I’ve always been drawn to “older folks.” When I was very young, one of my favorites was my neighbor, Bessie Jacobs. If I was too sick to go to school and Mom was working, I’d stay with Bessie for the day. Then there was the little-off-kilter, but utterly fascinating Rozina Henningfield. She was different, but had very cool stories to share. Kathy came to live at Valley Manor when Mom worked there during my elementary and junior high years. When I’d walk in, Kathy would grab my hand and off we’d go. Stopped in most of the rooms to visit the residents, but I did all the talking.

Ivor and Gertie Dearborn were an elderly couple who lived 2 blocks away on 15th Street. Ivor was spry, but Gertie was frail and needed help. Mom worked for them for years, caring for Gertie, cleaning and cooking. Fixing their meals was a bit of a challenge for Mom because the Dearborn’s still used a cook stove. Ivor would tell Mom what kind of wood to use for whatever she was cooking. They were a truly devoted couple who were a joy to watch, listen and talk to when I was a kid. Clarence and Ida were an older couple who lived next to us in Hinton when we were young, inexperienced parents. Their only “child” was a yippy-snippy-nasty-coffee-drinking-cigarette-smoking-chubby-Chihauhau named Ginger. She used to sit on a “throne” about table height with a lit cigarette in her mouth. Head tilted way back to keep the smoke out of her eyes. I kid you not. She had her own coffee cup too, though preferred to lap it out of the saucer. Had to watch baby Shannon like a hawk around Ginger. She (the ornery dog) was used to being the only princess in the house, and truly did not play well with others. Or share well in the affections of her 2 biggest and only fans.

I’d rather you didn’t ask me to teach Sunday or Vacation Bible School. I happily admit to being-quite-partial-to-kids-and-grandkids-from-my-own-gene-pool. But you can always count on me to bring and “seniors” cookies, breads, soups, or canned goods. Plus hold their hand while they reminisce through their lives. I was born loving old people. The gap difference though in our ages seems to be closing at an alarmingly accelerated rate lately.

I was working part-time as the Parish Visitor at Central United Methodist Church in Muskegon. Once home to over 1600 members during the ’50’s and ’60’s, the congregation had shrunk big time. Wealthy folks who had lived, worked and worshipped in the downtown area had moved out to the burbs. Our membership might total 500, but about half that attended regularly on Sunday mornings.

I’d seen this odd couple in church several times. To be truthful, I thought they were homeless and came in to escape the cold. Pretty sure they were a mother-son duo. She was quite old and frail. He was tall, skinny as a rail, and used a walker. Then there was his hair. He dyed it pitch black, but honestly every week it looked as though another dye job was 6 weeks overdue. The mom passed away and sonny stopped coming.

Preacher-boss-#-2-passing-through-my-life asked me to add a new name to my always growing, changing parish visitor list. A man named Charles. He lived just a few blocks from me in North Muskegon. Until he opened the door, I didn’t know he was the tall-skinny-walker-bad-dye-job-guy. And he was just a few years older than me. Hmmm, that was gonna be different. Charles was suffering from a very serious kidney ailment. Soon learned what foods I had to steer clear of when bringing him stuff. Nothing with bananas, beans or potatoes. This was part of the reason I kept such comprehensive journals. I wanted to be able to say, “how’s your granddaughter Emma doing with her new baby Ethan?” If I didn’t write some of this stuff down to bring up to my-brain-front-and-center when I walked in, I’d get mixed up or forget. All kinds of information stored in individual little people boxes, usually in my head, but not always. Whose son was going through a terrible divorce or which nephew was recovering from serious surgery. What the heck was that dog’s name? He looked as though he wanted to feast on calf-of-Denise-for-his-afternoon-snack.

Wasn’t exactly sure what was different about Charles. Our chaplain thought he might have Asperger’s Syndrome. Charles had detailed, vast knowledge that he enjoyed sharing on certain subjects, but trouble relating one-on-one-with-what’s-going-on-in-your-world-today-conversations. He had some dear devoted friends, Al and Nyla. A wonderful couple from Grand Rapids (50 miles away) who came to visit him every Wednesday. That was Nyla’s day off. She was still working full time as an R.N. They ran his errands, paid his bills, looked out for his best interests as his guardians and advocates. I discovered it was more enjoyable to visit Charles when they were at his house. If I arrived before they did, Charles would bark out orders like a drill sergeant. “Start the coffee, take out the trash, turn down the heat.” (He did have it about 85 in the house most of the time. No meat on his bones, he was always cold) Once Nyla and Al got there, Charles appeared to be watching a tennis match. His head would bob back and forth, listening and watching Nyla and I talk. He would occasionally contribute to the conversation? I learned that Nyla had grown up just a few miles from me! Small world instigating some great conversations about our dearly-beloved-northwest-Iowa-stomping-grounds.

