Preliminary Steps…

I always thought my Dad was pretty handy and a good carpenter. Don’t know if it was out of necessity that he took care of stuff, but I rarely heard him complain about it. Think he really enjoyed working with his hands. First thing I remember he built was a playhouse. It was awesome. Real siding, windows, even a brick chimney. “Neese” in my playhouse when I was about 4 years old, 1955.



After we moved to 15th street, it magically appeared in the back yard from our old house. That must have been a bugger to move. Thanks Dad. He also like to “kanooey” (tinker) with kids furniture. He built several kid sized kitchen cupboards, resembling the old Hoosier cupboards, complete with doors, drawers, each weighed about a ton. All kids stuff were various sizes, depending on how much lumber he had at the time. He’d slap on a coat of paint, usually yellow, and use left-over linoleum for the countertop. I don’t know if he gave them away or sold them.

 

One of the Adirondack’s Dad built. Yellow, of course…


Once we moved to 15th street, he would stay busy off and on for 50 years with that house (not the play house, the big house). I don’t think it had a modern kitchen or bathroom when we moved in, something Dad started on immediately. He built kitchen cupboards, moved the sink so Mom could cook, and modernized the bathroom. The first addition to our house that Dad built was a “haukee.” A Dutch word for add-on or small room. The door to our basement was on the outside of the house, not a good idea during Iowa winters. This new haukee would eliminate that, plus we had a freezer the size of a 1960 Caddy and it fit in there perfectly. Dad then put on a door from the kitchen to this haukee cause there was no heat in it. The problem with this little room was the step from the kitchen. It was a doozy, maybe 4 inches deeper than a normal step. After we got used to it, it was fine. But any unsuspecting person thought they were falling into a black hole. Plus there was no light switch, just a pull string.




These “odd-sized-steps” would prove to be Dad’s “signature” on all building projects in the future. Mom had lots of plans and ideas for remodeling. She would get tired of the cupboards, wallpaper, or want new windows, soon Dad was back to having that flat square pencil behind his ear, running back and forth to the lumber yard and garage. Mom didn’t like where the garage was located. Too far from the house, way back by the alley. She thought a nice attached garage would be better. Easier to unload groceries, and they wouldn’t have to trudge through the back yard of snow to get to the house. Dad had to build another haukee first. This one resembled a breeze-way. It attached to the first haukee to enable the nearly impossible turn the car would have to make to get into the garage. The second haukee housed Mom’s baseball cap collection. It naturally had a step, another step for the new garage (big surprise).




He later tore off a huge front porch. Replaced it with a small enclosed one, complete with a step from the side walk. And another step into the house. He just could not get that measurement down pat (leveling the floor). He might be off 3 inches or 10. He never used more than one step though. Often it was just enough to trip over, or way too deep.




Their bedroom was upstairs and this staircase was wicked when I was 5. It was about as steep as a ladder, with a nasty turn 2 steps from the top. No, these steps were not Dad’s doing or fault. Just the way our old house was built. When it was no longer a good idea or safe for them to be going up and down those stairs, especially at night, he decided it was time to build again. About age 75 Dad started on a new master bedroom off the den downstairs. It ended up with a couple issues. They had twin beds, 2 dressers, and 2 night stands, so it should have been a couple feet bigger. The doorway was a few inches too narrow, it was actually easier to go in sideways, then of course there was “the step.”




Now over the course of 40+ years Dad had added a Baker’s dozen of “odd-sized steps” to different areas or rooms of that house. But for some reason this small step to the new bedroom bothered him. His solution was to make it a small ramp instead. Now when you were entering the room, you picked up some speed just in time to run into the first dresser. Oh Dad. Had he been allowed to attend school longer, and encouraged to take some carpentry classes. Maybe had a mentor and some building instructions, I really think he could have been a master carpenter. In retrospect, maybe the odd steps in our house were all part of the bigger picture in Dad’s life. He was just practicing on his own stairway to heaven. Job well done Dad…


 

 

 

 

 

The Sitter…


What’s a budding pre-teen girl do when she finally wants some of her own spending money? It’s the early 1960’s and there’s only so many job oportunities in Rock Valley, my small town in northwest Iowa. Let’s see, there’s life-guard, but I’m not old enough, and the season’s too short. A new fad has finally hit northwest Iowa. Just 22 years after first being introduced in California. Think it got here by a covered wagon on 3 wheels. It’s called a Drive-in. Girls wait on you in your car. Well, who doesn’t want to eat in the cozy confines of their car? The eating part sounded good, but I don’t want to wait on people. No, that’s not a good fit either. If I were not totally-clueless-about-absolutely-everything-involving-farming, I could pick weeds, run along side a combine, cook sweetcorn or something.


