Rosemary. I’d noticed her in our church choir. Since most the choir members were of retirement age, she kinda stuck out. Beautiful girl, maybe 40, brown shoulder length hair in soft ringlets, glasses, trim figure. I had no contact with her since she was under my (Parish Visitor) radar of being at least 75. One Sunday morning the choir was doing their glory-to-God-thing, a handsome new guy in front of me set down the clipboard. The clipboard was the church’s way to track attendance. You filled out this short questionnaire, then if you didn’t show up 6 weeks in a row, inquiring minds would want to know. Could barely make-out Craig something from Boston, a friend of Rosemary’s.


Rosemary in Hawaii


I was always recruiting new volunteers from the congregation to help visit folks. Several reasons. Then “my little people” would feel more connected to the church. Different face than always seeing mine at their door. They still saw me, but I liked folks to be seen by others too. My ministry wasn’t for everyone though. Some people felt uncomfortable visiting the elderly. Sometimes it was hard to get a conversation going. Older folks can be kind of tight-lipped with people they didn’t know. Many times it took months or years to gain their respect, confidence and love. Preacher/boss # 2 said Rosemary had indicated she would like to visit some folks. Called her and invited her to our monthly meeting. Sue, Betty and I would go over the list of folks on from the previous month. Making sure all of us were on the same page, or talk over someone who was slipping, needing more attention or adding to our list. They were coming over for lunch. Rosemary would make a nice 4-some.


Rosemary was as nice as she was pretty. She had a demanding job with a huge loss-prevention company in Boston. But she could live anywhere. She had lived in Grand Rapids (50 miles away) for several years, but her father had passed away and left her 10 acres of woods about a mile from Lake Michigan. She had just finished building her dream home. It was a beauty. Slate floors, lots of windows, cherry wood kitchen with a 6-burner stove, double oven. Be still my heart. A baker-canner’s dream. She had a wood-burning outdoor furnace that looked like a fancy outhouse about 10 feet from her driveway.

Rosemary’s job required alot of travel, so she did not have a lot of time to devote to parish visiting. And she didn’t want to do a lot of driving between visits. Hmm. I chose an assisted living place that was now home to 4 or 5 church ladies. That way Rosemary could make one stop and see them all. Plus they were all dear, sweet ladies and still very sharp. She enjoyed them and they loved her. When she went on a business trip, she would mail postcards to these gals from her location. When I stopped to visit them, each would say, “look what I got in the mail from Rosemary! She’s in Seattle, or San Francisco!”

I didn’t realize that Rosemary had just been through a serious medical crisis. She had found a lump in her breast. Her mom had died from breast cancer when she was in her early 40’s, about same age as Rosemary. As a preventative measure, Rosemary decided to have a double mastectomy and hysterectomy. She had now been cancer free for about a year.

We became very close friends, me more in the mom role she had been without for 20 years. John and Rosemary hit it off right away. They had many things common, leaned the same way politically, in business and theology. He was the dad figure she needed. She had him doing all sorts of odd jobs around her house, giving her rides, or helping when she had car trouble.


Rosemary taking some downtime


She confided in me one night she had made a doctor’s appointment because she had a cough. Stopped over a couple days later visibly upset. The doctor had diagnosed bronchitis, but had also noticed several “spots” on her lungs. Back to her oncologist for further testing. We soon learned that the cancer was back and with a vengeance. This wonderful young woman had no parents, no kids or spouse. She had 2 brothers, one she was very close to. Brian lived nearby. Our role as adoptive parents became serious. She needed more chemotherapy. Rosemary would receive these treatments at our new state of the art Johnson Family Cancer Center. She’d get some kind of suped-up platinum chemo cocktail. Her oncologist practiced in Grand Rapids, but was in Muskegon once a week. Since treatments took several hours, I usually drove, then spent the day with her. She would sleep, but we brought along books, magazines, and snacks.

