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…

The Electric Maid…

We lived in Michigan a decade before I realized we were 6 hours from one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. How could I not know this from day one? Oh I knew of its existence, just not the proximity of it to me. Hubs knew and might have kept this knowledge to himself, assuming once I experienced this breathtaking adventure I’d nag and beg him to take me every other week. Unfair. I’ve never asked to go more than once a year.

Niagara Falls, doesn’t get any better than this-ever…

I’ve written about this place before (with bubbling enthusiasm) because it’s something everyone living within our magnificent shores should experience. Seriously. When I backpedal to count the times I’ve been there, I’m pretty close to a dozen, (in 25 years) but that can’t be right. Every single trip feels new and fresh, and I savor every second. Even more fun when we bring ‘newbies’ along and see their eyes light up like Christmas morning when they were kids.

Probably my 2nd or 3rd trip to Niagara…

We issued invitations to friends and family over the years, “Come visit us, we’ll let you rest up for a day and then we’ll take a road trip.” Surprisingly, several have taken us up on that offer (which makes me happy).

At the Gorge that leads to a mysterious whirlpool…

I was more than ready this time. Our last trip was in December of 2019 when our grandson Landon (Drew to the rest of the world) played a college basketball game in Buffalo. I mean it’s a mere 30 miles away. A slam dunk! Who could ‘pass’ that up? That’s the first time we’d ever been there during the ‘off’ season. Cold but very little snow.

Ken, taking a pic while his pic is taken…

So we got a call a month ago from John’s nephew Ken and his wife Jeannie (we stay with them when we visit our native Iowa). Jeannie had just retired and they were anxious to explore their new world of retirement with some travel. Jeannie had gone once with her family right before she had Brandy 46 years ago. Ken couldn’t take vacation time and had to work.

Incredible…

They remember the litany I’ve repeated for everyone, “Niagara Falls gets 12-14 million visitors a year, probably 10 million during June, July and August when the kids are out of school. If you don’t mind waiting in long lines for the observation deck, souvenir shop, Maid of the Mist, Wind Cave, Aquarium, Trolley or getting up close and personal with the guard rails at The Bridal Veil, come whenever you want. If you want to have the ‘run of the place,’ it’s better to go in May, September or October.” Thus the mid-April phone call.

The Bridal Veil with the Observation Deck above the mist…

There have been some recent changes to the oldest state park in the United States. They seemed a little off and a bit behind this May. There was a huge construction site near the observation deck with a mesh fence surrounding the area, so we couldn’t see or walk through. Part of this cordoned off section was home to a large trellis covered in Wisteria. I sure hope that’s been replanted somewhere else but I didn’t see it during our stay.

Jeannie, Ken & John…

The Top of the Falls Restaurant (where we planned to eat lunch) was closed. The sign said they hoped to be open by the end of May. (Memorial weekend with hundreds of thousands of tourists descending upon them, sure hope they’re open). The Cave of the Winds was open but not offering flip-flops or a rain poncho, (but rain gear was included with your ticket for Maid of the Mist, which had gone up significantly). Plus most of the platforms/steps allowing you to stand kinda underneath the Falls wasn’t complete. These platforms and steps are installed every spring. (Hey, it’s spring). Half the Trolleys were running/half the time. Each attraction is now a la carte so you can no longer buy a ‘booklet’ of tickets containing passes for everything.

The platforms & steps a few years ago. Not much was in place this spring…

This trip was the first time the Holiday Inn (2 blocks from the Falls on the American side) had no rooms available, but we did find a nice hotel a couple miles away on the Niagara River. The big souvenir shop in front of the observation deck was closed on Friday, but open on Saturday. We saw no Trolleys on Friday but a couple were running Saturday. My favorite gnarly tree beside the Rapids has disappeared. Luna Island now has a huge, new platform/steps/ramp leading to the Bridal Veil Falls (my favorite spot).

My favorite Niagara Falls tree is gone…

The Maid of the Mist has always been a big attraction and has a couple of new features. The boat is now ELECTRIC and as soon as passengers disembark, an electric plug-in (hydraulic) was attached (as big as a teen). The diesel engines always growled as it worked to keep you as close to the Falls as possible. The electric engines are pretty quiet.