Neese in my room, 1961…


Around this time I discovered babies. My sister Mona just had her firstborn, a baby boy named Brian. What a little heart throb! Oh, I was smitten bad. I even wrote a poem about him. I’ll try and remember it before I’m done, though it was pretty lame as I recall. Hey, maybe I could take care of adorable babies like Brian. That’s the ticket to the-none-of-my-own-money-problem. Once word spread that you’re “available” I had no trouble lining up work. The going rate for my expertise in early childhood development was 50 cents an hour! Watch out Beverly’s Apparel, here I come!


Neese with nephew (ha) Brian, 1962…


There were several families that either liked the way I treated their rug rats or I was so far down on the list of possible babysitters that it was either call Neese or stay home. They never said, I never asked. One such lucky couple to engage in my totally qualified services, we’ll just call the K-family. They were probably in their early 30’s and parents of 3 very rambunctious boys, not at all like sweet-little-baby-Brian. They were 7, 5 and 2. The 2 older boys liked me. They were busy conniving what they were gonna get away with while under my “constant care and supervision.” The toddler was still on the fence whether it was a good idea that I was there instead of Mommy. Unless I grew a third eye, it was almost impossible to watch all 3 hooligans at the same time. My eyes were not those of a real mom’s yet and I hadn’t acquired the ability to swivel each one of them individually-every-which-way. When I tried this maneuver, all I got was a blistering head-ache. Plus, it would be years before the mom “eyes in the back of my head” was fully developed.


Those little shits recognized my shortcomings and were busy honing their invisibility-cloaking skills whenever I blinked. Once the toddler hit the hay and I brought in the artillery from the garage, the 2 older ones knew it was time to call it a day. You see with the ladder, even though I couldn’t walk on the ceiling with them, I could grab the little buggers and haul ’em back down.


After they collapsed in a heap from utter exhaustion, I’d lug them to bed, slide down the steps on my butt cause my legs had lost all feeling, take one look at the kitchen, and as God is my witness, had to fight the urge to walk straight out of the house (kids or no kids) and NEVER come back. No, it wasn’t the kids, they only wrecked the rest of the house. The kitchen had been trashed long before I got there. Now that I think about it, if Mrs. K was not holding down 2 full-time jobs, I’m royally ticked. What a slob! I swear she never washed ONE SINGLE STINKING DISH from the time I babysat until the next week when she’d pick me up and hog-tie me in her car. Come to think of it, this might be part of the reason I was asked every week. I’ve been snookered, huh. Honest, there were stacks of dishes on every available kitchen surface, and they were evil, nasty stacks. 50 cents an hour. Are you kidding me? What on earth ever compelled me to do the dishes? I NEVER did them at home. Mom’s kitchen was absolutely spotless. I’ve said all my married life you could eat off either one of our kitchen floors. Hers because it’s that immaculate, mine cause there’s a 3-course meal on it. Still, I needed to move forward on this gross mountain of dirty dishes.


I’d limp to the living room, over to a stereo the size of P!NK’s limo, only to find records of some old dudes I’d never heard of. What? Yes, Neese it always could get worse. The K’s were COUNTRY WESTERN FANS. This had to be a joke and I’m on Candid Camera, right? I wish. Well, I had to listen to something during my weekly 2 hour stint of dish duty.


At some point in my life I’m going to have to retract all those “mutterings under my breath” about the K’s and their horrible music choices I suppose. I listened and enjoyed, who knew? Though it was not my kind of music, I grew to love a couple of their records. The singers? Johnny Horton (In 1814 we took a little trip, along with Colonel Jackson down the mighty Mississip) and Johnny Cash (I keep a close watch on this heart of mine, I keep my eyes wide open all the time).


Adorable Brian playing my piano, 1963…



Ok, listen up, here’s my little poem:


“Brian Lee”


Handsome you are with your eyes so brown,

Cute when you smile, cute when you frown.

Your eyelashes long, are as black as can be,

You’re a heartbreaker lad name Brian Lee.

Even my mother is smitten with your charm,

She’d buy the moon or maybe a farm.

If I were older, I’d marry you,

But I’m not of age and you’re only 2.