Soon I was bringing treats for the whole chemo section. Helped pass the time. Rosemary had extraordinary hearing. While I was offering the goodies to the folks receiving chemo, their family, and friends who were with them, she was listening to our conversations. And these individual compartments were several feet away. When I got back to our cubicle, she’d check out how many bars or cookies were left on the platter, then say, “what’s wrong with the lady 2 doors down today?” I’d rack my brain trying to remember, “Umm they haven’t taken her blood count, she’s still fasting.” Rosemary knew more about the people she couldn’t see but could hear than I did.

One day I drove to her house to help her for awhile. I was going to trim some outside bushes, then bring her back to our house for supper. Rosemary had thee-worst-dog-on-earth. Vicious, horrible little snot named Aggie. Half Chihuahua, half miniature Doberman pincher, adding up to full freaking maniac. Aggie tolerated me, adored Rosemary and hated all men-except John. That miserable little so and so loved John to pieces, but would try and bite her brother Brian every time he came over. And Brian was a dog guy. When Rosemary went out of town, we (John) would dogsit the little monster.

Back to my visit. When I knocked on the front door, Aggie came running down the hall, snarling, growling, barking, but no Rosemary. She was getting a little wobbly from the cancer, more likely from the chemo treatments. She still refused outside help. John had just installed railings on the garage steps to help her get into the house easier. She was such a fierce, independent fighter. I looked through the window, now concerned that she might have fallen, because Aggie was barking loud enough to rupture ear drums. Finally I noticed the smallest movement. Rosemary, so frail that I hadn’t noticed her sitting in her recliner. I thought it was just a blanket in the chair. I got in and asked what I could do to help? She said she wasn’t feeling real secure alone in the bathroom anymore. Would I help with her shower? I helped her out of her sweats, which just hung on her thin frame when I noticed a massive green/black bruise from her shoulder all the way to her butt. Biting my lip to keep out the quiver I ventured, “honey, what happened?” “Oh, I got a little woozy during the night when I went to the bathroom. Ended up sliding down the wall to the floor. Then I couldn’t get back in bed because it was too high. So I pulled the blanket on the floor and slept with Aggie. You can’t tell Brian!” Oh Rosemary. A few days later she suffered a seizure. Test showed several lesions on her brain.

Rosemary’s cancer had metastasized through her body. It was everywhere, leg, lungs, ankle, and now her brain. That was the toughest part, poor kid. Chemo doesn’t work very well on the brain. The brain has all kinds of protective measures to keep chemo out. Wouldn’t it be great if the brain did a better job of keeping the cancer lesions out instead? She now needed radiation treatments. She wore a special helmet with small openings where the radiation needed to go. Looked like a hockey helmet. Every time she had one, millions of her brain cells were being fried. Her personality changed. A few weeks later she was found on the floor unconscious. She was rushed to the hospital. After consultation with all of her doctor’s, Brian and Craig, it was decided that there would be no more treatments. Aggie stayed with us for awhile. John was ready to keep her, but both of us had huge misgivings about ever being able to have company again, especially our grandkids. Another one of Rosemary’s friends who already had a menagerie asked if she could adopt Aggie? We felt not only relieved, but knew she’d have a good home.

Poppen Hospice House would be Rosemary’s home for the last 3 weeks of her life. Either Brian, Craig or I were with her most of the time. Her daily visitor list took up page after page on the sign up sheet. Rosemary regained consciousness for a couple weeks, but the progression of the cancer was horrific and fast. On Sunday September 20 I noticed a change. Breathing was different. More labored with long silences in between. Called John and said I was spending the night with her. I brought in my trusty hymn book from the car. I sang, read, and prayed with her all night. And cried. A lot. She made it through the night, still unconscious, not much change. I went home to get some sleep and before I returned, she slipped away. Brian had just gone home too. She was quite private. One of the Hospice nurses told me many folks seem to wait until they are alone. Didn’t make me feel much better. Rosemary had just celebrated her 46th birthday. I still dream about her and can hear her voice as clear as if she were in the chair right next to me. She was a delightful combination of one of my kids and one of my best friends.