Charles had some really different collections. Flashlights. Thousands of them, ranging from 1 inch to 3 feet tall. Some very pretty neat paper weights too. Here’s one that belonged to Charles that I bought at his estate sale.

One of his bedrooms was sound-proof recording studio. What he recorded I never knew. Then there was the gigantic pipe organ in the basement. He was so infatuated with the organ that he had a special furnace and de-humidifier installed to keep it from going out of whack. He used to beg Nyla to go play some of his favorite hymns when she was there. I never heard him play. He was too sick to go down the basement, but he must have been pretty talented. He once played the organ at the Crystal Cathedral in California. I don’t think he played during a service, just got to play it for awhile. These pictures are when Al and Nyla took Charles along on a trip to California.

Charles went steadily downhill over the next several months. Although it’s been almost a decade, one of my biggest regrets is that he died alone in a nursing home about a mile from my house. He must have been so scared. Yeah, I know, he was never alone. God was there. But to a man like Charles, I think he would have been terrified. He had many child-like qualities. He would have felt comfort (certainly me too) if I’d been there to hold his hand when God was taking him home. I saw him a couple days before he passed away. He was laying on his side, eyes closed, groaning softly. I touched his shoulder. “Charles, what’s wrong? Are you in pain?” He grimaced, “I have so much pain in my legs.” I offered, “what can I do to help?” Do you want me to find a nurse?” He shook his head. “No, don’t bother. Will you put a pillow between my knees?” I did and the pain seem to ease somewhat. He grew still, fell asleep and stopped moaning. I said a prayer with him and left.

A couple months before, he had been hospitalized, fitting him with a permanent feeding tube. I stopped to see him. He wasn’t doing well. He had lost so much weight off his thin frame. Dialysis, though keeping him alive was taking a huge toll. That took several hours 3 times a week. Just getting in and out of their transport van was exhausting for him. He looked miserable. I made small talk for a few minutes, then he fell asleep. I sat by his bed for awhile, then got twitchy thinking of the rest of the folks I still wanted to see that day. Plus he was sound asleep. All I did was pick my purse up off the floor. One eye peeked open, he stared at me, and made this peculiar statement, “don’t go gettin your eagers,” (which I understood to mean, please sit still and stay with me a while longer-even if I fall asleep). Never heard it before or since, but this was where I needed to be. So I stayed with my quirky friend Charles…

J & D…

Just tapping out the following first real sentence, especially the 45 part, seems impossible and surreal. I’ve somehow managed to lose 20 years. Huh, here I was trying to lose 20 pounds. I may want them back soon-years not the pounds. So without further ado: FORTY-FIVE YEARS AGO TODAY, 2 snot-nosed kids from Rock Valley, Iowa, drove to Elk Point, South Dakota in my ’68 Ford Mustang (a lemon). This is a picture of us in the mid-70’s, so maybe 5 years down, 40 (+we hope) to go.


We nervously walked into a beautiful county courthouse at 6:57 p.m. followed by 2 somewhat reluctant witnesses. One witness, Dale was a good friend, the other was his co-worker, but a stranger to us. We are still unable to read his name on our marriage certificate. No matter. We get a good laugh about that once in a while. At 7:04 we walked out a married couple. Couldn’t get married in Iowa because the Sioux City Journal published all the marriage licenses during your 3-day waiting period. The waiting period allowed the results of your blood work to come back, making sure you didn’t have siphilis. Yikes. John passed out after the needle prick for his blood work. How come after 45 years I still derive such immense pleasure from that? Sadistic I know, but-unabashed-giddy-joy-nonetheless.

The Elk Point part was to throw off our scent for my folks. They had both spent the majority of the previous 5 years trying and periodically succeeding in breaking us up. We didn’t want to tip our hat of the big secret plan. Wouldn’t put it past Mom to call out the National Guard to “save me from making the biggest mistake of my life!” After a beautiful and lengthy 4 minute ceremony by the judge, (most of it getting our signatures, some legible, some not) the four of us headed to a local restaurant for steaks. A small token of appreciation for services rendered.