You’re my dear little nephew and I am your aunt,

So marriage is out, you know that we can’t.

A quick little hug and a shy little kiss,

Is what I call the height of bliss.


Author-Neese, 1964…

 

Family fears…

After Larry had been killed, Mom developed or acquired some irrational fears for and about me. I understand how that could happen, but back then it wasn’t easy for a ten year old.


Holy spit-curls Batman! Neese about 10, 1960…

Here’s a good example. My best friend growing up was Char. She came from a large, normal, mentally healthy family. Her parents had several children, took a baby break for a few years, then added 4 more daughters. Yikes. The first set of kids were gone by the time Char and I became fast friends. Char was the second oldest in the last batch of their kids. These 4 kids had specific chores everyday or week. I had none, zip, zero, nada. Each one had to either bake, dust, mow, weed the garden on Saturday’s. Their mom, Esther was pretty lenient about who did what. If you loved being outdoors, or enjoyed baking, well, that was your chore.


My best friend, a very special girl, Char…


My mom never let me NEAR a lawn mower. She was convinced that a rock or a piece of coat hanger wire would fly through the blades, out of the mower, pierce my heart, killing me instantly. Even at 10, that sounded a little “off.” Thus, if I happened to be over at the Schelhaas compound when one of them were doing yard work, I’d beg to push the mower for a few rounds of the yard. That sounds kind of crazy too, what kid ever “wants” to mow? Guess that was Neese (doing what I did best) in my first of many stages of rebellion.

Mom was nearly paralyzed with fear every time I got on my bike. At the time I really thought I had the “run” of my great little town, Rock Valley, but there were many places where I was not allowed to go or ride bike. Never near hi-way 18 where Larry had been hit, even I could see and agree with that logic. But the dump, Rock River, Van Zee’s Sandpit, Benson’s Hill, the Park, even the swimming pool at first. Anywhere near railroad tracks or bridges were off limits to me. Every time I got a cold, sore throat, or childhood disease she was convinced I wouldn’t live through it.



I guess she tried to make up for these phobias taking over her life and mine by allowing me to do nothing. I did no dishes, cooking, never a load of laundry, no dusting, never swept, vacuumed, or washed a car. Sounds like I was spoiled rotten right? Well I was, but in reality, this was turning into a very unhealthy relationship for both of us. I wanted to be in the kitchen, learning how to cook and bake like the rest of my friends. But Mom wouldn’t let me literally or emotionally. If I mentioned I was hungry for fudge, apple pie, cinnamon rolls or spaghetti, it wasn’t long before she MADE it for me, but never WITH me. Wouldn’t let me help in the kitchen.



Maybe this was one way old dealing with her grief, but it would put a barrier between us that would take decades to fix. And what about poor Mona and Dad, neither very high on her priority list? Well, Mona had just gotten married, so she was out of the house. Dad would find other things too. Volunteering for several duties at church, the Consistory, Sunday School teacher, and the M-2 program with inmates at the Sioux Falls, South Dakota prison. Should also point out that this “absolutely no experience” with anything to do with housework, cooking or baking was pretty tough on John and I when we were newlyweds. More on that fun subject later!

Mom somehow managed to stay detached, but overbearing, smotheringly close on anything to do with me. But she became an introverted loner with low self-esteem. The closest I ever saw her returning to “the normal Mom” I remembered was after the birth of her ONLY granddaughter. Our firstborn, Shannon Marie born in December of 1970, a little over 12 years after Larry’s death. That short window however, would not last very long. On the plus side for me, her unhealthy need and ability to dominate and manipulate every facet of my life, bar none, had finally come to an end. But for Shannon, it was just beginning…


 

 

 

The Henningfield’s…

 

When we moved to 15th street in 1955, I was almost 5. The house I was born in was on the outskirts of town with only a few places scattered nearby. Suddenly, we were in the middle of a huge neighborhood full of homes with lots of kids.


Neese in kindergarten, 1956…


The downtown business district was about a block and a half away and appeared to have stores as far as this 4 yr. old’s eyes could see. Really, it was 3 or 4 blocks at best.


Our wide, wide Main Street. Plus the famous 1 Stoplight…



To our south across the street and a titch west was the “neighborhood eyesore.” The Henningfield place was a real mess. It boasted a dilapidated shack, no siding, covered with tar paper, something we called a “haukee” in Dutch. A little shack, add-on or lean-to. Had anyone ever been brave enough to walk in the front of the place and passed gas, the house would have collapsed in a heap or exploded in flames and been gone in 30 seconds, tops. The place was somewhat fenced, tall, wobbly, rusty metal with a couple of gates. Half of the lot tried in vain to be a garden, mostly out of protest.


