My broken sole…

Knew it was coming and thought I was prepared. I stewed about it, wrote about it, got my head screwed on straight about it and still it tripped (a pun perhaps) me up. This all started about 15 years ago.

Pencil sketch of Rosemary…

I was tending my own little flock as Parish Visitor. Seeing to the needs of the older population from our church who no longer attended Sunday services. A young woman from the congregation was suddenly added to my list (she didn’t fit the mold). Not quite young enough to be one of my kids but pritnear. She was single, successful and just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Her mom had died in her early 40’s from cancer and Rosemary kinda felt like ‘it’ was coming.

My friend Robert was on my Parish Visitor list which was more typical…

She was determined to fight cancer like the warrior she was, hard and head on. Initially the cancer was found in one breast, but Rosemary decided on a double mastectomy plus had her ovaries removed as a preventative measure. After surgery and a few chemo treatments she was deemed cancer free. She went back to work and by all outward appearances was doing great. This grace period lasted about a year, then she started coughing. The cancer was back (everywhere, lungs, brain, leg) with renewed interest and a vengeance.

Rosemary on vacation in Hawaii…

For the first time in her adult life Rosemary no longer ‘dressed for success.’ Her business suits found their way to the back of the closet. She needed to be comfortable and warm (common complaint about chemo is feeling cold). She was enamored with my sandals (not at all dressy, kinda clunky actually) which didn’t surprise me. I lusted/coveted them for a spell prior to buying because they were expensive, but exactly what I was looking for. Really a pair of shoes, sporting well placed holes (so they looked great with shorts or capris) with covered toes and a comfortable foot bed. There were many styles/colors to choose from so my first pair was my favorite color-navy.

I was high on the list of Rosemary’s support team during her second-go-round with cancer. Her lengthy chemotherapy treatments were more potent this time which kept her nauseous fighting the side effects. But there were several days in between where she felt like a ‘normal early 40’ish woman’ and wanted to do what other young women did-go shopping! So we headed to the mall. She bought some expensive makeup and then we went shoe shopping. The Keen sandals she chose was similar to mine but black. Afterwards we stopped at her favorite Mexican restaurant. She was freezing (from the mall) and asked if we could sit outside that day to eat. It was hot, humid and in the upper 80’s.

Rosemary’s beige pair and her black Keen’s are on the left, the rest were mine…

Rosemary loved her Keen’s. A few days later when I picked her up for chemo she gushed she’d ordered 3 more pair online. She wanted so badly to normalize her life instead of cancer dictating what she could and couldn’t do. She had many good days but the cancer was spreading and the side effects were taking a toll, physically and emotionally.

The chunk that fell out of Rosemary’s sandal this week…

She’d lost a lot of weight and was conspicuously frail. She fell a couple times, tripping on a throw rug. Her oncologist told us to remove the rugs because she’d developed neuropathy in her feet (tingling/pain and numbness). He ordered insert braces for her shoes to help with her balance, but the braces didn’t fit inside her Keens. One day when I brought over lunch she set her black Keens next to me. “Can’t wear them anymore. I want you to have them-no arguments.”

This is how Rosemary’s Keens looked when she bequeathed them to me…

Rosemary passed away several months later on September 21, 2010. I’ve been wearing her Keens since 2009 and think of her every time I slip them on. They can hardly be called black anymore, now sort of a dingy, faded brown/grey. The waterproof material separated from the covered toe bed so Hubs re-glued them. The sole of her left sandal cracked all the way across near the ball of my foot, so Hubs re-glued and clamped it, but the crack was back (bigger) a month later.

Now faded to a dull brownish color and literally falling apart…

It’s not that Rosemary’s Keen’s are the only thing I’ve got to remember her by. I use her Fiesta Ware blue sugar bowl everyday. I drank coffee from one of her mugs daily until it cracked in a sink of soapy water. After scouring the Internet I found the guy named who crafted her coffee mug and wanted to buy another, but it’s not from a pattern he uses anymore.

Still use her sugar bowl but broke Rosemary’s coffee mug-ugh…

My navy Keen’s, 2 years older than Rosemary’s pair are still perfect. Guess I should have thought of that before wearing Rosemary’s 6 months a year for a decade. I searched the Keen site for the exact same sandal but there’s been some minor changes. (Well it has been 14 years). I ordered a pair but they’re not the same. Rosemary’s tattered sandals continue to fall apart. The loose cracked sole now has its own slapping sound whenever I take a step, plus it’s missing a huge chunk I found on the rug this week. Hubs walked through the room, shaking his head as I was trying to figure out how to preserve what’s left of her/my favorite Keens. “Have you ever thought having Rosemary’s Keen’s bronzed?”…

These are my mom’s but not such a bad idea for Rosemary’s Keens…

$12.71…

If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I love grocery shopping. Can’t explain/don’t understand exactly why but ever since there’s been enough money where I didn’t have to fret whether or not to buy a half dozen porterhouse steaks that happened to be on sale, I enjoy shopping for the food we eat.

One rotisserie chicken made at home…

I go once or twice a week depending on what’s on sale. Fresh fruit like watermelon or strawberries will beckon me more than twice. If there’s a certain quantity allowed at a good price I’m not above stopping a couple extra times to get my limit. We rarely eat out but we eat very well at home, so I spend more than most at the store, usually Meijer (Midwest franchise akin to Walmart but better) although I do my fair share at Kroger and Polly’s.