A few months before her death, I was at her house to take her to acupuncture and a massage. Craig was leaving to go back to Boston. He asked Rosemary, “aren’t you going to give that thing to Denise?” “Oh yeah I forgot. Where is it Craig?” Craig left, came back with a small black leather case. Inside were Bose headphones. Rosemary used them when she was flying. Craig showed me how to charge them, where all the buttons were. Rosemary said, “I think you’ll enjoy these when you walk in the morning. Think of me.” If you’ve never had a good set of headphones, at least to this very hearing impaired person, they are awesome. One of the first days I wore them, I was listening to the Black Eyed Peas on my playlist. This song had been on my list for months but I couldn’t understand half the lyrics. Normal for a deaf person. Sometimes I’d ask Landon or Peyton to listen and unscramble the words for me, but if the lyrics might be questionable, I’d rather just guess or make up my own. So it’s early morning, still kinda dark and for the first time I clearly hear the words to the song, My Humps. I’m alone and BLUSHING. Told Rosemary and she cracked up for 10 minutes.

Months after she passed away, Brian called. Said he just couldn’t have a sale of Rosemary’s stuff. Didn’t want strangers going through her things. He had donated a lot of her household items to several charities. Did I want to come to the house and pick out a few of her things? These are my favorites from Rosemary. I have used the sugar bowl and her coffee mug everyday for the last 4 years. The electric water/tea pot is like having an extra burner on my stove on canning days. Thanks Rosemary. I still love and miss you a lot…




I wasn’t always like this. The mere thought of going on a trip used to fill me with delicious anticipation. Giddy, I’d mentally click off my fingers how many days we would be gone. Six days. No cooking for 6 whole days. No cleaning, no beds to change, no homework nagging, no laundry. Well, probably laundry when the kids were small. But I loved taking trips-anywhere. We didn’t get away that often. Money was tight on one income with 3 kids. Most trips were to Rock Valley, where both sets of our parents lived. Getting up in years, there was some sense of obligation that we go home when we had time off. Didn’t matter cause I was not cooking for 3, or 5 days. Sometimes even a week!


One reason I eat at home. My cooking’s better…

I’m getting old. Sigh. Normally that doesn’t bother me, but some things make me feel all-fuddy-duddy. I love being home. Why is that? A couple months ago we were gone for 8 days. Which was 3 days too long in my book. Plus it felt like 3 weeks. I like my own bed, I love my shower and my all time favorite spot, my “nest.” My wonderful “home within a home” where I sit when I write, read, gaze at the lake, watch some light-hearted fare on the tube, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, or Justified. Anything and everything I might anticipate wanting or needing, my blankie, phone, iPad, Nook, chargers, notebooks, pens, scissors, nail clippers, file, tootsie roll pops, band aids (you just never know, I have that scissors nearby) calendar, TV guide, Kleenex, napkins, in the next few hours is semi-neatly stored around this small area for a very specific reason. NOT GETTING UP AND LEAVING MY NEST. If only I didn’t have to pee. (My little corner of the world)



Lately though, when I’m gone I miss my kitchen. Odd. I miss my food. Even odder, or is it more odd? (How did that happen? The girl who couldn’t boil water) For the last several years I just don’t find restaurant food very appealing. Did I change or the food? Maybe I never noticed subpar food, or higher prices. Years ago, if I didn’t have supper started, or at least thought about during the day, and John happened to call with, “what ‘cha got planned for supper?” He would ALWAYS suggest, “let’s go out and get a sandwich,” and I was game. Anymore, not so much.



My kitchen. The realtor says it’s dated, but I love being in my kitchen. Even though the small tile countertops (my least favorite part) are just awful for a baker. Tough rolling cut-out cookies or pie crusts. Let the next owners change them, we’re moving anyway. And don’t freak out on me about my kitchen. It’s looks this neat for one reason. Showed the house today. I was forced to rent a crane yesterday to clear the counters. All my usual counter crap will be back in a day or 2 tops. Sneaky little kitchen poltergeists.