Memory trip through Elk Point, 2004…


John and I drove to Sioux Falls. Original destination was the Black Hills, but we lacked sufficient funds for a real honeymoon, plus there’s-the-let’s-get-to-the-hotel-quick-part. The next night we did have a great time dancing to Stan Kenton at the Macamba Club. I was too young to drink, even in South Dakota. That was ok, didn’t the taste (still don’t). Back then it was, just buy me a pack of Tareyton’s, cause I’d rather fight than switch. Next, the reality check back in Sioux City to face the other kind of music. Had to call the folks with the good (gulp) news. John’s folks were fine, mine, of course not. Mom hung up on me, something that would happen rather frequently over the next few decades.

John worked at KTIV, me as a nurse’s aid. First day back after I got out of work, I called John, “is it ok if we just have sandwiches for supper?” “Sure, love of my life” he gushed. The Gerritson’s were not really good sandwich making people though. I opened a can of red sockeye salmon, drained most of the juice, removed all those nasty little vertebrae bones, and shiny silver skin. Found out later these were the things he loved about canned salmon. Who was this guy-eats fish bones? Flaked it apart, got some iceberg lettuce, real butter, and Hillbilly bread. Good-to-go. “What the heck is this?” John was not impressed with my sumptuous 4-course meal. Salmon-bread-butter-lettuce. I cried. I didn’t know how to cook. Anything. Never made a pot of coffee, mopped a floor, or ironed a shirt. We’d dated a long time, but this stuff never came up I guess.

Next night I was bound (figuratively, not literally) and determined to do better. Bought a couple of pork chops. Fried them. We were just sitting down to eat when John speared a chop, or tried to. It dropped on his plate with a loud clunk. He took one bite, glanced at me, again near tears-weepy sap, and slowly walked to the fridge. Calmly got out a bottle of Heinz. Shook out a mountain-sized glob on his dinner plate. Then sprinkled on lots of salt and pepper. The Gerritson’s didn’t use much of these 3 things either. Proceeded to choke down my feast, and didn’t say a word. I start crying again. He shook his head, “now what’s wrong?” “You didn’t have to crunch it so loud,” I sobbed. Yup-a-happy-go-lucky-start-to-wedded-fricking-bliss!

It did get better though. During the night the first few months, I’d catch him, his head propped up on his elbow, watching me sleep. He was so romantic. Nah, are you kidding me? That’s just the way he slept. He was so used to laying on the floor to watch TV at his house. All the chairs and couch were always taken. He’d fall asleep with his head propped up on his arm. Same thing goes for fried chicken. He was the youngest, all the choice pieces were gone when the platter got around to him. He still prefers backs, necks and wings.

It’s the following summer, 1970. Our first anniversary was looming. We were living Leeds, a suburb of Sioux City. A fairly new brick duplex, small though, only one bedroom. Might not work for long as we were expanding our total by 1 by the end of the year.


Coolest thing about this place were our neighbors, Lee and Carolyn. They were newlyweds too, expecting their first baby a few months before us. Hubby’s both worked nights, so Carolyn and I spent a lot of pregnant time together. They were a couple years older than us, and seemed so put-together compared to us. When I watched them (ok, I believe the biblical term here is covet, happy?) it felt like John and I were playing house. They had family support, earned more money, just a lot more of everything. They bought their first house a couple months later. At this point we had squat besides each other.

The urgent need to get prepared for this baby hit us. We started shopping for a crib and dresser. Holy-moly, major case of sticker shock. Sears wanted $69.00 for a painted, thin plywood dresser. That wasn’t going to work. We had like 20 bucks total for the nursery ensemble. We found a dilapidated crib at Goodwill for 5 bucks. Painted it bright yellow (really, what was with Dad and I and the color yellow?) and bought a mattress at K-Mart. Yup, only the best for our first-born! Hadn’t found anything yet to hold those newborn t-shirts, sleepers and diapers.


One day John was driving to work and passed by a garage sale. Noticed a dresser in the driveway so he stopped. It was old, oak and stripped. John inquired, “how much for the dresser? “Dude shrugged, “it’s not worth anything because all the drawer handles are missing. You can have it for 5 bucks.” This baby thing was turning out to be a cheap date, until she got here anyway. John hauled his bargain home. I was intrigued. Nice roomy drawers, and a pretty beveled mirror. John said he would look for new handles when he went to the hardware store for stain and varnish. I was sliding a drawer in and out when we heard something clink. There in the bottom drawer were all the antique handles. Made this bargain even better. The dresser turned out gorgeous. Shannon still has it. Not bad for our first attempt at restoring an antique. This 5 dollar steal would have a huge impact on the rest of our married lives. We never looked for “new furniture” again. We had discovered something we both enjoyed doing together. Our first hobby-obsession. Although we were on a very limited antique budget for a decade. This is one of my favorites, my 7 ft. oak bed in the spare bedroom. John won a baseball pool in the World Series 30 years ago, and I ZHAN-ICKED (begged and whined) till he bought it for me.