Tuesday I headed to Meijer but decided to make a quick detour to Kroger because their new sale ad starts on Wednesday and I wanted 3 things before this week’s sales flyer ended (why can’t they do Sunday through Saturday like Meijer)? Bacon, whole chickens and strawberries. At Kroger you have to use their own curtesy card which entitles you to sale prices or you won’t get the savings (not a fan but I do it).

My favorite store for groceries…

So I bought 1 chicken, 2 cartons of strawberries and 2 pkgs. of bacon. Before I left the store I thought the total was higher than it should’ve been. Yup, the checker didn’t scan the bar code for the chicken. Instead she rang it up by hand totaling $8.08. But the bar code (and the discount card) are needed to get the sale price of 99 cents per pound rather than the $1.49 per pound, so I was charged the full amount. Turned back to the curtesy desk, waited in line and explained the mistake. She races from her counter to check out the chicken prices. Comes back and laments, “I can’t find 99 cent a pound chickens back there. Are you sure it’s not in tomorrow’s ad?” “Nope it’s this week’s, that’s why I’m here today. Check the ad, Heritage Farm whole chickens, 99 cents.”

She spots the fowl sale price and asks her supervisor to help get my price adjustment. She owes me $2.71 for 15 minutes of my time I’ll never get back. On to my favorite store, Meijer and I’m not gonna dawdle cause I’ve got bacon and chicken in the Jeep.

Homemade fruit salad for lunch…

My list isn’t long but weird stuff that’s kinda hard for even this Meijer world renowned expert shopper to find. Oyster sauce, powdered milk, fresh Parmesan, minced ginger. I get the big Meijer ad in an email on Friday, a much smaller version in Sunday’s paper. The big ad had this deal: buy 30 dollars worth of Brawny, Clorox and Northern and get 10 bucks off instantly. So they had Brawny on sale (8 double rolls) for $14.99, Northern bath tissue (12 mega rolls) for $13.99 leaving me $1.02 short of that coveted 30 dollar mark (sneaky business people).

You gotta check your receipt-every time…

I mosey around looking for Clorox and bought what used to be a gallon, now 117 ounces (11 shy for those who need a refresher course in how many ounces in pints, quarts and gallons). Hoisted the jug in my cart, got in line, checked out and shuffled my way to the Jeep. As I’m waiting for the air to cool I check my receipt. No 10 dollar discount for my Brawny/Northern/Clorox. Turn off the car, walk back to the curtesy desk, stand in line. My turn and explain missing the 10 dollar off my total. She looks through the flimsy ad and says, “no I don’t see that advertised this week.” “But it was in the big ad in my email. You want me to get the tag hanging on the shelf that explains it?” “No I’ll call someone.” More waiting.

My curtesy person answers her phone, listens, mumbles and hangs up. “There is a sign by Northern, I don’t know why your 10 dollar instant savings wasn’t recognized (sneaky) on your receipt.” “Well I wasn’t sure what kind of Clorox to buy and thought there might be some weird scent or size I had get. I just wanted ten dollars off my total.”

She opens the cash drawer, grabs a ten spot, hands it to me with my receipt. (I don’t know how she plans to justify that transaction but that’s not my concern). I tossed the 10 in my purse, thanked her for the help and walked back to the car before my goose (chicken) is completely cooked. Fairly pleased and smug I start the Jeep, then this thought hit me: I just made $12.71 for a half hour’s work. Dang, that’s more money (per hour) than I’ve made in years. I think I may have a new calling…

A dozen…

It’s been a long time without you-exceeding sixty plus years. My memories of you remain vivid. Family, life, laughter and tears.

Larry 3…

You were older-but never ignored me, spending quality time with your sib. You rode bikes, played marbles and baseball while I was still wearing a bib.

The time we spent being children, life on the west edge of town. Consistently stroll through my memories, so I keep writing them down.

Larry, 4…

The gap in our age didn’t hamper, the friendship that we shared. You made the choice to play at home, showing me how much you cared.

The years we spent together didn’t last as long as I’d hoped. After you were gone from our presence, we were left struggling to cope.

Larry 5 by our playhouse…

The result of this tragedy for us, your loss was too much to bear. A dense fog drifted in and lingered. Suffered alone-not willing to share.

Assumptions are made for a long healthy life-sprouted with faith from above. But things in our lives often don’t work out-no matter how hard we have loved.

Larry 1st grade…

Your life was gone much too soon-we were so lost without you. Holidays bore no special appeal, birthday’s seemed meaningless too.

There’s only so many candles-that fit upon your cake. Some celebrate numerous birthdays, others deprived their own fair shake.

My favorite…

The last birthday we shared when you were still here-was in July, 1958. Mom added a dozen candles on top, not knowing-this would be your last cake.

Happy Heavenly Birthday Larry! July 24, 1946 to October 11, 1958…

Playtime…

I’ve been reminiscing about growing up during the 1950’s. Seems like I was always busy (playing was hard work). The going’s on in the life of Neese. My world expanded once we moved to 15th Street. More kids, more houses, close to downtown with lots of stores (soon I could walk and shop with my nickel, all by myself). There’s not much I regret about my childhood.