The Rapids clip along at 30 mph. If you fall in you will not survive…

As we were leaving the Mist, I decided to use the long, winding ramp instead of the stairs. (My knee needs to be replaced and I use a walking stick when a lot of steps are included in my day). The 3 Musketeers took a hard right to the stairs and I turned left behind a mom pushing a stroller. I stopped by a Mist guide because I couldn’t see the ramp (lots of people). He pointed to head left when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. Aww, it’s the new ‘Cautionary Petting Zoo!’

No words needed…

“Sir, is that a rattlesnake slinking in the rocks behind you?” “Ummm, yes ma’am it appears to be. (The snake was 30-36 inches long and as thick as a 50 cent piece) Why don’t you go quietly up the ramp? We’ll leave him alone in his natural habitat and contact the appropriate workers of what’s going on so we can keep our guests safe.” I was a couple feet from the snake but he (the Mist guy) wouldn’t let me take his (the snake’s) picture. Soon he pulled a large gate blocking people from getting within 5 feet of their new animal attraction. Yikes.

Jeannie and me by the Rapids in front of the walking bridge to Goat Island, 2022…

Wouldn’t be a righteous trip to Niagara Falls unless we stopped at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo where Buffalo Wings originated in the mid-60’s. Wonderful trip with easy going family. We had a great time and hope they did too…

Too little, too late…

After I retired as Parish Visitor, one of the ladies I visited regularly called me. She was having some health issues and none of her adult children lived nearby. She wanted to hire me a few hours a day until she felt better. I was happy to help out. Took her to several doctor’s appointments to find the cause of her debilitating pain. I grocery shopped, ran errands and whatever we had for supper at home, I brought over for Lois the next day because she was unable to stand for more than a couple minutes at a time.

My friend Lois…

She was in a lot of pain and had lost her spark. I was worried when she stopped reading the daily paper. Her orthopedic specialist discovered compression fractures in her spine and recommended surgery. She spent a couple days in the hospital. When she came home there was a hospital bed in the living room because her bedroom was on the second floor. With some rehab she bounced back quickly. I was relieved when her feisty demeanor returned.

Not long after Lois decided it was time to move closer to her daughter who lived across the state. We took a road trip to inspect an independent living complex her daughter Carla suggested. Lois chose an apartment in the back of the facility, overlooking a small pond. She listed her home and sold it within a week. Carla came over to help sift through the house her mom had called home for 40 plus years.

Lois…

Movers loaded up her belongings while I drove Lois to her new home in early July of 2014. We spent a couple nights in a rental apartment in the facility until her furniture was in the apartment. We had our house on the market at the same time and would be moving closer to our kids which put us a good hour away from Lois. Oh the irony. Until we moved in 2015, whenever we visited Josh & Erica I’d stop and see Lois who lived a few miles away. She made friends quickly, starting with the group who sat at the same supper table with her every night.

Once we moved to Jackson I drove over to visit Lois every few months with the exception of strict Covid restrictions during 2020. We’d go out for lunch (Red Lobster), maybe stop at Meijer or for an ice cream cone, then visit for the afternoon. I’d bring her a bowl of potato salad and some homemade cookies. We talked non-stop.

In between visits I’d send her a ‘thinking of you’ card every so often. Although I mailed numerous cards to multiple people at the same, every time I sent a card to Lois, she’d call to thank me. Every. Single. Time. Several of her oldest friends had moved or passed away. Whenever we got together it was like no time had passed since we last got together. We had history.

Other than having a couple teeth give her grief, she didn’t have many health issues since she moved. But there’s been some subtle changes. Recently she’s been in the hospital 3 times. Two piggyback hospitalizations caused by a new diverticulitis diagnosis. She called to discuss her new diet restrictions (telling me to skip the potato salad this time but knew chocolate chip cookies without nuts would be fine). She was feeling better and slowly re-introducing some foods.