The fun was in the hunt, haggling, and trying to haul it home. Really didn’t matter what kind of shape the piece was in. This guy I married was incredibly handy. I once bought a curved glass china closet without the curved door for yup, you guessed it, 5 bucks. Took John awhile to figure how to make the curved door part. Oak does not like to bend. He became an expert on stripping and repair work, veneer, pieces or hunks that were missing. He was not good at detail work. No patience with a brush for the finishing stuff. That became my speciality. As the years passed, we would cram, literally wall-to-wall, our home with beautiful oak furniture. Some pieces we only kept for a few years, spotting something prettier or fancier, but many of our first finds still have a place in our home. When Shannon got her own place and needed furniture, we were happy to supply her. Walking through her house looks like ours did 20 years ago. (where did those 2 decades go?) Gave us another excuse to go antiquing for new-old-pieces together. I’m beginning to think this marriage thing might work out after all…




Sabotage Expert…

Mom was used to running the show, and had the starring role. She was also executive producer, so had a lot to say to contents of programming. She adored some of her family, often in a mentally unhealthy way. But if things didn’t go according to her plan, even tiny details, watch out. Visits within months of each other from two of her favorite people in the world had Mom getting exactly what she longed and prayed for. Never enough, she shot herself in the foot both times. Unable to stop herself from going so far over the top, it ended the relationship with one of them, and came very close with the other. She needed to be in charge at all times and would not relinquish any control, even for her favorite grandchildren.

2 of Mom’s favorites, Shannon 23, Joshua 18, 1993…

Shannon’s fiasco happened first, winter of ’01 or 2. They were using Ari’s short school break to fly to Iowa and visit the grandparents. Ariana was about 10, Landon a baby or toddler.

Mom, needing to gain control over the trip before it even started, called Shannon to inform her that grandpa would pick them up in Sioux City. Shannon, concerned her 84 year old grandpa would be driving 60 miles in February argued, “grandma, I don’t want him driving that far in the winter. I’m renting a car at the airport.” “No,” Mom insisted, “I don’t want you to drive, grandpa’s coming to get you.” Shannon continued firmly, “I need my own car. I’ll have the car seat for Landon, and I want to go visit Aunt Elly.”

Ahh, there’s the rub. With her own set of wheels, Mom would lose control of the mini-vacation because Shannon could come and go as she pleased. That would not work for Mom. Honestly, with 2 kids in tow, the middle of an Iowa winter, Shannon wasn’t going to venture very far. She’d always been close to Elly, and wanted to take the kids to see her for an afternoon in Spencer. Mom was insanely jealous of how much all of our kids (and me) thought of John’s only sister. When grandma felt threatened, she could push back very hard in order to maintain control. Grandma pushed the envelope, stating, “Shannon, if you are coming to visit me, and not staying here the whole time, don’t bother coming at all,” and hung up. Shannon called me, sobbing, “what should I do?” I advised her to spend the extra bucks to change the tickets and fly to Davenport and visit her high school friend Angie. So Mom had won the battle, but shot herself in the foot over a car rental. But it really wasn’t the car rental. This was about Shannon pulling rank over her grandma in what was best for her and the kids.

This was a whole new style of power struggle for Mom. She was used to having my kids visit, but they had never questioned her views or authority. Now they were adults who had lived without her domineering, manipulative behavior for 15 years in Michigan.

Joshua hadn’t seen my folks for a few years. He was in his mid-20’s, graduated from college, moved to Detroit and started his own business. (which is still doing great) He was dating a nice girl,

(but not the ONE, our fabulous daughter-in-law Erica, who was not yet in the picture). Josh and Colleen decided to drive to Iowa over Memorial weekend. They planned to camp at Lake Pahoja, a man-made lake/park close to Inwood, practically next door to my sister Mona’s farm, about 20 miles from Rock Valley. They drove all night, stopped at Mom and Dad’s so they could meet Colleen. Visited with them for several hours. Finally J and C left for the campground. Got their campsite, set up the tent, then proceeded to the farm to say hi to Mona and Ed. Soon Ed was showing Colleen around the farm, handing her newborn piglets. The weather was miserable, cold, rainy and windy. Ed suggested that J and C sleep in their camper instead. It was parked on the farm, complete with a heater and queen-sized bed. After 36 hours of no sleep, this offer was tempting. They accepted, got a good night’s rest. In the morning they showered in the house, and had breakfast with Ed and Mona.