Part of the problem was a big change in our finances after 2007. John bought a small manufacturing plant in the late 90’s. Was doing great, initially having only 2 employees, increasing that to about 30 with 2 shifts running. I was working part-time, kids had all graduated from college. John’s company had just landed a huge contract. The job would consist of making thousands of parts for one of the Big 3. He had purchased and installed new equipment and was ready for a run-off when the bottom fell out of the market in 2008. The company who had given him the contract called and cancelled their order. Dismal times around here, let me tell you. They weren’t going ahead with the project because of the recession. John had a million dollars worth of new machinery sitting on the floor of his 35,000 foot factory. Not making one stinking part. Should he have sued? Certainly, he had a signed contract. But it would take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars in lawyers fees we didn’t have. He limped along for a few months, finally closed the doors and filed business bankruptcy. Not exactly the place you want to be when you’re 60. Thus all fun spending money just disappeared. We had gone to a movie every Friday afternoon for the last 10 years. Plus ate out at least once a week. Thought I would miss those things a lot, but lo and behold I did not.

I really did miss being in my house alone. I was used to being home by myself. I’ve always been pretty happy and content with my own company. Suddenly there was this guy here. ALL. THE. TIME. Thought he would drive me stark raving mad. Um, he did at first. John wasn’t really a homebody, especially if he was here by himself. I was working, but we were still together a lot. It took some time, and ever so much patience on my part, (martyr that I am) but we both changed I guess. He didn’t drive me bonkers too often, and he actually learned how to enjoy being here. I’ve always thought of our home as “my sanctuary.” It like calls to me when I’m away. Almost like a magnetic pull. It’s that strong. Don’t know if I’d go that far to describe John’s feelings about home, but he certainly grew more comfortable here. When I was working he often would have supper ready when I got home. He’s a good cook (messy though-I swear he shakes the salt, pepper and spices from 4 feet away). Plus uses every dish, piece of silverware, pot and pan until the cupboards are bare, and the countertops cannot be seen. Since I retired last year, I sign up most nights for supper duties, though he does take a turn now and then. We rarely go out and I don’t miss it.

Back to our trip. We were gone 8 days. We had 1 dinner and 1 supper with family, the rest was restaurant fodder. Three days breakfasts were free with the hotel room, and not too bad. You know the drill, a waffle machine that has to be flipped before that dang timer will start. Baked eggs, sausage links, bagels, some fresh fruit, assorted cereals. A couple hotels actually had strawberries for my waffle topping, a favorite of mine. So 8 days, 3 meals a day, total of 24, minus the 2 good family food fests. Take off the 3 freebies, and a couple days we had that breakfast late, so no lunch, we’ll go with 17 meals out. Three were way above average. Archie’s in LeMars was terrific. I don’t think I’ve ever had a below spectacular meal there. Doon Steak House was excellent, and a Mexican place (name escapes me) in Arnold’s Park was very good too. They even had live entertainment (as opposed to a dead dude shuffling through the dining room) which was fun. Guy doing card tricks. He was funny and pretty good. That leaves 14 lousy meals. Ugh. Here’s a perfect example. Stopped at a Chinese restaurant in Sioux Falls. Something Bowl, think it might have been Toilet. Started off by ordering sizzling rice soup for 2. NORMALLY this is kind of a clear, savory broth with small shrimp, chunks of chicken, some veggies brought in a large bowl to your table. NORMALLY the next step is some frozen fried rice dropped in the hot soup so it kind of sizzles. That’s how they got such a clever name. This is where our sizzle-less soup fizzled. TOMATO based broth was thick, (not a good start) and the taste was very sweet. It did have shrimp, but they had all died a terrible death from sugar poisoning. We each ate a spoonful, looked at each other, thought, well we blew 8 bucks on horrible soup. The waitress saunters over, “Is everything ok?” “Ah, no, the soup isn’t good. It sickeningly sweet, and what’s with the thick tomato gravy-like broth?” “Well, if you wanted clear broth you should have order the chicken sizzling rice.” Thanks a lot Sista. We pushed it aside, said we didn’t want it. She glides back a minute later with a carry out container for the soup!! What? Told her to please dump it, don’t waste a perfectly good container. It seems the more I eat at home, the less satisfied I am when we eat out. The prices are high, and the food rarely up to my expectations. Plus the portions are too big. Something else I don’t need. I’ve never been a great egg cooker. That’s why I’m not a short order cook. I don’t care what you call it, over easy, over medium. I want my egg: egg-white cooked firm all the way through, and the yolk runny. That’s the way I explain it to them. I find runny egg-white totally disgusting. If you can’t fry my egg that way, don’t be a breakfast cook. There, one dilemma solved.