Lois in the dining room for supper…

About a month ago she fell doing laundry. She was okay but dreaded walking all the way to the laundry room down the hall because there are only a couple washers and dryers and not good chairs while she waits (there is a laundry service and she could afford it, but she doesn’t like the way they fold her stuff-hahaha). I told her it was time for me to visit and coordinate her laundry duties when I’d be there for the day. (We no longer eat out, I either bring lunch along for us or stop at Jimmy John’s) before I get to her place.

Close to celebrating her 92 birthday, Lois had it together. She read the paper on her iPad everyday, played cards in person and on her tablet, always had her nose in a novel and checked her email a couple times a day. We talked around Easter and the plan was to visit her on April 27th and bring lunch (and homemade cookies). If something came up we’d email before and change the date. I sent her a quick note on Monday the 25th to confirm my visit but she didn’t answer me, so I called her Tuesday.

Carla answered the phone (sinking feeling). Said her mom had fallen a few days before and had been taken to the hospital as a precaution. She seemed fine and they brought her back to the apartment. But a day later she wasn’t making sense and slurring her words. She had a brain bleed and explicitly told the doctor and family, no extraordinary measures or feeding tube to keep her alive. Hospice was brought in the next day.

Told Carla how sorry I was and that I’d planned to come the following day. She said, “Oh, I remember mom saying you were coming, but not what day. I should have called, but this happened so fast. Denise, they don’t think she’s going to make through the night.” She didn’t.

Why didn’t I go the week before? Because my week was plumb full with a doctor’s appointment and a haircut. Ugh. Too little, too late. I’m sorry Lois. You are missed my friend…

Mom’s influencing aunts…

The band of seven Berghuis siblings. Four girls including my grandma who died a few days after giving birth to my mom and her twin brother in December of 1926. Adding the 3 boys Abraham, William and Floyd all born during the years 1897-1910 (including one set of boy/girl twins). The first born was Alida, born in 1897. She married Andrew in 1920 and started raising her own family on a farm near Sioux Center. Alida and Andrew had 7 children between the years of 1921-1937. Vera was born a few months before mom and Floyd, Norma arrived a couple days before the twin’s first birthday. It’s no wonder the motherless twins spent so much time at Alida’s house. She invited them over frequently to play with their cousins. It was aunt Alida who explained puberty and the facts of life to mom right along with her own daughters.

The Berghuis clan Top row left, parents Aafje, Pieter, Alida, Abraham, William. Bottom left their aunt and uncle twins Florence, Floyd, my grandma Coba and Lena…

My grandma Coba’s youngest sister, also named Florence-with a twin brother named Floyd. My mom and Floyd were named after their aunt and uncle-it’s so confusing with 2 sets of twins with the same names-16 years apart. Aunt Florence got married in 1935 and moved to Sioux City (40 miles away). Mom and Floyd were allowed to take the train when they were about 10 and stay with aunt Florence and her husband Frank, including spending the night. Aunt Florence took the kids shopping and bought Big Little books for a dime each to read on the train on their way back to Sioux Center.

Frank, aunt Florence, my mom and Floyd in the mid-1970’s…

Mom’s aunt Lena was born in Sioux Center, Iowa in 1903. She was the 4th child born to the Pieter & Aafje Berghuis family and 3 years older than my grandmother. Both Pieter Berghuis and Aafje Beukelman (Americanized Peter and Effie) were immigrants from the Netherlands. Pieter was born in 1862 and immigrated when he was 19. Aafje was born in 1877 and was brought over before her first birthday.

Aunt Lena, mom and my uncle Floyd around 1990…

There was a big age difference between Peter & Effie. They also differed a lot in their physical appearance. Peter was 15 years older and quite a bit smaller than his beloved wife. Mom said her grandpa Peter used to sit on Effie’s lap-hahaha. The reason mom was privy to so much information about her grandparents is she lived with them part time (the paternal grands had the twins the majority of the time-but they all had a hand in raising their grands). My grandma Coba was born in 1906, (the 5th child of their union) married in 1924 and died when she was 20 in 1926.