They had told my folks they would be back in next morning, so started out for Rock Valley. Decided not to use hi-way 18, took the county back road, but Josh didn’t know which road to turn and head south and they ended up in Doon. They meandered their way back to Rock Valley. Pulled in the driveway and found the front door locked. Odd, since they were expected. Knocked, no response, knocked again. Grandpa answered, visibly upset, said he didn’t think they were coming back. Josh explained they had ended up in Doon, but were only a half hour late. Josh knew all the warning signs of a meltdown with them. Unfortunately all had already been tripped. But Josh (middle-kid-appeaser) tried to save the-precariously-sliding-towards-the-cliff-day. Too late. Grandma had learned they had slept at the De Witt’s instead of the campground, but even more importantly, their house. Scandalous. By not staying with their grandparents, the perception to Rock Valley folks would be that we weren’t one big happy Christian family. I surmise Mom got twitchy when Josh did not show up early or on time, and called the De Witt house to find out if they knew where Josh and Colleen were? There had always been enough built-up animosity between Mona and the folks, when compared to a deadly virus, would easily wipe out a third world country. I don’t think Mona intentionally threw Josh under the bus. Whoever answered the phone had probably stated, yes they had stayed in the camper, showered, eaten breakfast, and would be arriving in Rock Valley shortly.

Grandpa and grandma started in on Josh as though he were guilty of high treason. Accused him of lying, intentionally planning to stay with their aunt and uncle instead of them. Josh had the foresight to take actual pictures of their campsite, but it was all for naught. They told him he was going to hell, and they were cutting him out of their will. Josh insisted that Colleen go wait in the car. Then he finished severing the tenuous thread of what remained between him and his grandparents.

How can you treat family you claim to love like this? Josh drove 1,100 miles to see his grandparents, this is what happened in less than 24 hours. What do I say to these crazy people after they treat my adult children this way? This was so much harder than when they treated me badly. God they were hard to be around, let alone love.

I’d known quite young, soon after Larry died, that Mom had some serious mental issues. Once on the way to Sheldon, she told me that she was “sot” of living and was going to kill us both. This was after me “zhanicking” (begging and whining continuously for several days) for new shoes. We were in our ’63 Chevy on hi-way 18, heading east at about 100 miles per hour. I was 12. Never been so scared. Terrified of my Mom. I knew how fragile her mental state was, still, to me, it was Dad who kept dropping the ball. First, not getting the help she so desperately needed years earlier. Later, when Mom continuously got cranked-up with these bizarre, out in left field, crazy ideas. He should have calmly pointed out these were their beloved grandchildren. They should have been ecstatic that ANYONE still wanted and would come to visit them. But he bought into her crazy shit ideas, which doubled-up the looney bin.

Really, after these things happened I can’t believe I encouraged him to move here when Mom died. And I’d do it again. But I feel really bad for my kids. Unstable couple of nuts for grandparents who tended to go off the deep-end frequently. Still, for the most part though, we had loved them…




Party of 5…

When Shannon was 3, something strange happened. Other people’s babies were suddenly cute again. To me that meant one thing: I was ready to have another child. Went off the pill. Still took a few months to get pregnant. That was ok cause Shannon was not quite self-sufficient yet, or very good at cooking supper. Getting there though. But this isn’t a story about Joshua, our middle kid. (Don’t get a complex Josh, your stories are coming). When Josh turned 3, babies still weren’t cute. Instead, he was starting pre-school, and would be gone a couple hours, 2 mornings a week. Shannon was in grade school. I felt a giddy sense of freedom. No more diapers or cribs.

Joshua 3, 1978…

A few months later though I was having a health issue. A couple days a month I couldn’t sit, sneeze, cough without considerable pain, or wear anything besides loose clothes. Stomach hurt bad. Went to the doctor. He wanted to know why I was on the birth control pills I was taking? (Who’s the doctor here? Trying NOT to get pregnant dipstick) “They worked fine after I had Shannon, so I asked for them again after Joshua was born,” I said. “Those pills are 10 times stronger than we’re giving women now,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons you feel so rotten in the middle of the month. Your body is not able to cycle right because they’re way too strong. You have to stop taking them.” “But what should I do about birth control?” I asked. He shrugged, “you don’t have worry about getting pregnant again. I don’t think you’re even ovulating.” Guess my baby days were over at 28.