My own little house…

My playhouse was the bomb. Dad built it on the west side of town and moved it to our new (old) house. That playhouse provided me with endless hours of fun using my imagination. It had a real house feel and looked authentic with a front door, 2 windows, chimney and furniture. There was quite an age difference between me, Mona and Larry, so after we moved, I considered the playhouse mine. All mine.

Cindy (those bangs-hahaha) and Lori Jean…

I was doll crazy for years. My favorite was my baby doll, Lori Jean. I had a combination plastic pink bathtub/changing table where Lori was bathed, swaddled and slathered with baby lotion. I fed her bottles and changed her diaper. Mom had several undershirts and diapers made out of flannel with snap closures by our phenomenal seamstress, so my motherhood days were more realistic. The changing table had small compartments on the top to hold all my real baby products needed to keep Lori smelling great and free from diaper rash. My kindergarten sized walking doll Cindy, topped out about as tall as me. Mom wasn’t happy when I gave Cindy a haircut but she needed her bangs trimmed really short like mine. Yikes! A couple years later I got a lady doll with a fancy dress and black seams down the back of her nylons. During the summer I hauled them all outside to the playhouse, including the bathtub which I filled with the hose. Lori never complained about taking a cold bath like I would have.

Just like the one Lori was bathed in (minus the mold)…

Dad made a contribution to my early motherhood days. He had been “taking down a building,” for extra money. Inside this building he found an old wicker doll buggy which he brought home. The buggy held no interest for Mona or Larry, but since I was too young mom ‘saved’ it for me. Had I been allowed to play with it I’m sure I would have climbed inside or pushed it down the stairs. By the time she gave it to me I was halfway responsible and ‘played mommy,’ pushing it down the sidewalk with Lori inside. I still have the buggy.

My antique doll buggy that dad found…

Summer days mom would sit outside with me when our errant hollyhock’s were blooming. She taught me how to transform a blooming flower into a beautiful doll. It was during these crafting sessions with mom (neither of us were ever really crafty) when I discovered our huge rhubarb patch by the hollyhocks. I don’t remember how I got addicted to eating peeled, raw rhubarb with SALT, but that summer tradition continues to this day. Mom rarely salted anything, so salting my rhubarb and fresh tomatoes remains a mystery. When the drive inn became popular in Rock Valley, I ran my own drive inn from the window of my playhouse. No matter what the carhop wrote on her order, the chief cook and bottle washer (me) supplied my guests with a bowl full of fresh cut rhubarb with salt water broth. Made you pucker, yet still makes my mouth water. Yum!

Mom & I made flower dolls out of hollyhocks…

After I learned to ride a 2-wheel bike when I was 6, my world doubled. Soon I was allowed to go several blocks from our house although I usually rode on the sidewalks around town. Some of that ‘freedom riding’ was rescinded after my 12 year-old brother Larry was killed while riding his bike. I didn’t understand mom & dad’s logic but on this one subject I gave them very little grief.

Me, Larry w/ baby ducks & Mona in 1956…

Black walnut trees. Our driveway was long and straight consisting of a combination of gravel with weeds/few blades of grass in the middle of the tire’s natural path-all the way to the alley where our garage sat. In between our driveway and Kooima’s was a half dozen, huge walnut trees. Mom and dad never parked in the garage so our car sat by the side of the house. Each fall when the walnuts matured, these green discolored tennis sized balls fell on the driveway, staining the car and leaving tiny dents. Mom paid me to pick up walnuts and throw them in a bucket. She’d peel off the outside yucky green part, leaving the dark shell until it dried out, then she’d shell them. Their aroma and taste was much stronger than the mild walnuts mom bought at Koster’s. Still she used her freebies in baked goods and candies, although you could tell the difference by their distinctive taste. We weren’t there very long before dad had the trees removed. Because black walnut trees were sought after to use in making furniture, dad sold the trees and I lost my good paying job.

Dad with a couple walnut trees lining the driveway…

I played with dolls until I was 10. After my bed was made in the morning (topped with my pink ballerina chenille bedspread) it was literally covered with my stuffed animals. I had a black & white Panda that was heavier than me and took more room on my bed at night than I did. I kept them around for protection from the apparition who lived in the attic and sought to do me harm. (Nightmare when I was 8)…

Permanent Solutions…

This stems from something I read not long ago. In my case it happened decades ago but not many questions were asked or third degree. Just to be sure I asked Hubs what he remembered about the months in question and he explicitly said no one talked to him about it besides me. First, some background.

Shannon was # 1…

We were nearing our 9th anniversary in 1978. Parents of two, Shannon was 7-1/2 and Joshua was 3-1/2. I no longer had to pack diapers and extra outfits every time we left the house. Although I asked him a thousand times a day, Josh had to go potty as often as a parched camel needed a drink.

I hadn’t been feeling very well. Nothing specific, just a tender belly. I trudged to my OB/GYN who ran some tests. When I returned for the results he said frankly, “you’ve been taking this birth control pill too long (about 7 years total). You need to stop immediately.” I frowned, “but there’s this issue of not getting pregnant. It’s been a great form of birth control.” He hammered his argument home. “This pill is much stronger than we’re prescribing now. It’s causing complicated issues with your normal cycle. Honestly, I doubt you’ll ever ovulate again.”