Aunt Lena, aunt Florence (think that’s my sister Mona) and my mom in the mid-1940’s…

The aunt my mom remained very close to as a child and an adult was Lena. Lena was 23 when the twins were born and still lived at home. She was one of the reasons Peter and Effie Berghuis felt they should be in charge of raising the twins for the most part. They were both younger than the paternal grandparents, Guert & Jantje but the Wanningen’s had a bigger, newer house and agreed to hire a nanny for the first 2 years. But the twins spent a lot of time with both sets of grands.

Lena worked at the Dime store and cleaned a piano/music store in Sioux Center while living at home. She got married in 1941 when she was 38 (mom was a waitress at her wedding). Lena’s husband Steve owned a 2,800 acre ranch in Wyoming and only went to town for supplies every 3 months. He sold the ranch after they had been married a couple of years and he and Lena moved to Ireton where he did carpenter work. He was building a house when a gust of wind pushed him in between 2 rafters and he was paralyzed from the waist down. They moved back to Sioux Center where Steve started a business sharpening knives and saw blades. In 1959 after 18 years of marriage Steve passed away at age 64. They had no children.

Florence and Floyd with their grandma Effie Berghuis, 1927…

Lena continued to live in Sioux Center in a small house close to downtown. I remember she had a beautiful antique oak kitchen cabinet filled to the brim with brightly colored Fiesta Ware, and a very fancy china closet. She died when she was 93 in 1997.

Grandma Jantje, grandpa Guert, my mom Florence and uncle Floyd by their house in Sioux Center, Iowa-1930…

The only paternal aunt of mom’s was my grandpa Lakey’s sister. Jantje (Americanized Jenny) was 7 years older than her brother, born in 1889. She married Paul and was very ill (cancer) during her first pregnancy. She had a stillborn son, then she died the next day. Jenny and the baby were buried together. This was in 1918 so 8 years before mom and Floyd were even born.

Jennie, aunt who never got to meet her niece and nephew. She died in 1918, my great-grandpa Guert, my grandpa Gerrit and great-grandma Jantje around 1914…

When studying our family’s history you realize how fragile life is and how many times tragedy struck…

The bargaining chip…

Mom was brought up in the church. She was raised by 2 sets of grandparents who were very religious. (One of her grandma’s peeled potatoes on Saturday for Sunday’s dinner) Dad went to the Methodist church sporadically when he was young. Kinda surprised for the first 10 years of their marriage my folks didn’t attend church-period. They joined Calvin Christian Reformed church when I was very young. My 2 sibs and I were baptized in that church in 1953 when I was 2-1/2, Larry was 7 and Mona was 10.

About the time the Gerritson kids got baptized, 1953…

We were one of the few families from the congregation who didn’t attend Christian school in Rock Valley. I never asked mom why we went to public school. It might have been out of their budget to pay tuition for us. By the time I’d been in elementary school for a couple years, I had my own set of friends and would have balked at changing schools. Actually I did balk and begged my parents to switch churches when I was about 10. They did. I think the move was good for all of us. Dad was in the consistory several times, taught Sunday school and spoke at different prisons with a church group. He was very involved.

I wanted to believe but needed proof…

Both congregations offered similar studies for their children/youth, Sunday school, catechism classes, choir and when I was in junior high and high school, First Reformed had a huge youth group that met on Sunday nights. I wasn’t missing much, I got plenty of religion with summer camps, vacation Bible school and the rest of the Bible classes. It was during this period (I was 10) when all this churchy stuff filled my head and I was tempted to believe some things written in the Bible might have been exaggerated or embellished.

Never look back…

Really some of it is pretty far fetched. Lot’s wife turns into a pillar of salt, Moses parts the Red Sea, Jesus walks on water, 5 loaves and 2 fish feed a crowd of five thousand, Jonah lives inside a whale and is released whole and unharmed, Moses’ rod turned into a snake, manna falls from heaven to feed the masses, Jesus’ conception and Sarah gets pregnant at age 90, (not the miracle I’m looking for God).

Get going, I can’t hold my arms up all day…

But since it was in the Bible I believed it as gospel truth. If Jesus performed all these miracles was it too much to ask for a miracle of my own when I was a kid? I thought not. If He expected me to accept the Bible as written, to love with Him all my heart, accept Him as my Savior, I felt it was ok to request tangible evidence of Him being all-knowing and holy.