Couple months passed and I was back in his office. Dizzy, queasy, seeing black spots before my eyes. He hardly dared walk back into the office after some tests. First thing out of his mouth, “hope you’re not going to get hysterical when I tell you you’re pregnant!” I was not excited. All I could think of was diapers, cribs, and my fleeting freedom which lasted like 2 minutes. John was ecstatic. Sigh. (Side note: Joshua spilled the beans about this pregnancy early to my mom. She was furious that we were adding to our family and didn’t speak to me for 5 months. Peaceful, but short-lived).

Soon I had a change of heart. If I wasn’t happy that God was giving us another baby, that was just wrong. I zipped down to Sernett’s, a small department store in Spencer and bought a couple packs of some new-fangled baby wear. Novel idea, Onesies, in pale yellow, mint green and baby blue. Yup, I was over the doldrums. Another baby would be great. I was 8 months pregnant in August. Big as a barn, literally. See for yourself.

No one in their right mind tries to have a baby in August or September. Going through a hot, humid Iowa summer, wearing the tent instead of sleeping in one. Went in for routine check-up and had my first pelvic exam in several months. Dr. Quack looked concerned and said the baby’s head appeared very small, and he needed an X-Ray. It showed baby’s tiny feet deep in my pelvis, his head under my right boob. “Not to worry,” said Quack. “I can turn the baby.” He put his hands around the baby’s head (on the outside of my belly) and slowly worked his hands down to my pelvis. Ok, needed another X-Ray. While waiting for that to be developed, I watched baby’s head moon-walk the other direction to his favorite hang-out spot. Quack came back in, saw where the stubborn little twerp was and said, “I think there might be something wrong with the baby. His head should be tucked down towards his chest, but he’s looking straight up your throat with his head tilted way back. It’s not normal or right.” You can imagine what I was picturing in my mind, worried sick. Quack then said he was done trying to turn the baby. This was my third baby, I shouldn’t have any trouble giving birth.

Joshua 4, Shannon almost 9, 1979…

John thought otherwise. He was STRONGLY opposed to me having this baby in Spencer. Small town, little hospital, plus the Quack thing. John wanted to take me to Sioux Falls or Sioux City, each about a 100 miles away. That didn’t sound appealing. Too far from the kids. Shannon was almost 9, Josh 4-1/2. I got my way, but there wasn’t much to feel good about in this decision.

I’ll try not to freak you out with too-many-objectionable-graphic-details-with-the-rest-of-my-story. I was advised to get to the hospital pronto when labor started. My water broke in bed a few days past my due date. (Only Josh arrived on time and easily) We hustled to the hospital. After 4 or 5 hours, baby decided it was time to s-l-o-w-l-y make his grand entrance. One foot popped out. Just the one. Facing the wrong direction. (Little Dude really, could have used some help here) Quack had the answer for this too. He reached in (ouch) grabbed the other foot, took both feet and twisted hard to turn the baby facing down. This was 35 years ago, but the description of what that felt like remains the same and spine-tinglingly vivid. Getting hit in the lower back with a sledge hammer.

Nature intended when the biggest part of baby (shoulders) were out, the cervix starts closing. (This is where the song, head & shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes got invented) Unfortunately for this-feet-first-baby, after the shoulders came his head, which now would not and could not come out. Quack’s assistant, Messup jumped on the table, straddled me (not in a kinky way, honest I wasn’t doing very well at all) pushed and pushed on my belly, (black and blue weeks later) and finally the Van Berkum’s had their new baby boy. His head was a little smashed, he had newborn tremors, I couldn’t stop bawling, but we were both ok. Thanks God, appreciated your help that day. Had I been living on the prairie in the 1800’s, I don’t think either one of us would have made it. In retrospect, I should have gone to a specialist and had a C-section. Something John still brings up once in a while.

The addition of little Adam marked the beginning of our-elite-family-of-5. We no longer fit in a restaurant booth without an extra seat. Four-per-pack-tickets didn’t cut the mustard. If you thought there was a big difference between having one and two children, the difference between 2 and 3 was enormous. For the next decade, anytime any one of the 3 were gone for ANY reason, school project, grandma’s house, day trip with a friend’s family, using the bathroom, it was an automatic reason for celebration for the rest of us. Didn’t have to be a biggie, just something. Go out for ice cream, or sit in a restaurant booth and order water. Nothing against any one of the 3, but everything was easier in our family when there were equal amounts of parents versus children.

Josh 4-1/2, Adam 3 mon. Shannon 9, 1979…

Adam might not have been planned, but he certainly wasn’t an accident either. Getting him here was tough, but we were so lucky to have him. He deserved the game ball. We had our 5-man-roster…

Un-obstructed view…

We were in for some big changes when we moved to Michigan in 1987. One I still can’t get used to is Eastern Time Zone. Mid-June it doesn’t get dark here until 10:30. Then the news comes on at 11. Just not right.