When we finally got home, (happy-happy, nope I didn’t even mind all the laundry) I made a beeline to the freezer in the garage. Took out packages of stew meat, chicken wings, and boneless pork chops. First day home, made crock pot beef stew, good old comfort food. Although being home should have been comfort enough, the stew really helped. I can eat that stuff in August, heat wave or not. Next day I did wings with cole slaw, followed by one of my favorites, pork chops with wild rice.



All this makes me feel bitchy, disgusted, whiney, unhappy with restaurants in general, and traveling too. How come I feel so much better when I’m home than when I’m out and about? Am I the only one that feels this way? I used to love to go places. I don’t want to feel like this when I’m on a trip. Or even just going out for supper. How can I be as enthusiastic while traveling, and eating out as when I’m in my own little house? Maybe I could be comfortable traveling if I could drag along my kitchen, bedroom, shower, and especially my nest. John’s clever and really handy. Wonder if he can devise a way to haul half-a-house with us when we travel? Maybe then I’d be a happy camper. My über-fabulous master bedroom. Not going to be easy to replace that room and I’m gonna miss it a lot….





I thought my proclamation on a public platform would be enough to curb these tendencies. I thought, no I boldly wrote I was done canning until spring. But I’m weak. I have no willpower. Holy moly, I thought it was tough to quit smoking 25 years ago. But this. My shelves are heavily stocked with home canned food in case we get snowed in for 4 months, (could happen, we live in Michigan) suffer an Apocalypse, or Armageddon. Really, what am I gonna do with a hundred-fifty jars of jam? I eat it about once a week. John only eats strawberry and now refuses to let me give any of that kind away. Kids. But those dang raspberries a couple weeks ago at their unreal cheap price, then blackberries, buy 10 cartons, get one free. Like who has a strong enough constitution to pass up those kind of deals? Not me. (See weak and no willpower above) Plus seedless blackberry is my favorite, and I was down to 1 jar. Too close for comfort folks. Making me nervous.


Where do I store all my canned goods?

Then there was the cranberry issue. My all time favorite. Can’t be without some in my house, EVER. Should have had that canned a month ago, but this tight Dutch girl was unwilling to shell out a 7 dollar increase over last year’s price. So I waited impatiently. Down to one jar, and it’s something I eat almost every night with supper. I think I can safely justify this tiny fib on my “there will be no more canning days in this house for 6 months!” I just HAD to can some of each of the 3. Not humongous amounts. Certainly not like 5 years ago, but a lot for 2 people abiding here. I can go through 50 pounds of sugar during a crazy canning day. Yikes. Yeah, lots wrong with that little message. Still, I have cut the canning, and pie baking down significantly in recent years. And I give a lot away. I like giving it away. It’s satisfying and makes me feel good. Plus I’m running out of jars, rings, lids, room and patience. With me.