I was petrified of Mr. Henningfield. He was tall, reed-thin, bald, used a walking stick that appeared able to reach our side of the street if needed, (the streets were and are very wide) and wore dirty, grungy overalls that could stand on their own volition. The scary part about him was this bump on his forehead that was very noticeable. Mama Henningfield was tiny, but could fight like a feral cat (yes, of course they had several). Don’t know if they had knock-down-drag-out fights, but the yelling matches between them were legendary, ferocious, and half the town was privy to them. I know, lucky us.


They had 5 grown children when we moved in. Their names were quirky and had their own unique rhythm, kind of a sing-songy-cadence. You ready? Here we go: Rozina, Stellastena, Philomena, Rita Kathryn and Jerome. Jerome was in the military and 3 of the sisters were living in the County Home in Orange City. That left only Rozina living with her folks. Rozina was of unknown age (40-50?) usually barefoot and moving a hoe around or leaning on it in the garden. She was unkempt, long stringy hair, had MASSIVE watermelon (seeded-size) boobs. Never owned or wore a bra, they competed (swing-low) with hoe-hacking at the weeds. From the ages of 5-10 though, I was truly fascinated with Rozina.


Usually waited until I saw Mr. H. leave for parts unknown before I ventured over. Mama H. didn’t stray too far from the house, so it’d just be me and Rozina in the garden. She was lonely and easy to talk to. Even as a little girl, I felt sorry for her and knew I was very lucky to have our home and family. Our neighbor directly across the street from Henningfield’s was Helen Schmidt. One day Helen was talking to Mom and recalled the day before she and a friend had heard horrible screaming coming from the Henningfield abode. The 2 of them ran over and discovered Rozina doing the wash (who knew they did laundry with Mr.’s stand-alone overalls?) with an old wringer washer and had somehow managed to get one (thank heavens it wasn’t the pair) of her boobs stuck in the wringer. Yikes! The pair (neighbors, not boobs) had a terrible time getting the wringer to release the boob (assuming here folks it was a “male” washing machine). Luckily Rozina was a loner and rarely went to town because her one massive, flattened, but wrinkle-free boob was the highlight of conversations for years.


Not too much later Mama H. passed away, soon after Rozina went to live at the County Home with her sisters. Mr. H. started a slow decline when I was in high school, rarely leaving the house anymore. Mom started making an extra meal when we were having supper, while we were cleaning up (ok I confess, I sat and talked about my school day while Mom did dishes, I was such a shit). Dad would bring the meal over to Lawrence (almost positive this was his first name, and I was no longer afraid of him). If Dad was busy, Mom and I would go over. Although he was a very private man, he always welcomed Mom and Dad, and thanked them profusely.


Valley Manor, Rock Valley, Iowa, mid-1960’s…



One day Mom didn’t see any movement from Mr. H. so Dad went over to check on him. He was gravely ill, Dad sent for an ambulance and took him to the hospital. I don’t think he ever returned home, either passed away there or was in Valley Manor Nursing Home for awhile before he died. The homestead was demolished, (yup, all someone did was fart) later sold to Porter Funeral Home for expansion.


I recently heard that the Henningfield’s were influential and instrumental in forming the town of Rock Valley during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. How very cool. I wonder what happened to cause their later decline from society and odd behavior? Perhaps the stock market crash in 1929? Wish I’d have paid closer attention to my conversations about their history with Rozina and my folks. But this was Neese we’re talking about, still the self-centered little brat…

 

Down in the Valley…

 

Rock Valley was a great little town to live in when I was a kid. Tucked in the northwest corner of Iowa, near the borders of South Dakota and Minnesota. In the 1950’s and ’60’s, Rock Valley boasted a population of maybe 2,500. Home to the world’s best soil for farming (still is). There were a couple of manufacturers that employed quite a few townies, Kooima’s and Roorda’s. I always lived in town and didn’t appreciate farmers, black dirt, crops or the beautiful landscape of Iowa until I moved away decades later.