Muskegon’s Lighthouse, Lake Michigan…

Michigan’s weather was similar, but Iowa was still the winner in heat and humidity during the summer, and colder temps in the winter. Michigan might get the nod in the we-got-more-snow-award-nah-nah, but Iowa usually wins any “extreme” category. Soil was different too. I was used to seeing inky black Iowa dirt, best in the world for growing crops and feeding millions. Now we were surrounded by sandy beige soil everywhere. Looks like a spec house, let’s-keep-all-things-neutral. Great though for all the fruit growers here, and a canner’s paradise.

Sunset looking west from Muskegon to Lake Michigan…

Education was a big wake-up call after we moved. Shannon was 16 and had been in an accelerated program in Iowa. Basically, there weren’t many classes that Jackson Public Schools could offer. I don’t remember where Iowa and Michigan were on the state’s education ranking scale, but Iowa was closer to the top than Michigan. Shannon spent most of her 2-1/2 years there by herself, doing independent studies, or taking courses at Jackson Community College. Worked out great when she tested out of almost 2 years of college by the time she was at Michigan State. Things you take for granted until you don’t have them anymore.

The most beautiful resource in this part of the state is Lake Michigan. Part of the 5-pack-Great-Lakes that accounts for almost 20% of the world’s fresh water. (Nothing against my favorite spot east of the Mississippi, Niagara Falls). Lake Michigan is the only one of the “Greats” that is wholly contained in the U.S. She can be as flat as a pancake, or have 15-20 foot waves, ranging in color from sage to olive green, steel grey to brown, turquoise to royal blue.

Breathtaking isn’t it? The color grey usually means trouble in a weather sort of way. Brown means strong winds from the west and we’re getting tons of sand from Milwaukee. I have been smitten with her since we moved to North Muskegon 20 years ago. Although I love LOOKING at her, doesn’t mean I like BEING ON her. She’s 600 feet deep. Who needs that? Not this keppi-strunt Iowa Dutch girl. Plus I have a huge problem with boats without brakes! Where’s the engineering genius in that?

Guess the main reason I love being by the big lake still has deep ties to my upbringing in Iowa. No one ever gives much thought to looking across the horizon in Iowa. Try it, you can see FOREVER. Once I moved to Michigan that huge difference was very apparent. We have a lot of water in and around Michigan. The Great Lakes, (each one totally awesome) plus hundreds of smaller lakes. But what isn’t doused in water seems to be covered with trees. Billions of trees. Going down a 2-lane hi-way reminds me of a Stephen King novel. Trees on both sides of the road, filling up the ditches, getting all touchy-feely in the middle of the road above you.

Creeps me out. Wasn’t what I was used to, not being able to see 2 feet in front of my face. The only place a good old Iowa girl can see any distance at all is by Lake Michigan. Trust me, they’ve probably tried to grow trees there too. Days that are very windy, first thought that pops into my head-gotta go visit the big lake. Huge white-caps rolling in, sounds of the waves, and blowing sand reminds me of very fine snow (fine as in small, not as in wonderful) of an Iowa blizzard.

I’ve gotten quite demanding with my wind issues here in west Michigan. Love it windy during the day, but want it calm at night. Then the city lights from Muskegon reflect off the water and ripple right up to our back yard. Absolutely stunning! Hey God, don’t ask for much do I? Always surprised (and thoroughly disgusted) when I happen to mention I’m headed to “The Lake.” Folks around here casually say, “gee, haven’t been there for a couple years.” What? We’re a tad over a mile away by boat, maybe 4 miles by car. How can you not go gaze at one of God’s most awesome bodies of water-ever? (Gotta learn how to compel people like in True Blood, but without becoming a vamp) When the wind is howling, there’s something very peaceful about watching the lake just for a few minutes. Makes me feel small, even insignificant, but in a very good, spiritual way.

