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…




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