A mostly Dutch community, the vast majority regularly attending one of many churches every Sunday. That town could have been picked clean between the hours of 9 am and noon on any given Sunday. Most of the churches held 2 services, morning and evening. One, the Netherland’s Reformed had 3-a-days. The afternoon service was in Dutch, duh. It was a quiet, safe, somewhat isolated community. Because we were 45 miles from Sioux Falls, and 60 miles from Sioux City, our Main Street boasted businesses to fit most of our needs. Our only “stoplight.” The reason for my blog name.

 

The famous, much loved, One Stoplight in Rock Valley, Iowa…

 

 

Grocery, hardware, appliance, department, bakery, dime, men’s and women’s clothing, restaurants, bowling alley, even a movie theater when I was a kid. Movies though weren’t on the “approved entertainment list” in our house. Mom and Dad’s idea of entertainment was driving around town on hot summer nights, going slow enough just to stir up a breeze, talking about houses, or the people IN the houses. Boring, but usually I’d tag along, laying down in the backseat of the car, watching the trees and sky, singing made-up songs. Often they would stop “by” the theater, never parking too close, thus avoiding being mistaken for actually “being” at a movie. I was allowed to jump out of the moving car, (just kidding) run into the theater lobby and buy us treats, therefore making the boring ride bearable. Dad always got popcorn, Mom an ice cream sandwich, me usually candy.

 

 

Neese, 1960, little bear protecting me…

 

 

Mom thought Dad was too strict on many child-rearing techniques, so often I was allowed to do things on the sly he had already deemed off limits. It was a kind of parenting tug-o-war I don’t think they ever talked about. One time this really backfired. There I was, thinking I had gotten away with this forbidden night out. I was in 5th grade during one of Iowa’s long 2 seasons of weather, winter. We were having a massive blizzard. Dad had come home for supper and had gone right back to work (overtime, yay) plowing the hi-ways. There would be no school the following day, guaranteed. I “zhanicked” (Dutch word for whined, pleaded, begged) to sneak to the movies, a mere block away. No way Dad was coming home for another couple hours, snow was already past my knees. Didn’t have a clue what was showing that night, didn’t care. I finally wore her down. Which was quite normal. Although Mom was super-attentive about most-things-Neese, this minor battle wasn’t worth squat. Besides I needed to get just a couple years older before the real battles began. My teens. Me rebellious, her over-protective and manipulative. Mom not wanting me to grow up even a little. She said go, practically shoved me out the door. Man, I should have stayed home that night.

 

 

Building a great snowman at the Beumer’s across the street, 1961…

 

 

There were about 10 people at the movie (who goes out on a night like this?) and the movie was–wait for it– Mr. Sardonicus. Set in the 1890’s, this was a story about an older man, his son and daughter-in-law. Dad buys a lottery ticket, dies. They have his funeral and he’s buried. The son then realizes the winning ticket is in the suit pocket of his recently departed dad. Yikes. Well, you knew it was gonna happen and someone had to do it. Daughter-in-law forces her husband, the son, to dig up the corpse. Horrors of horrors, Sonny sees his dad’s stretched, decaying skull in this gross smile/grimace. His features immediately go into that same frozen, gross face. Holy moly, I was 11. I begged a class-mate, Dave Suter, who was also there to walk me home. By now the snow was hip deep. And the walk home seemed much longer than a block. Then I had to fib to Mom, telling her the movie was great, or I’d never be allowed to sneak out to another one. Though I have been a movie buff my whole life, I don’t think I’ve seen another horror movie. At least not intentionally. Proud to be a kept-strunt (Dutch equivalent of a chicken-shit)…

 
Brave superhero Dave Suter…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ain’t no sunshine…

It was a beautiful fall Saturday morning, October 11, 1958. Never one to sleep in, I was up, had breakfast and was watching cartoons. Since it was the weekend Mom was home. For a kid, it was just another lazy weekend for this second grader. As the youngest in the family, my list of chores was very short. Play outside, eat, play some more and take a bath. Tomorrow was Sunday, which meant church (morning and night) and everyone needed to get their baths done on Saturday. No shower in our house, so everyone took a bath. I’d squirt Ivory Liquid dish soap in the tub to get gobs of bubbles.


Mom had gotten a job once I started kindergarten 2 years before. She worked at a hatchery, candling eggs. Odd job she had, standing in a very dark room. There was a box about waist high that had a very bright light coming out of a small round hole in the front. Mom picked up 4 eggs, 2 in each hand, and examined the eggs in front of the light, that way telling if there was a blemish or blood spot in the egg.