I’ve always maintained that Lake Michigan has some identity issues. She’s so big, she likes to throw her (water) weight around by making her OWN weather. (She’s been pitching for her own series on The Weather Channel for years). This puts her on a major power trip. We don’t get a lot of sunny days here, another biggie I miss terribly about Iowa. The day may start out sunny at 7 am, but before noon the clouds are everywhere. Many days are glum, and we’ll have several in a row. Depressing. During our long, seemingly endless winter, the rest of the state will be getting the predicted 4-6 inches of snow. Most winters though, Lake Michigan’s open water temperature is warmer than the air. So as a cruel joke on us for living so close to her, she produces extra snow (lake-effect) by the lakeshore. Ha-ha. Yup, she’s a card alright with a wicked sense of humor. We may get 12-20 inches instead of the 4. She’s pretty powerful and knows it. Tends to flaunt it now and then. I’ve always thought it was either an inferiority complex because she’s not the biggest, or she’s just pissed off because she wasn’t named Superior…

Sharp Cuts…

We moved to Michigan in 1987. This was by far the best thing ever for our marriage. Put some distance (about 750 miles) between me and the folks. We still saw them often. Mom and Dad were in a competition with each other over our kids, odd quirk of their marriage. They each preferred to visit us alone. Mom came for a visit, Dad stayed home. Whenever one of them returned to Rock Valley, they would make each other jealous by repeating cute grandkid stories, weird, but that’s the way they did it. When Dad came he usually had an ulterior motive. Yup, me and the fam were in hot competition with 7,000 inmates at Jackson’s prison. We lost every time, but he was happy and fulfilled. He planned months in advance for a speaking engagement there on a Sunday. When he was visiting he often helped with improvements on our house too. Always a good handyman, except for those odd steps of his.

Lots of trees and leaves. Jackson, 1988…

In 1990, after 25 years of a very bad habit (one of them anyway) John and I decided to quit smoking. Tough time on each other, tough time on the kids (though not as bad as second-hand smoke, but we were not very nice to anyone for the next few crabby months). Over the next 4 years, the after-affects of that decision, I picked up 25 unwanted pounds. Man, everything smelled and tasted so good without nicotine. In ’94 we moved 150 miles west. Shannon had graduated from MSU. She and Ariana were living in Lansing. Josh was a freshman at MSU. Adam was 15. To help with some of Josh’s college bills, I got a part-time job at McDonald’s. Geez, they give you free food when you’re at work. Long story short, gained 10 pounds a year over the next 4 years. Should mention here that this was during that difficult decade I suffered through called menopause (which was still at fault for everything bad). Even so, whatever the name, or where ever I placed the blame, the pounds were stuck on ME.

Ari 3 fishing on Muskegon Lake, 1994…

John was diagnosed with Type II diabetes in 1998. He went to nutrition classes, me being chief cook and bottle washer tagged along. When I saw what they proposed and strongly encouraged, plus how we were eating, I knew he couldn’t and shouldn’t do this alone. Doctor said if he lost a few pounds he might be able to control his diabetes without medication. OK, I’m in. Gave up my favorite 2-all-beef-patties-special-sauce-lettuce-cheese-pickles-onions-on-a-sesame-seed-bun. The fries too, (cried a lot over the fries) except for rare occasions when they just came out of the fryer and were the perfect color golden brown. Then only a dozen with lots of Heinz.

Started walking after I got home from work. I’d lay down for a bit, called it a power nap. You’re kinda aware of what’s going on, but in a zone. I was getting up very early for work, needed to rest the feet and chubby legs before attempting something so radical and dangerous as mild exercise. Soon both of us were losing weight, slow and steady. I decided not to tell Mom I was on a diet. I was going home in a few months and would surprise her. She was quite prejudiced against “heavy-set people.” Not hard to see the disgust on her face when I walked in the door the last 8 years. She would be ecstatic and so proud of me. No one at our house was ever to say that I was out walking (then doing about 5 miles a day). Use any excuse for where I was but never mention “diet or walking” when their grandma called.

By the time we headed to Iowa I had lost about 50 pounds. Legs had muscles from walking. Wasn’t thin, but looked pretty good for not-quite-48. Mona and my best friend Char were at Mom’s when I walked in. Mona immediately said, “Wow, you’ve lost a lot of weight!” “I’ve been on a diet for months and walking everyday to get back in shape!” I preened. She and Char went on and on, then Mona just had to ask how much I weighed? Mom had not spoken one word since I walked in the door and said, “Hi Denise.” I said about 150 and had just started a maintenance program so I wouldn’t keep losing or start gaining it back. Mom asked Char (always slim, trim and perfect in her eyes) how much she weighed? Char hemmed and hawed, then finally said about 140. Mom looked at me and said, “Denise, I’ve always thought you look your best at 130.” Thud. Oh Mom, you’re killing me here. Nothing like a slam-dunk-one-liner to negate my 6 months of hard work and just shoot it to hell.

I had loved her with all my heart my entire life. Liking her was much harder to do. I knew she had some mental health issues which I was desperately trying to take in account here. All in all though, pleasing her was impossible. I would never be able to measure up to her expectations. How I wish I would have known that sooner…