Joshua # 2, 1976…

Well this was a conundrum. Hubs and I hadn’t really discussed adding another child to the mix or doing anything permanent to prevent it. John knew since our dating days I didn’t want a baby after I turned 30 but I was only 27. He hadn’t offered to have a vasectomy which would have been ideal. After all I’d taken care of the birth control during this marriage for 8 years and counting.

I was concerned and uncomfortable enough to stop taking the pill, accepting doc’s theory regarding another pregnancy as highly improbable or impossible. And I did feel much better within a couple months. I thought we’d take a few months before deciding on what to do to prevent another pregnancy or maybe add to our family. You know where this is going, right?

Yup, a couple months later I was feeling mislick (Dutch slang for lousy) and headed back to the doctor. I was light headed and queasy with black spots before my eyes, so not really shocked when the pregnancy test came back positive. Doc acted embarrassed like it was his fault. Ewww. I wasn’t very happy but that was just me being selfish for a nano second, seeing my short lived freedom heading south for a few more years. Hubs was ecstatic.

Adam, # 3, “hey mom I’m stuck.” 1980…

Soon I was shopping for some new fangled one-piece T-shirts (onesies) in pastel colors and realized I was excited about becoming a mom again. Started seeing the doctor every month for my prenatal checkups and brought up the subject of a permanent solution for birth control. I hesitated bringing up the idea of a vasectomy again to John, but short of forcing him thought that idea wasn’t gonna fly.

“Doc, this is my third baby and I’m done having kids. What do you suggest?” “Well, at 28 you’re awfully young to do something permanent. Why not try a lower dose birth control pill?” Giving him my tried and true patented stink eye, “Because it’s not a permanent fix. How can I word this? I DO NOT want to go through another pregnancy and have 4 children. After this baby, I’m done having kids, no matter the outcome.”

The doc suggested choosing something less permanent a couple times before the end of my pregnancy, but he lacked enthusiasm on the subject as did I. When he realized he could not persuade me to try another birth control pill he suggested a tubal ligation the day after the baby was born, which would require one extra day in the hospital. Now this was an idea I could endorse. A couple of times he tried to change my mind because of my young age or me changing my mind later but he never once broached the subject of talking about it to Hubs.

Josh, Adam, Shannon, Christmas 1979…

One of my (way younger) Facebook friends recently posted this: “let women get their tubes tied-no questions asked,” which is the reason I started thinking about that summer of 1979 when I was last pregnant. Ugh, I’m old.

I was shocked and saddened by some of the comments on the ‘tubes tied-no questions asked’ issue. A couple women said their doctor required them to ‘get’ written permission from their husbands before scheduling a permanent birth control solution. One gal said she went to six (yes, 6) doctors before one agreed to tie her tubes because of a serious health concern. Another married gal had 3 children, didn’t want anymore children but the doc was reluctant because she was under 25 when she requested to have her tubes tied.

Amen…

Three young woman wrote, “my doctor risked her license to give me a hysterectomy when I was 20. I had to get my husband’s signature too. This was medically necessary since I had gone through puberty.” Second gal, “I wanted my tubes tied after having my son and I knew I was having a C-section, but my insurance company said no and my doctor said she could lose her license because I wanted permanent birth control.” And lastly, “this should be as easy as a vasectomy. If a woman doesn’t want children it’s a good solution vs birth control which is known to fail.”

I’ve never been the gal who’s happy discussing controversial issues. I believe in something wholeheartedly and you believe in the exact opposite, but just as fervently, which is each of our rights. But this struck a chord with me since I willingly and (forcefully) went through it decades ago. But it was my decision alone to make, not anybody else’s…

The hiding place…

I grew up in a small, northwest Iowa town, a few miles from the South Dakota and Minnesota borders. We knew snow, ice, sleet, blizzards (snow storms with 20-40 mile an hour winds) and below zero temps for a couple months a year, plus enough hot, humid, rainy and gloriously sunny days the rest of the year so our farmers (not me, I was a townie and didn’t know what a stalk of corn looked like) could grow beef, hogs and the best crops (corn, wheat, oats, soybeans) to feed the world. We didn’t know any other way of life. This was Iowa. Weather was part of the deal. Just happened to be where we lived.

Iowa, Iowa, that’s where the tall corn grows (tall enough to hide kissy-faced teens in cars)…

During our frigid winters it was commonplace to see multiple cars parked diagonally in our downtown (2 or 3 blocks long) area or the grocery store parking lot, completely void of humans, but every car was running while a few necessities were being bought or charged (no, not with a credit card, some families had a small line of credit for groceries and paid their bill every month). It took several minutes to warm up your car when it was 25 below zero and not worth turning the car off for a ten minute shopping spree. I don’t ever remember one car being stolen during this strange winter phenomenon.

A few flakes in Iowa during 1960…

When the Hubs and I started dating he had his driver’s license (I did not) but he wasn’t allowed to drive often. His oldest brother Jimmy (13 years older than John) GAVE him a 1958 4-door, green & black Ford Fairlane in 1964 but their dad made John give it back. He just didn’t want Johnny driving for some reason. It had nothing to do with extra expense like gas and insurance because John would have had to pay for all that.