 

Dad had left at the crack of dawn that day. He did small jobs for folks after supper and on Saturdays. Often it was for a widows in town who needed storm or screen windows put on, her house painted, or new shingles. This was a different job though. He was taking down a building in Hawarden, about 30 miles away. He either sold the used lumber or used it on a project at our house, which was never ending. Plus he got paid to take it down. He took his thermos of coffee along, but I think he was planning to have lunch at a restaurant that day.

 

Side jobs for Dad. Taking down buildings, by hand…

 

 

Soon I would be outside playing, but who could pull themselves away from TV on Saturday morning? Out of the corner of my eye through the window I saw my 12 year old brother Larry, riding down the drive-way. He was riding my bike, not his. I flew outside yelling, “Larry what are you doing? Bring back my bike.” He had a beautiful Schwinn, mine was smaller, girls bike and not fancy. But then I was not yet 8. He kept peddling, turned around and yelled back, “I’m going to grandpa Gerritson’s and I need your bike cause it has a basket. I’ll give you a dime when I get home and bring you back a surprise.” Really, most of my friends lived a house or 2 away so it wasn’t a big deal, but he hadn’t asked me first.

 

Neese giving a Schmidt baby a ride, 1957…

 

 

I went back to my cartoons. Mom was doing Saturday cleaning which meant she would be inviting someone over for coffee and dessert after church Sunday night. She always cleaned, but when she baked on Saturday, then she would be inviting someone by phone today or after church tomorrow. we’d be having company. Don’t remember what my 15 year old sister Mona was doing. Most likely, helping mom with the cleaning.

 

Mona, me, Spitzy and Larry, 1957…

 

 

A little while later the phone rang. All of a sudden Mom started screaming and ran out of the house into the street. Across the road, Mrs. Klein ran out to my mom, was now hysterically running in circles. I started crying but didn’t know why. Just really scared watching my mom. Larry had just been hit by a car, riding my bike on Hi-way 18. He was returning from town back to our grandparent’s house.

 

Soon our house was filled with grown-ups. Most from our small, close-knit church, Calvin Christian Reformed, including the minister, Rev. Milton Doornbos. No cell phones back then, someone had called a business in Hawarden. Giving them instructions to find dad and tell him there had been an accident. He needed to come home as quick as he could.

 

Rev. and Mrs. Doornbos from CCRF, 1958…

 

 

Honest, by the time he drove back from Hawarden, there were about a dozen cars parked on our block. I can imagine how hard it must have been for Dad to walk into our house. The most devastating news a parent would ever hear. His only son Larry was dead. What a nightmare. Could or should life go on? Soon we would hear conflicting stories about what happened. Some said that Larry got his jean cuff caught in the bike chain causing him to swerve into traffic. At that time Hi-way 18 had this little lip on the shoulder, almost like a curb. I grew up believing the car swerved up that lip and hit Larry. Either way, my beloved brother was gone.

 

 

Larry’s last school picture, 1958…

 

 

This type of tragedy affects a family forever. Our family was never again the same. I’ve never recovered from losing my dear brother Larry. And my poor parents certainly never recovered. Their marriage would take such a hit from this senseless accident. Mom definitely would have benefited with therapy, to talk through her feelings of such a severe loss. But that did not happen in a small Iowa town in the late 50’s. The police later found a caramel apple near my bike that had flown out of the basket. My “treat” from Larry. For borrowing his little sister’s Neese’s bike…

 

 

Neese 2nd grade school picture, 1958…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Larry Wayne…

 

His name was Larry. Born at the end of the Second World War, he was the middle child, only son of an unhappy couple. Sandwiched between my older sister Mona who was 3 years older than him, 7-1/2 years older than me. We lived in a small town in northwest Iowa called Rock Valley. Predominately Dutch, safe, isolated, sheltered. Larry was all boy, who at 5, jumped off an old shed behind our house on a dare, hit his face pretty good, and had to have his first school picture taken of his “good” profile that year.

He played marbles, cats eyes, steelie and shooters. Went pigeon hunting at night, him and the pigeons flitting among the high rafters in barns with Dad. Never showing any fear. He had a slight speech impediment, problems with his r’s, which sounded something like, “moth-tha, can I have a qua-ta?” While he was in grade school, Larry was quietly slipped out of class regularly for speech therapy. He was well liked, and had many friends. Plus me, his little sister, who worshiped the ground he walked on. Once when I was a toddler, Larry caught me sitting underneath his rabbit hutch in back of the house, munching on what I thought were raisins. He protected me and kept me on the straight and narrow after that little incident.