Take my hand…

I realized He was busy with chaos in the world/sickness/wars/unbelievers and had a lot on His plate. I didn’t need my ‘proof’ to be a big burden. I didn’t even ask for a miracle. Not that my brother Larry be brought back to life, no riches beyond my wildest dreams, just simple proof and God was real and listened to me when I prayed at night before I went to sleep. Proving to this 10 year old that He really existed and heard my prayers.

Forty days and 40 nights…

Because it obviously wasn’t enough that God sent His son to save this sinner or that Jesus died on the cross. Believing He was the real deal was not enough for this decade old skeptic. He performed miracles before, I was just asking for one teensy miracle for proof positive that He existed for ME.

I will make you fisher’s of men…

For several weeks during my 10th year I prayed fervently every night, asking God for one minuscule sign. “Please, please move my sock on the dresser. I’ll make it easy by placing it close to the edge, just ready to fall off. All you have to do is give it a tiny shove. Won’t take you more than a second. When I wake up in the morning and see my sock on the floor I will be faithful and never doubt you again. I promise.”

Why do we want to control everything?

I thought God would be moved by my innocent sincerity. Impressed that someone so young was bargaining with Him and offering to become a better Christian. If I just got that one little favor. After awhile though, I realized God didn’t have to prove anything to me. He had already sacrificed His son. He didn’t need to give me proof. It really was the other way around. I needed to prove to God I was worthy of his sacrifice.

God be merciful to me, a sinner…

The Train…

The year was 1970, the exact date I can no longer remember, but it was close to our first anniversary (September) and the weather was still good. Hubs was working at Channel 4. He worked a combination of days and nights, sometimes 8-5, other days, 4-10:30. His day shift included the noon news and making commercials. During the night shifts he directed the local news at 6 & 10. He liked doing the 2 nightly news shows but that meant us never having supper together. Since I hadn’t learned to cook yet, he wasn’t missing much.

Hubs working at Channel 4, 1970…

I was pregnant (but cute pregnant). My second trimester with an undersized basketball protruding but not puffy, just a little belly. We had moved to Hinton, about 15 miles from Channel 4 and 45 miles from our hometown.

Summer of 1970, expecting Shannon in December…

We sold John’s 1965 Impala, a cool car we hated giving up but, not-so-responsible Hubs had gotten too many speeding and reckless driving tickets and lost his license before we eloped. Sigh. No reason to make 2 car payments when we couldn’t afford one, so we kept my 1968 Mustang with its 80 dollars a month payments.

The Impala…

Two (and a 1/2) people, 2 jobs, one car, 1 driver. What a freaking mess. John was so close to getting his license back and I was just as close to maternity leave but those few months in between took a lot of maneuvering. (He actually drove a few times through this fiasco and we were lucky he was never caught without a license). Unless it was impossible, I drove him back and forth, sometimes dropping him off to work before 7 when I had to be in Morningside.

Hubs was working the late shift and needed to be picked up after 10:30 when Johnny Carson started. The engineer on duty would sign Channel 4 off the air with the national Anthem at midnight. I had gotten off work at 3, rushed home, changed clothes, grabbed my gift and zipped to Rock Valley for my friend’s wedding shower.

The lemon…

I didn’t have time to stop and see my folks or my in-laws while I was in Rock Valley but had a great time at the shower and was heading back to Sioux City, using Highways 18 and 75. The roads were 2 lane until I got past Le Mars, then 4 lane but not interstate. Not positive but I think the 4-lane was 65 mph back then. I had to slow down 45 then 35 through Merrill and Hinton. I didn’t want to be late and was making good time.

My infatuation with driving has been my steady companion since I became a teenager. The Mustang was a 3-speed on the floor and I loved driving it (although it was the biggest LEMON). The Mustang refused to start if the temperature was between 28-40 above, if the air was damp or if snow/rain was predicted within a hundred miles. The passenger seat broke every other week. Since it had more than 12,000 miles, nothing was covered under the warranty or ever recalled. But it was cute and fun to drive when it started (and my last Ford).