Visiting Johnny’s house, 1965…

When I was at his house for the evening and we were experiencing inclement weather, if it wasn’t too late (say 10ish) John’s dad would give me a ride home otherwise Johnny walked me home (about a mile), then walked back. When we weren’t with another couple those first couple years, we walked everywhere. There were definite advantages to knowing our way around town-on foot.

When we couldn’t see each other, we spent hours connected to this odd device…

My parents were not big John supporters. They felt I could do better. He wasn’t part of the holy reformation in town. The First Reformed, Netherlands Reformed, Calvin Christian Reformed and Christian Reformed. I mean he could have picked any one of them and probably got their blessing. But no. Worse, he was a Methodist and they only went to church (gasp) once on Sunday. Our off and on again high school dating years was met with open hostility and mom and dad’s express disapproval. They tried grounding me which didn’t work. The more they fought me on something, the harder I fought back. True, I was a brat, but they weren’t being fair either.

Now Calvin Christian Reformed would have been acceptable…

Mom and dad were strict and I was not the best follower of rules in general. Many nights I ‘got out of the house’ under false pretenses, something I excelled at. Said I was going to Char’s, or a group of us were doing something together-completely innocent at someone’s house, but mom and dad always seemed to know when I was up to no-good. So I’d sneak to meet John at the Bowling Alley but we couldn’t stay there-right out in the open, we might be seen and my folks would find out where I was before the hour was up. I swear they had a whole network of ‘confidential informants’ tracking my whereabouts. Dang, they were good, but so were we. Still hope that cost them some coin.

Rock Valley had no Wells Fargo but during the winter this is the where we stored our snow-right on Main Street…

Johnny Wayne and Neese had the means of hiding in plain sight around our little town, and nobody was the wiser. When darkness blanketed Rock Valley we moved about freely, you just had to know the right places. Certain blocks had more trees, darker coverage, families too busy to pay attention to a young couple copping ‘feels’ while freezing their watusi’s off walking past.

A car like this is where we should have been making out, but John’s dad made him give it back…

When mom and dad got ‘this feeling’ I was out & about, one of them would get in the car and start cruising the streets, fervently hoping to catch us walking along, holding hands (or worse). Fat chance! Often we would watch them back out of the driveway and snicker. “They’re at it again. How long before they come back to 15th street?” John would say, “Well, they have to go past The Cue, then the bowling alley at least twice to see if they can spot you through the windows. Then past my house before they come back this way. We got some time.”

We had an ingenious hiding spot half block from my house. This block was home to 3 buildings. A very large Catholic Church, a smaller building which had been a parochial school but now was a teen hangout called, Cloud 9. The only other building was the parsonage for the priest. Although there weren’t a lot of trees, this whole city block was quite dark. The back of the church faced north and had an indented ‘notch.’ The perfect fit for 2 sinfully, hormonal teens.

Where the sinners gathered in back to make out…

Most of these ‘hot dates’ took place when the weather was not. I knew what I was in for and dressed appropriately. Johnny invariably ‘forgot’ his gloves and begged to warm up his hands elsewhere on my anatomy. Hahaha. When we were lucky enough to beg, borrow or steal a set of wheels for the night we utilized other hiding places (parking spots) around town, namely fields out in the country. It’s where I finally familiarized myself on the difference between corn and boybeans, I mean soybeans that Iowa was famous for…

June, 2014…

Sometimes significant dates are anticipated with fanfare, others sneak into your head with “how did that happen? Can’t be that long, seems like yesterday.” (Like a kid or grandchild suddenly older than you think they should be). With a slight head adjustment you celebrate accordingly or acknowledge, guess it has been that long.

First picture of Larry I used in a blog. He jumped off a haukee (small shed) and had a bruise on his face. This was his ‘good side’ in kindergarten…

A seed had been planted, unintentionally, but sown nonetheless. I was fairly new to a group on Facebook when a childhood friend mentioned my comments (on anything) ran long and wordy. Hmm, maybe I should be more productive with all those words/events/stories bouncing around my head.

Neese, Larry & Spitzy, summer of 1954…

Eight years ago I started blogging, assuming it was a passing fad I’d grow tired of in a few months. It was a means to preserve the stories of my youth. The most memorable event from my childhood was the death of my 12 year old brother when I was almost 8. It left gaping wounds in all of us (mom, dad, big sister & grandparents). No matter how many times that cut was stitched and covered up with a clean bandage, it routinely popped back open and began to fester. Year after year, decade after decade. A tragedy of this magnitude is not something you heal from. It simmers beneath the surface for the rest of your life. Sometimes clinging painfully for weeks, other times sinking to greater depths, but always lurking, making sure there would never be a day in my life since October 11, 1958 when this fissure of grief would disappear.

The only family picture of ‘The 5.’ Dad 40, Larry 11, Mona 14, Mom 31, me (Denise) 6, 1957…

A few of my early ‘Larry’ stories were excruciating hard to write and landed me in a funk for a spell. Surprisingly though, most of my big brother tales have had the opposite effect. They have been inspirational and gratifying which does my heart a lot of good. It’s been uplifting to recall what filled his 8-12 year-old days, playing baseball (he was a southpaw), shooting marbles in our driveway, using his BB gun at the dump, riding his Schwinn, catching pigeons in barn rafters late at night with dad, his lisp, his white blonde hair. He was kind, well liked and had a lot of friends.