 

Larry 8 and me about 4…

 

We got along well, Larry and I. My nickname was Neese. We each had their own friends, but in our early childhoods, lived on the fringe of town. If Larry was playing with Glen, I was probably playing with his little sister. So much of the play was inter-mingled. Outside was the place to be unless it was dinner time (noon meal) or supper. Couldn’t get enough of outside. Hot, humid, blacktop that shimmered in the summer, neither of us wore shoes, but could high-tail it across those streets by mid-June, feet toughened by scrub yards, empty lots and that hot, hot pavement.

 

Me, Glen, Larry, Pam. Anthony in front, 1954…

 

 

The year was 1955. The folks had saved some money, (good savers, both) and plunked a down-payment on a house in TOWN. One of the oldest houses in town, it boasted a huge yard (or so it seemed to this 8 and 4 year old at the time), was 2 blocks from school, and ONE block from Main Street. Who could believe our luck? Now we had close neighbors, homes with lots of kids, all ages. AND ALL THE STORES WERE A BLOCK AWAY.

 

Spitzy, Larry 10, me 5-1/2 on 15th St, 1956…

 

 

The house was–primitive. Dad was handy, and started remodeling, a long-standing endeavor that would entail a mere 50 years of his life. That house ended up with more add-ons than pizza toppings choices. Ugh, the kitchen first. It had NO cupboards, so dad built, painted and installed them, and moved the sink. Dad and some helpers were glueing the linoleum, wrong side up, all ready to flip, when I came flying in from outside. Slid like a major-leaguer across that black tarry glue. No one got mad though, everyone laughed. Mom took me outside to hose off the goo.

 

Larry, 2nd grade…

 

 

The dining room was huge, but was rarely used for meals. We all crowded around a kitchen table, legs hitting each other, elbows bumping. Supper was a daily occurrence. Mom was unbelievably young when she got married. Don’t know how she learned to cook, but there was never a time when there wasn’t a decent meal on the table.

 

Dad after we moved to 15th St, 1956…

 

 

Dad worked for the Iowa State Highway Commission. Road work which consisted of basically 2 seasons. Summers mowing shoulders and ditches, or hi way blow-ups. Blow-ups were when highway 18 or 75 would get so hot, the road would buckle, and soon someone would call it in. These often occurred at the peak heat of the day, about the time dad got off work, cleaned up, and was sitting down for supper. Never heard him complain because it was OVERTIME.

 

 

1952, Larry 6, me, 18 mo. Dad 35, Mona 9…

 

 

Iowa’s other season was winter, which meant snow, lots and lots of snow, really wicked winters. Then he would be on one of the state plows, slithering down 18 to Sheldon, nasty bridge between Boyden and Sheldon, but he never flew off of it, or slinking his way to the South Dakota border, near Canton. People often said you knew right where the state line was, cause Iowa took such good care of their highways in BOTH seasons. South Dakota, not so much. Dad always swelled with pride when someone said this.

 

Mom, Dad, Mona and Larry, 1949..

 

 

Larry had a very tiny bedroom on the main floor of our 2 story house. I would have never dared to sleep down there by myself but he was not scared, and took pride of having a room to himself. The rest of us slept upstairs, stairs so steep, it was more like a ladder than stairs. Mom and dad’s room was a sharp right as you topped the stairs, Mona’s and mine to the left. I had to walk through her door to get to my room. My room was as tiny as Larry’s, no closet. The ceiling had this opening to the attic, not plaster, but white boards that could be lifted easily.

 

Larry, 1948…

 

 

Soon after we moved in, I woke up one night from a nightmare and swear I had seen a man in the attic. Ready to climb down a rope ladder to get me. It was so real, the knife gleaming in his teeth. I still believe he might live up there, makes me shiver even now. Wouldn’t be going into that room anytime soon to sleep, no siree. Thus began an unhappy relationship sharing the other bedroom with Mona. In her defense she probably wasn’t thrilled to share her space with a little shit either. Mona listened to country music all night long, and thought and talked about boys just as long. She hogged the bed, wrote in her diary constantly. We had little in common. I would lay in the far corner of the double bed, kicking her with my little feet, trying to get her to turn off the light, radio, and let me go to sleep…

 

Larry in front of our playhouse, 1952…