Canning cranberry sauce. A favorite…


Let’s talk about my freaky fascination with a certain sized canning jar. I spotted some at an estate sale several years ago. Never had seen that particular size before. Not a quart, and not a pint. It’s a 1-1/2 pint or 24 ounces. They take a wide mouth lid, but then the jar goes quite slender. Every time I come across any, I snatch them up. One lady I visited 15 years ago was an avid canner. She canned her own fruit cocktail. It was delicious and so stinking cute in the jars. When her canning days were over she called and asked me if I wanted or needed any jars? Back then I was doing well over a 1000 jars a year and never turned down freebies. She gave me about 5 dozen jars, and 30 of them were this unusual pint and a half size. Be still my heart! There is one little problem with this nifty size. I don’t use them when I can. I’m petrified whatever I can in them will be given away. Then maybe the jars won’t be returned to me. Now normally I don’t care about getting my jars back. Most the jars I give away are happily returned to me in hopes that they will get them back again, refilled. (Didn’t take me long to come to this conclusion) I have enough jars that if a hundred or more are not retuned to me I’m fine. But this one size jar has such a hold on me, that I, umm, hoard them. Protecting them like The Hobbit’s Gollum with “Precious.” It’s unhealthy. So instead of using these favorite jars, I keep (hide) them in one of my MANY plastic canning containers in the garage. Occasionally I get quirky about them, unable to resist the urge to go out there and make sure they’re ok. I take the lid off and admire how cute they are. It’s kinda sick.


Pint of spiced apple rings, 1-1/2 precious pint of canned meat…


Backed to my warped life, and my public statement that there would be no more canning until asparagus season in May, 2015. You probably didn’t notice the small, minute * asterisk. My bad. For several years Meijer’s (my favorite store in Michigan, well next to Macy’s, just keeping it real) has strawberries on super sale one week during February or March. Now there’s no one that loves Michigan strawberries more than me. But I cannot part with 4 bucks a quart during June to smash them to a pulp to make jam. The fruit alone then costs 50 bucks, plus pectin at 2 bucks a pop, 20 pounds of sugar, jars, rings and new lids. I just can’t justify making jam with Michigan strawberries. Besides John is the only one allowed to eat my homemade strawberry jam. Brat. I buy Michigan berries for fresh strawberry pie, some for topping on angel food cake (with real whipped cream, duh) and maybe a quart or 2 for ice cream topping. When Meijer runs this winterish sale, they have their berries for about a buck a quart. (A good deal) They’re from Florida or California and perfectly ok to use in my jam. They are not as sweet, and often hollow, with a white center, as opposed to the almost solid red berry from Michigan. But still good in jam. So if the same tradition holds true, I could possibly be making jam in February. That explains the asterisk.


Such pretty (and good) strawberry jam…


But something else would trip me up on my words typed on 11-7-14. Just a couple days after that simple post about my rearranging jars in my 3, yes that’s 3 closets for storing my home canned goods, 2 bags of apples show up on my front porch. Sigh. The dude who gives me his grape crop every year had apples given to him. “Great apples Denise. They were hand picked, not picked up off the ground and will keep well for weeks.” That was the voicemail I got after he plopped them on my porch. Argh. Really, now how in the world am I supposed to handle something like that?

I let them sit in the garage for a couple days before I got twitchy about them. I just can’t stand having stuff sit around. (Couldn’t tell that by looking at my counters most days, but I mean canning perishable stuff). Lugged in my last dozen pint jars, the apples, canner, all that kanooey stuff that goes along with it and started peeling. Apples for sauce aren’t very much work. You don’t have to make nice uniform slices like for a pie. It’s more chunk size which goes much faster. (Plus it’s the crusts that are time-consuming) Did one bag at a time. From the first bag I got one dozen pints exactly. Hmmm, that’s what I was hoping to have from both bags. Now out of pint jars, and no freezer space. Didn’t want to use quarts or half pints. Heart thumping I head out to the garage. To my prized but rarely used secret stash of jars I love NOT to use. Each wrapped in foam, numbered, (kidding, don’t want you to think I have a phobia or something). I carefully bring them into the kitchen. Wash them gently and lovingly, tears streaming, rinse, and I’m ready to start the second bag of apples. Shoot Henry, these tall jars don’t fit in my small water bath canner. Back to the garage, haul out the big dog, wash it, then dump the hot water from the small canner in it. Geez. That’s a lot of time I’ll never get back. Ended up using 8 of my more-precious-than-gold-jars which is another 12 pints of applesauce I can’t give away because of the dang jars.