Our little house in Hinton, 1970…

I was listening to the radio and getting back up to speed after going through Le Mars. Got about a half hour to get to Channel 4. These little Iowa towns are just far enough apart that once you’re up to speed, it’s time to slow down for another burg, this one was Merrill. Didn’t want to take a page from Hubs playbook on acquiring tickets (I did get one 30 years ago) so I start slowing down, finally downshifting to second. Not a lot of traffic after 10, but I’m not alone on the road either. Highway 75 always had traffic. There’s 2 lanes each way through town and I’m in the inside lane. I see the railroad tracks crossing all 4 lanes which means it’s back up to 45. I shifted back to 3rd when the car just ahead of me in the next lane slowed way down. I thought, what’s wrong with this guy?

Shannon decked out in yellow cause we didn’t know if she was a girl or boy before she was born, 1970…

I don’t know what made me take my foot off the accelerator, instinct I guess. I absolutely didn’t spot anything wrong or dangerous, but I hesitated, down shifted as he slowed and braked right along with him beside me, then came to a complete stop. I glanced at the guy to my right a second before a train just in front of the Mustang’s bumper roared past, rattling the car. My knees started shaking so bad I couldn’t let the clutch out or remember how to shift. The Mustang stalled and I just sat there. Frozen.

The family (1979) that wouldn’t have been had I not stopped because of the guy in the next lane in 1970…

Had that car been a few feet behind me I never would have slowed down or stopped. To this day that’s as close to an accidental death as I’ve ever come. Pretty sure I would have lost my life and Shannon’s. I still think about that night during the fall of 1970. How many lives would have been changed or not occurred at all. Mom and dad would have lost their two youngest kids in accidents. My three children wouldn’t have been born. John would have been a widower at the age of 22. There but by the grace of God, go I…

Mom’s kitchen necessities…

I see significant differences between my kitchen and mom’s. Though not really just MY mom’s but most moms as I was growing up during the 50’s and 60’s. They did more with less. Mom never owned a matching set of pans. She had a tall white, chipped enamel stock pot she used for soups. If she were making pea or bean soup, she’d fill the pot with packed snow from the backyard, let it melt to use for soaking the dried navy beans/whole peas overnight. She used an oval blue & white speckled enamel roaster when she made a roast (almost every Sunday she didn’t work).

How mom made a roast…

Her most frequently used was a heavy aluminum pan for spaghetti sauce, potatoes, fudge and penuche. I can’t ever remember that pan with 2 solid intact handles. They were stubby handles to begin with on each side but year after year chunks of the black Bakelite handles crumbled away. What was left years later were 2 long embedded, protruding screws on each side. Mom thought nothing of this and simply had a set of gnarly (but clean) potholders nearby when the pan needed to be lifted out of the oven or off the burner. It wasn’t that she couldn’t afford to buy new pans, she never felt the need.

I still make fudge like mom did…

She never used a thermometer. Cakes were baked until a toothpick inserted near the center came out clean. She cooked with terms like, “bake in a moderate oven until done,” “simmer until noodles are done,” “soft ball stage, hard crack,” or “when dropped by a spoon leaves a long, thin thread.” After she’d beat eggs whites really stiff, she’d boil sugar, white Karo syrup and water together until the long thin thread appeared, then drizzle that boiling mixture ever-so-slowly into the egg whites until it “started to lose its sheen.” Add nutmeats (one of her favorite words) then started scooping out buttered teaspoons full of perfect Divinity onto her most frequently used kitchen helper, Waxtex wax paper. Followed closely by Reynolds Aluminum foil. (She never called it aluminum foil, it was tin foil).

For years Shannon and I tried to make Divinity. This was 1992, the last year we saw success…

I have a half dozen various thermometers, just got my 4th KitchenAid mixer, yet I’m unable to duplicate her Divinity or 7-minute frosting. Mom didn’t start buying Tupperware until the early 70’s, so growing up we had no sandwich keepers, insulated lunch bags with freezer packs, salad containers, leakproof lidded cups to transport fresh fruits or fruit cocktail, plastic leftover containers, air tight canister sets and no snack, sandwich, pint, quart or gallon sized ziplock bags. Wow.

