the train station at 7 am, forking over a ticket, telling me how long the ride was, here’s your breakfast box, then handing me an itinerary 3 pages long. Yup, every second was accounted for. In Paris we had no agenda, so when Shannon said, “we only have 3 days for sightseeing. These are the biggies, take your pick.” I don’t know if I was just more impressed with what France had to offer (in my mind France had never been very impressive) or that we were on our own without direction or supervision. Since I never really wanted to go to France, it came as a pleasant surprise when The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Arc de Triomphe impressed me. Much more than I thought they would.

Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 2017…

I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not always the most breathtaking, stunning beauty of our world’s land, seas, or structure destinations that stay in our hearts and minds long after we’ve returned to reality after witnessing such impressive places. I think you’re gonna be surprised with my top pick. I am. Please remember I’m not a world traveler, but I don’t think my list is shabby either. Here’s a quick rundown. No one wants to hold down last place but someone’s gotta take one for the team.

Here they are ladies and gentlemen. The Fab Four…

7. Mount Rushmore. It’s big and impressive. I was speechless for a couple minutes which is not an easy feat. During one of our trips some maintenance work was being done and workers were hanging precariously all over the faces. Looked like a nose hair or booger hanging out of George Washington’s nose from where I stood. Worth remembering, right?

The Caribbean at Cancun, 2012…

6. The Caribbean. Only God can make those water colors. Well played God. I was impressed.

Notre Dame, Paris, 2017…

5. Notre Dame. Walking towards it on a gray, rainy morning, I still had to stop for a couple minutes simply to take it all in. Construction started 850 years ago. Unbelievable. The stained glass windows are indescribable.

I’m a hopeless photographer but this is the best picture I’ve ever taken…

4. Eiffel Tower. It’s relatively new compared to most structures in France, built for the 1889 World’s Fair. Aww, just a baby, but I love it. You can see most of Paris from any level, (I only made it up to the first) which is stunning.

Rome’s Coliseum-spectacular, 2016…

3. The Coliseum in Rome. It’s huge, and held more than 60,000 screaming fans back in the day. It makes Notre Dame appear brand new, construction started in 70 AD. Those Romans were certainly fit as a fiddle. I didn’t take out my tape measure but the steps between rows are not of our world. Each step had to be 12-16 inches tall. Not easy climbing up or down. (I had a terrible time deciding if the Coliseum should be #3 or ratchet it up a notch to number 2. My cross to bear).

Niagara Falls, my happy place…

2. Niagara Falls. Absolutely my favorite spot on earth. I’ve been there several times and each time I have a harder time leaving. I’m hooked on the American side. You can almost touch the falls by the Bridal Veil. I’ve watched fish go over the Falls in that clear, mint green water. Breathtaking.

The feeling this wasn’t a tourist stop began at the entrance to the Cemetery…

1. Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, about 8 miles outside of Florence, Italy. After we were dropped off, the vastness of 70 acres, the quiet, solemn beauty, incredible landscaping, reflecting pool, statues, wall plaque, American flag flying proudly. Row after row, after row of white crosses on exquisite green grass immediately brought tears to my eyes. Forty-four hundred of America’s finest fighters buried here, most lost in June of 1944 after Rome was captured. While the natural beauty of the Caribbean and Niagara Falls are mesmerizing, or exploring the Coliseum and Notre Dame are mind boggling in their engineering and workmanship from centuries ago, for me it’s been the most constant reminder of what Memorial Day on the 30th of May’s true meaning is about. Their service and dedication, fighting for the greater good. For us in a foreign country. The ultimate sacrifice. Where would we as a nation be without them?

United States flag in American Cemetery in Florence Italy, 2016…

Memorial Day (originally called Decoration Day) was a way of recognizing and honoring the men and women who died while serving in our military. It started soon after the Civil War and was observed on May 30th each year from 1868 through 1970. In 1971 it became a federal holiday and has been celebrated on the last Monday of May ever since.

This will give you a lump in your throat and bring tears to your eyes…

I’m still puzzled why visiting the American Cemetery in Florence has had such a profound affect on me after 4 years. It’s akin to seeing any the aforementioned natural or man made wonders of the world for the first time-yet totally different. I never truly appreciated the real meaning of Memorial Day until I spent a couple hours at a cemetery in a far away land, weeping and paying respect to our most deserving. That visit has changed my life-for the better…

Thank you for your service…
A memorial wall plaque at the American Cemetery in Florence, Italy…

Days of the week…

I went to France and Germany in 2017. It was an impromptu trip. Who does that? My guess, usually not the person who never had a desire to travel abroad. Shannon was there for about a month while Peyton (13 at the time) toured with group of like-minded talented singers from Blue Lake Fine Arts camp.