Larry 12, his last school picture…

From the beginning friends from our hometown where Larry and I grew up offered morsels of information about him I never knew before. Since Larry was 4-1/2 years older than me, we traveled in different social circles (I really didn’t have a social circle) during our short life span together. Those fragment peeks into Larry’s life (without his little sister) has been the most positive aspect of blogging.

Larry & his little sister in 1955…

When I’d get stumped trying to capture another day in the life of Larry I’d write about growing up in our small, northwest Iowa town, church, school days, dating, eloping, home life and more church. The 3 M’s in my life, marriage, motherhood and menopause has always been a fruitful source of mundane material. When I posted story number 100, 200, 300 and recently 400, I celebrated, kinda pleased with my longevity of commitment and growing totals.

Larry by our playhouse (before I was born) 1949…

Writing this ordinary blog about my life has been the most therapeutic, frustrating, immensely rewarding, soul-searching, candid, tear filled endeavor. The pictures included in my posts bring me contentment and joy, plus the comments after I publish are better than what I write! I’m trying to preserve the memories of my life-with Larry and life without.

Larry’s BB gun…

Don’t know how much longer I’ll continue to write. It seems prudent now to go back to the beginning and proofread, edit and delete (a few which were written without much forethought or kindness). If I come across any that are particularly interesting I’ll repost it occasionally for those not with me since the beginning. For every one of your encouraging comments, this Storyteller from a One-Stoplight Town remains in your debt. Profoundly, sincerely, enormously, thoroughly, eternally and sincerely grateful for every kind word you’ve written…

Yarn, tape & pins…

My mom was an accomplished knitter. When I was in school she knit stunning one-of-a-kind sweaters. Complicated, intricate, beautiful patterns. I loved the sweaters because no one else had one like it. She’d go shopping in Sioux Falls, searching for material and a pattern to coordinate with the sweater like a pleated skirt or lined wool Bermuda shorts (which I wore all winter-with knee socks and saddle shoes). Mom had a seamstress who was a magician with her sewing machine. I thought I was pretty close to cool.

One of my favorite sweater’s mom knit for me, 1966…

I’ve never worn a lot of jewelry. Part of the reason was an allergy to nickel, one of the main metals in costume jewelry and parts of watches. If the metal from a watch or earring touched my skin, I’d immediately break out with red bumps and itch, so wearing a watch wasn’t part of accessorizing. I never knew the time which was annoying until John bought a darling pin/watch I could wear on my sweater. If I looked down to check the time the watch faced the right way for me, not the person in front of me.

My well trained 4-legged friend…

As a high school girl, steadily dating Johnny Wayne, (now the Hubs) there was a centuries old, ritualistic custom of exclusivity to demonstrate your undying love and loyalty to your significant other. This involved wearing each other’s class rings. Very prominently. He shoved mine on his pinkie, making it about half way, aware at all times to keep his finger bent or it would slip off unnoticed. His steady girlfriend went through more elaborate measures to wear his huge ring. Hubs had a sapphire stone in his ring (my favorite color), mine had an onyx stone.

I’m in front. See where my hand is so John’s ring is visible. Looks like a wad of tape stuck on the underside…

Since my mom had every type/texture of yarn known to mankind, I’d change the yarn on his ring to match my outfits. Winding colorful angora, wool or mohair on the bottom half of his ring several times until his size 12 fit my 5-1/2. I never wore his ring on a chain around my neck because it would have stood out farther than my non-existent cleavage.

Char, me, Shirlee & Pam. Look at his class ring-hahaha…

For a change of pace I’d take a long strip of white bandage tape and fold it several times, resembling the shape of Chiclets or Luden’s Cough drop and tape it to the underside of his ring. This meant his ring stuck up very high (and got in the way of everything). Sometimes I’d loop a length of tape around the bottom of his ring like the yarn but that left significant gaps on each side which might accidentally hook something else and rip off a finger. Dang the pressure of going steady was a constant struggle. In a lot of ways.

My paperboy pin…

Since my unique sweater days I’ve been hooked on pins. First the designs were animals like a puppy. Mom bought several pins to dress up my patterned, solid color sweaters. Adding a cute pin near my shoulder accented my outfit. Hubs bought Shannon and I matching bee pins when she was little. But my favorite pin was also my smallest. A minuscule gold tone mouse with tiny black eyes and a very long tail. That little guy (who moved the cheese?) switched outfits almost everyday during high school (and got better grades).

My favorite pin for over a half century…

I stopped wearing pins for a decade after I became a mom. You don’t realize both shoulders are constantly occupied until you have a baby. There’s nothing as fulfilling as having the sweet smell of your newborn making little grunts and squeaks next to your ear and falling to sleep upright on your chest. But not very convenient if they’re getting gouged or scratched because a piece of jewelry is in the way of their comfort. By the time babies morphed into toddlers, they constantly yank on your necklace chain, tug your earrings until you lose a lobe and chew any fingers sporting rings. When they were finally past the baby/toddler stage, I started wearing pins on sweaters and jackets again until I went rogue and stopped wearing anything fancier than t-shirts, sweatshirts and blue jeans.