No one will get any of those tall jars in back…


Well neither my heartfelt, but somewhat ludicrous Facebook proclamations, nor a family intervention has helped me with my over the top obsession with “constant canning.” Some family members have added their 2 cents worth of advice recently. Suggested I join Canner’s Anonymous. It’s a 7 Step program. Oooh, I love steps. Got that from my Dad. One of the reasons I love canning so much. It’s the steps, process and repetition that march right along with the canning phenomenon. Sounds like I could have fun with this group. I’d better start loading the Jeep with all my canning paraphernalia. Except for my special sized jars. They can’t leave the house…



Bye Dad…

Early March, 2008. Dad had just celebrated his 91st birthday and was living in Village at the Oaks for the past several months. The changes were subtle, but I noticed them. His prison ministry, the-most-important-thing-in-his-life, along with preaching at the Rescue Mission and his bible study at the nursing home took on a different meaning. He was desperately hanging on to the things that had meant so much to him during the last 40 years, but his enthusiasm was waning. At times lately, he seemed overwhelmed with his responsibilities.


Last Christmas with Dad, 2007. Just before his 91st. birthday…


Still, I wanted these decisions to be made on HIS terms. I was still catching flack about him losing his license. His not driving was driving me nuts. No, he shouldn’t have been driving, but it wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t even around when the cops told him he was done. But I was his only sounding board, thus got an earful on occasion. Anyway, I was picking him up for his nursing home gig. He was unusually somber. He looked straight ahead and ventured, “I don’t think I can do this anymore. Would you talk to Julie for me and explain?” Julie was the activity director at the nursing home. She thought the world of him, and he liked her a lot. I said sure, drove over there, leaving him in the car and told Julie Dad would no longer be holding the bible study. She understood. Went back to the car, assured Dad Julie was grateful for the time he had given them and his job was always open for him. We went back to the Village. Something was different, just couldn’t put my finger on it yet. I asked him if he wanted me to talk to Chaplain Burrel at the prison? Did he want to keep going for his weekly bible study? Yes he wanted to keep the bible study, but going to the Rescue Mission one night a month to preach was too much. Fine Dad, I’ll call and let them know. He wasn’t very excited about going out at night anymore.


Mom and Dad, Rock Valley, Iowa circa 1992…


Next time I saw him, he said his throat was scratchy, and he had a runny nose. “Should I make an appointment for you with Dr. Anderson?” “No, I don’t think so” he replied, “I just need to lay-low for a couple days.” (One of his favorite quips, makes me smile when I think of him saying it). I went to the drug store, got some cold tablets, cough drops and Kleenex. After I left his apartment, went down to the nurse’s desk and asked them to check on him a couple times a day. After 3 or 4 days he seemed quite a bit better. I got a call though a couple nights later from the nurse. She was concerned. Dad wasn’t breathing right and she could hear a rattle in his chest. Asked her to call 911 and I’d meet the ambulance at the hospital. This was a Wednesday night.

After a few hours in the ER, they decided to admit him. They were pretty sure he had pneumonia. He was in good spirits, flirting with the nurses and doctors. Didn’t grill anyone if they were a born-again Christian, what church they belonged to, or if they were positive they were heaven bound. I spent a good share of the night and next day at the hospital with him. He didn’t have much of an appetite, partly due to the strong antibiotics he was on. But he seemed to be holding his own. Had a couple visitors from his church and I’m pretty sure my preacher/boss came to see him too.


Dad and his sister Lizzy. Mid-1940’s…



On Friday I noticed a big change. There was a big orange sign on the door to his room, which I failed to read as I sailed in. Dad was sitting up, but looking outside. He was on the third floor, so his view was actually the roof of another wing of the hospital. He could see some trees tops though. His roommate was gone. Not just gone to have a test or procedure, but bed, nightstand, everything was gone. Odd. I went back to his door and read the orange sign. Something like, please wear gloves, don’t touch anything, don’t get too close if patient is coughing or sneezing. What? Told Dad I was going to talk to a nurse. He was still watching some mind-video I wasn’t privy to out the window. I marched up to the nurse’s desk and asked, “what’s going on with Rich Gerritson? I’m his daughter.” The desk person said she would have the doctor come talk to me in a minute. I walk back to Dad’s room. “Hey Dad, what ‘cha see out there?” “The sales barn, and some kids playing behind it,” he said quietly. Oh boy. “The Rock Valley Sales Barn?” “Yes,” he answered, still looking intently out the window.

