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…|