Cock-a-doodle-do…

Life is constantly changing, something I’m not always fond of. A few years ago if I left the house, I’d be sporting a couple rings, a necklace, bracelet, and I went out almost everyday. Not so much anymore. A couple trips to the grocery store every week, church on Sunday, otherwise I’m usually home-without jewelry, but I’m ok with that schedule…

Shannon’s bee pin…

My White Tennies…

It was late fall, 1962 and I was 11. My sister got married in 1960 and my 12 year-old brother Larry died 1958. Guess this was the new normal for our shrunken family of 3. The room that was Larry’s (downstairs, off the living room) had been recently revamped into a family room. We didn’t watch much TV because mom thought it was rude to arrange a formal living room around a TV, so there wasn’t one in ours.

Dad, Larry, Mona, mom & me in the middle. Still a family of 5 in 1957…

Mom bought a new couch for the living room, then moved the old brown one to our ‘den,’ complete with a small, spiffy black and white TV. The room was quite small, maybe 8 X 10 (she later transformed this into a huge walk-in closet after dad added a master bedroom on the back so they didn’t have to climb our steep, ladder-like staircase). The couch resided on the west wall, a small bookcase/cabinet on the north wall (which would forever change that night), our black & white in the northeast corner and a chair in front of the only off-set window (almost blocking the doorway to the living room).

Dad, sleeping (with my dolly-haha) in the den, 1961…

Mom had other uses for the den besides TV, like ironing. She’d lay a bath towel in the middle of the couch, then fill an empty, emerald green glass 7-Up bottle with tap water (Rock Valley had the best water) and shove a cork with a metal top full of tiny holes into the bottle opening. Sitting on the end of the couch, she’d grab a dress shirt of dad’s or one of her pristine white uniforms and lay it on the bath towel. Tip the pop bottle upside down and shake, causing droplets of water to fall on the massively wrinkled clothing (which had been hung on a clothesline outside to dry after going through our wringer-washer)! She folded the shirt and wrapped it up tight like an egg roll. Set it on the towel and ‘sprinkled’ the next piece of clothing. She covered the sprinkled clothes with another towel until she was ready to iron the whole batch. She was fine doing other chores before she ironed but she didn’t leave them for hours or days because they’d mildew if left unattended very long. Ugh. She did this every week-without fail.

Does this little angel look like she could ever get in trouble-for anything?

Although I wasn’t quite 11, most kids my age were allowed (and encouraged) to play outside after supper even when it was getting dark. I couldn’t go near highway 18 (several blocks away) where a car had hit Larry. For the most part though Rock Valley was like the ‘free space’ on your bingo card, and we did our share of roaming around. But this night I was only going a couple blocks away, to the school’s gymnasium. It was basketball season and I was going to the game-right after I finished watching a new program called ‘Combat’ which started at 6:30.

Before hitting my teens I was actually a pretty good kid. Oh I was spoiled and manipulative (aggawaase and zhanicky in Dutch slang but didn’t cause my folks much grief. They had more than their share of grief over Larry’s untimely, horrible death). However, I really, really wanted to go to that game and made a terrible-spur-of-the-moment decision after I caused an accident and snuck out of the house before mom noticed what I had done.

Innocent Neese with my teddy…

I was watching Combat when mom fell asleep on that old brown couch. She woke up early, worked very hard, made supper, did the dishes and laid down for a few minutes before doing other chores. Dad came home after work, washed up, ate supper and changed from his work overall into a suit. He had something to do at church or for the church so he was already gone.

I was multitasking and in too much of a hurry. Watching ‘Sergeant Chip Saunders’ and getting ready for the game so I could be out the door by the closing credits. (Remember when TV series offered 30 episodes a year and were 50 minutes long with 10 minutes of commercials instead of 18-20? Good times) I wanted to wear my white canvas tennis shoes but they were scuffed up so I got out mom’s shoe polish she used on her nurse’s shoes. The bottle was maybe 4 inches tall and when you screwed off the top, the lid was connected to a sturdy wire with fuzzy/foam on the end, so it sat mired in the ocean of shoe polish all the time.

What a disaster…

I sat on the floor by the bookcase with the polish bottle sitting on a section of the Sioux City Journal. I slathered bright white polish on both shoes. They looked brand new! Set my shoes on the newspaper to dry and accidentally tipped the polish bottle over before the lid was screwed back on. White polish splashed and spread from the paper onto the carpet.

Neese, the angelic one, reading the gospel…

The righteous side of Neese said I should alert mom and she might be able to salvage the carpet. The mature thing was to own up to my mistake right away, but I knew she’d be furious and never let me leave the house after this costly accident. However, I was neither righteous or mature. So I quiet-as-a-mouse picked up the paper, threw it in the garbage, got another clean section of the Journal to cover the big white stain and escaped the house like a hardened criminal before she woke up.

I knew it’d be bad when she woke up, picked up the newspaper and discovered what happened, but my only concern wasn’t looking ahead a couple hours to the ramifications of the mess I’d made, only that I’d be in trouble AFTER I got home-from the game. Clearly not looking very far into my dubious future.

Mom didn’t get mad at me very often but she was was mighty ticked by the time I walked through that door. Insisted if I had just woken her up at the time she could have fixed it. Now the polish had dried and there was no way to get the stain out. She’d have to buy new carpeting. No spanking or slaps, just a stern reprimand. And for the first time during my first decade of life I was grounded to the house! It wouldn’t be the last nor the most grievous, but those are stories for another day…

The Godfather dilemma…

During the winter of 2021, we spent 2 months in Alabama. Our rented condo offered a stripped down package for cable TV. Didn’t take us long to realize how little we enjoyed the service. Although our package at home offered more choices, we were spending a fortune and using it very little. The week Josh (the middle kid) came to visit, we talked about getting rid of our cable provider when we got back home. At the time T-Mobile (our cell phone provider) was offering a special to join their newly formed TV package.