Mom’s kitchen (canisters) during mid-60’s. Cupboards only on west wall…

Mom used wax paper for numerous duties. Dad’s black lunch pail was filled with semi-transparent waxed paper everyday. His American cheese sandwich was wrapped between 2 pieces of Hillbilly buttered bread. Folded like a gift package it sat in the fridge after supper until Mom packed his pail the following morning. He ate a banana every day so mom wrapped it in waxed paper too, twisting the ends leaving it on the table so it could be added in the morning. She thought this lessened the banana smell seeping into the rest of his meal. Epic fail. I bet dad’s coffee in his thermos tasted like bananas. As soon as she opened his lunch pail after work the whole kitchen smelled like banana. But he loved them.

Mom’s way of keeping the smell of bananas contained…

Growing up my family ate supper together every night-at the same time. This ritual was non-negotiable, also including asking God to bless our food before, scripture reading and a closing prayer after. Dad was the only one who ever offered a valid excuse. He worked for the State Highway Commission and we lived in Iowa. Weather extremes. Hot humid summers when the highway would literally buckle up around supper time (the hottest time of day) and dad would get a call to fix the pavement before dark. Frigid below zero temps, massive snow storms accompanied by westerly gusts causing huge drifts. Dad would be plowing for hours between Rock Valley and the South Dakota line or to Sheldon and back.

Dad on the plow. Look at that wall of snow…

When dad missed supper what did mom do with his meal? There were no fast food joints along the highway (and he’d never stop at a restaurant if he had to work on Sunday) so he’d be famished by the time he got home. Warming up his leftover meal was tricky. No quick zap in the microwave and who wanted to make more pans dirty after mom cleaned up the kitchen? Sometimes he’d give mom a call from the state shop if it wasn’t too late before he headed home so she could get a jump on his food.

Mom’s favorite bowl (it matched her kitchen at the time)…

After he missed supper, mom would make his meal in a glass pie plate. Maybe a pork chop, boiled potatoes which she forked kinda flat, then gravy and green beans or corn. (Mom and I ate cranberry sauce with every supper-dad did not partake in our cranberry obsession). She’d cover this plate with tin foil and set it in the fridge. If he called before he left the shop, she’d light the gas oven (with a match igniting the pilot light), set the temperature on low and pop his meal in to warm up.

Dad & Shannon in the tiny kitchen, 1972…

Mom usually sat across from him while he ate to hear how bad the storm was or just catch up on the day. Besides he did this weird thing while he ate. He’d lift his index finger toward the cupboard if he needed something, never saying what he needed, like she was supposed to magically know. Used to drive mom crazy, yet she always got up for whatever was missing. Sometimes it would be butter. Mom bought butter by the pound not sticks, and would cut off about a fourth of it, place it on a small saucer and leave it in a cupboard because she hated trying to spread hard butter. Most often she had neglected to put the salt and pepper shakers on the table because she used neither. Think mom got him back when she gave him hard boiled eggs in his lunch pail. She’d actually sprinkle about 50 grains of salt, never pepper onto a piece of (you got it) waxed paper, roll it up like a hard piece of candy with twisted ends for his eggs. That wasn’t enough salt for one bite-hahaha.

Hard boiled peeled eggs for dad’s lunch pail…

I’m not a water drinker, never have been. But I know I’m supposed to drink water. Enter the lemon. I’ve discovered if I put a slice of lemon, add 40 ice cubes to a double wall insulated cup and fill it up with tap water I can gag down a couple glasses everyday. (Hubs says our tap water is good. I’ve got nothing to compare it to since I so rarely drink the stuff). So I buy 2 or 3 lemons at the store, rinse off one and slice it. Grab a ziplock baggie and throw the slices in it and stick it in the fridge. Lasts me about a week. This how mom would have preserved the lemon. She would have used a small, shallow dish to keep it in the fridge covered with waxed paper folded under the bowl. (She never liked Saran Wrap).

Mom used this a lot and often…

When she baked a cake, she’d stick about 20 toothpicks down in the cake, just past the frosting, then cover it with waxed paper (of course). She’d been a wealthy woman had she invested in wax paper stock after she got married…