Limber Peyton in front of Arc de Triomphe, Paris, 2017…

Shannon was alone in France for a week after Tracey and Landon flew back to the States. She had rented an apartment and car, so when she offered the invite, my only cost was my flight, food and souvenirs. What the heck, I’m in. In fact when I look back, I sincerely wish I’d stayed another 2 days. There wasn’t enough time to do all the things I had on my list (the list just miraculously appeared, The Louvre, Versailles, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame, Arc de Triomphe, Normandy American Cemetery ) but with 2 days of travel back and forth to enjoy Peyton’s last concert, my sightseeing time was limited. (Note to self: 5 years down the road the cost of staying 2 more days will be negligible but the memories I should have experienced are irreplaceable. Stay the extra 48 hours).

Eiffel Tower, my second favorite spot on earth…

I like calendars. I once did a story about my calendars I’ve kept. They’re kinda like mini-diaries with stuff I jot down, births, deaths, doctor visits, trips, weather oddities like snow showers during May, just snippets of my mundane life. While I was in France I bought an inexpensive calendar for 2018, mostly for the gorgeous monthly pictures of spots I got to see and some that I missed. Did the same thing when I was shopping in Germany. Nice little reminder of my impromptu trip.

The calendar I couldn’t use. And my Eiffel Tower picture is way better, right?

After I’d been home a couple months I found the 2 calendars in a bag in my magazine rack. Tore off the plastic and enjoyed the pictures. Smugness for some, “yeah, I’ve been there, and my pictures of Notre Dame are definitely better than this lame shot in the calendar.” Regrets on other months, “why in the world did I fly back on Saturday? That was nuts. Why didn’t I stay and let Shannon take me to Versailles and Normandy? Dumb, dumb, dumb. I’ll never get that opportunity again. Foolish.”

Saint Francis of Assisi at the Louvre. Mona Lisa is over rated, small and dark…

A couple months later, maybe December I got the calendars out again. I go through each month ahead of time where I jot down the stuff I want to remember for the upcoming year. That’s when I noticed something odd about the calendars from Europe. The days of the week are listed in the wrong order. Or maybe not. Since we read from left to right their weeks started with Monday, ending with Sunday. Our calendar week starts with Sunday and end with Saturday which really doesn’t make much sense when you think about it.

Didn’t get to tour this…

It all started in the Bible. God had this monumental work project to complete. And the sundial was ticking. He let His imagination run wild with saltwater fish. I mean a clown fish wiggling around in an anemone, not many could put that one together. There were lions and tigers and bears, oh my, but also aardvarks, anteaters and zebras. Can you just imagine the fun He had with spots and stripes? He invented clouds and wanted them quite specific, cirrus, cumulus, stratus. Not done in your typical New York minute. The sun, which is indeed life sustaining (thanks for the sun God, you could let it shine more often in Michigan when you get a minute), moon for the whole in & out tide thingy, stars for the constellations, a wide variety of trees, annuals and perennials (for those of us who don’t plant every year because we hate it). He went a bit over the top with bugs, butterflies, bees, flies, cockroaches and dung beetles. I bet He cracked a smile more than once during those frenzied 6 days of creation. But one would have to question His wisdom with the whole mosquito fiasco. (Just keeping it real here God).

Couldn’t help myself. I crack up every time-Sorry…

So 2 things happened recently that have me leaning towards the European way of this calendar business. Remember I illegally latched on to the Sioux Falls mayor’s challenge of walking 100 miles in 100 days, which started on April 20th (a Monday). As I keep track of my weekly mileage, my walk week would end on Sunday night. (Ok, gonna brag. Today is the last day of my fourth week in the challenge and I’ve logged 131 miles of walking).

31 miles this week with a few hours (and laundry) to go…

The second thing is about my music while I walk. It’s old and tiresome, like me. Good music but the same crap day after day, year after year. I just can’t get motivated to check into iTunes and buy some songs. It’s time consuming and spending $1.29 a song takes a huge commitment on my part. Instead I did something that took just as long, but didn’t cost anything. Rearranged most of the songs I already have. Deleted every playlist in my library and started over. Started with my absolute top 25 favorites, allowing only one song from an artist on each list. My goal was a different playlist for each day of the week, and I didn’t want to use shuffle. Thought it would be more fun and better for my head if I tried to memorize (know/anticipate) what song was coming up next. This hasn’t worked very well, I either have too many songs on each list or not enough. One day the last song ended and I assumed it would just start over, but all I got was silence and slower feet. I can’t do anything as I’m walking so I had to stop, get out my phone, start the playlist over. With mace in one hand and my walking stick in the other. No can do.

Saint Denis, holding his own head in front of Notre Dame, 2017…

Who in the world decided our calendar weeks should start with Sunday? It’s more logical to start with Monday, the first day of the work week for most folks? Ending the week with our 2 day weekend of Saturday and Sunday? God didn’t have any issues creating an entire world in a few days did He? Paraphrasing here, “six days shalt thou labor and do all thy work, but the 7th day is the sabbath. In it thou shall not do any work. Almost 70 years old and just figured out Sunday should be the last day of the week on calendars, not the first. Go figure…