What we watched instead of TV in Alabama…

By the time we got back to Michigan, T-Mobile had partnered with YouTube and had a special for 50 bucks a month for streaming service. We were paying $140. Although we had been customers of Directv since 2003 it was time to try something different and get rid of that huge bill every month, considering we watched TV about 3 hours a day.

I ‘watched’ Josh eat oysters while he watched me eat shrimp in Alabama…

We decided to add Paramount Plus for 10 bucks a month because Seal Team and Evil had moved over from CBS. We were anticipating Taylor Sheridan’s 2 series, 1883 and Mayor of Kingstown, and Star Trek Discovery (which didn’t last for me. The female lead whispers her lines. Although I use headphones I still can’t understand her-ugh), Why Women Kill, The Stand (new version), Coyote, Star Trek-Strange New Worlds (which I like because of the captain, starring Anson Mount) plus coming soon, Bass Reeves, 1932, and Tulsa King which are only available on PP. As an added bonus, most programming from CBS is shown WITHOUT COMMERCIALS. Win-win.

The only horse head we wanted Shannon to see…

After I bought a new iPad Pro in 2020, Apple offered their fairly new network/streaming service free for a year, which stretched out to 18 months during the worst of the pandemic. In essence we cut our monthly cable bill in half and still had more than enough options to choose from. We’ve never been sorry we gave up cable. Not as enamored with Apple but there are a few shows we’ve enjoyed. Ted Lasso (their freshman season was hysterical, second year not as good but I remain hopeful for season 3), Tehran, Mosquito Coast, Home Before Dark and Hub’s favorite, For all Mankind. Thought we’d love The Morning Show but the characters are so self-centered and mean spirited, I can’t root for anyone on the show.

So a month ago Paramount Plus promos a mini-series about producing a movie way back in 1971-72. I had zero interest but Hub’s curiosity was piqued so we gave the first episode a chance. I WAS HOOKED. There was more drama/action/bribes/crime before Francis Ford Coppola filmed one minute of the movie. The acting has been superb. Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) had the tough job trying to produce a movie with obstacles in his way at every turn. His assistant, Bettye, played by Juno Temple is top notch (and so much easier to understand when she’s not using her British accent). While this was going on about 1 Mafia movie, (they couldn’t say ‘mafia’ in the movie-because of the mafia-oh the irony) were ordinary people paying attention and engaged by the drama surrounding? I never heard a word about this fiasco during the ‘70’s. But we were just getting started in the marriage and parenthood department, which was time consuming for this young couple.

Did not look as compelling as it’s been to watch…

Which brings us to the summer of 1973. What exactly were Johnny and Denise doing? Well, we were closing the door on anniversary number 4 and driving a baby poop green Chevy Vega Hatchback. Shannon, our exquisite first-born was just over 2. Our big weekend plan was to head for the Gordon Twin Drive Inn in Sioux City and watch a popular movie everyone was buzzing about called The Godfather.

Shannon looks agreeable to the terms of watching an adult movie-right?

Let’s start with Shannon. She was a beautiful, precocious, intelligent toddler who could be reasoned with (most of the time). We had discussions every day that week about going to a late night movie (no way could we afford a babysitter). She had agreed to the rules and signed the contract. We (mommy & daddy) would supply blankets, pillows, stuffed animals (her choice) and snacks (also her choice). We started our evening out at the kid’s playground (right in the drive inn movie’s parking lot). She could play until dark when the movie started. While the previews were on, eat her snacks, then she would lay down in her ‘bed’ and go to sleep because it was way past her bedtime. “I promise mommy.” As if.

She prayed fervently about falling asleep during The Godfather, but her prayers (and ours) went unanswered…

Darkness settled but there were so many distractions and nowhere to go. We listened to her chatter about everything, the kids that were allowed to stay at the playground after it was dark, the humongous screen in front of her face because she’d never laid her head down. The “bad words” she repeated with glee. She was enthralled-about everything that night. Kept her adorable face in the gap between our seats. “But I’s not sweepy. What hers doing? They fighting. Num-num. What’s dat?”

Shannon sitting on the Vega which she pronounced ’Bega.’

We hoped eventually she’d get sleepy and clonk out. Whatever we spent on tickets we really couldn’t afford. She never did. Her eyes were wide open and taking it ALL in. The movie had been out for a year by this time and Hub’s had heard all about the horse/bed scene. As the movie minutes ticked by we grew increasingly uneasy about Shannon seeing something at age 2 she could never un-see, but we desperately wanted to stay until the end. Could. Not. Do. It.

She was not a willing participant in leaving the drive inn movie early…

We packed everything, let her roll around the back (no car seat) while we drove home, wondering how the movie ended, but not worried that Shannon’s 2 year old moral compass had been compromised. The Godfather’s ending would remain a mystery until we bought our first VCR years later and rented the movie. By then we’d added 2 boys to our family and all 3 were safely tucked in their beds so there were no distractions during that horsey scene…