A handsome young doctor walks in, nods at me, walks over to Dad. Checks his pulse, listens to his lungs, asks how he’s feeling? Dad says not too bad. Doc motions for me to come out in the hall. There’s been a disturbing development in Dad’s health. He now has a MRSA infection to add to the pneumonia. A form of staph infection, resistant to antibiotics, commonly acquired in hospitals, and nursing homes. Easily susceptible to older folks when their immune system is compromised. Dad had blocked carotid arteries, CLL, the most common form of leukemia in older people, and congestive heart failure. I knew dad was frail and failing, but truly thought this was just another bump in the road. The doctor had great empathy. Said as gently as he could, “Denise your dad cannot recover from this. He has way too many things going against him. The only thing keeping him alive are the massive, strong doses of antibiotics. If it’s ok with you, I’m going to send in a social worker and one of our Hospice nurses to talk to you and your dad. I’m so sorry.” I knew it was coming, but still it hit me so hard.


Dad and Larry, 1950…

I don’t know how much Dad really understood while they were giving us our options. He was obviously hallucinating, and was having some tremors. They calmly and simply explained maybe it would be better if Dad went to another place to stay, Harbor Hospice, called Poppen House. There would be no more needle pricks, antibiotics or tests. Dad finally tore his gaze away from the scene through the window, looked at me, seeking guidance, “what do you think Denise?” I told him it was a brand new, beautiful place, nice big rooms, and I had visited folks there many times. He said that sounded fine.


Larry 6, Neese 18 mo. Dad 35, Mona 9…


The plan was to keep him in the hospital over the weekend, move him to Hospice on Monday. Shannon, Tracey and the kids spent the weekend with us and at the hospital. Josh and Adam were coming on Monday. Dad was pretty good. Enjoyed seeing the great-grandkids. Ariana was 17, Landon was 7, Peyton almost 4. Monday at the hospital it was just Dad and me. He hadn’t eaten for a couple days. They had left a piece of pie from his lunch tray. Suddenly he noticed it and asked, “you think I could have that pie?” “Sure, Dad. How about a cup of coffee with it?” “Yes, that sounds good. Do you think they have any ice cream around here?” I hustled out to the desk with his request. Soon he was eating his favorite dessert. I’m so glad I was there to talk and watch him eat. It was the last time, though I didn’t realize it then.

There was a heavy downpour of rain on Monday when they transported him to Hospice. He thought his room was wonderful. John and Dad watched the Tigers spring training baseball game that night. The Hospice doctor asked me to stop at Dad’s apartment on Tuesday morning before I came and pick up his medications. We left about 10. Dad was tired but still watching TV. He was unconscious by the next morning. Without the aid of strong antibiotics, there was just no fight left in him. He was ready. Ready to meet his Lord, see Larry after losing him 50 years before, plus Mom, his brothers and sisters, and his folks. It would be Wednesday night before God took him home. So painful to watch. His breathing was just horrible. Almost no air getting through his lungs. Part of me just begged him to please start breathing right, while part of me pleaded, dear God don’t make him take another breath. And the breaths were so far apart. We thought he was gone, 45 seconds later, another loud, excruciating breath. Hard, so hard. Until he moved to Michigan, I never considered Dad and I anything more than just being related by a fluke. But in his 3 plus years here, even though we had some tough moments, I’m so glad he was here with me. And I discovered how much I loved my Dad…

Dad and me, summer of 1953…


Can it…

Canning. One of my favorite hobbies. It’s the steps and the process I enjoy. Maybe I get that from my Dad. The odd step builder. Buying the fruits or veggies, getting out my jars, lids, rings, canner. Repetition. Hearing a jar lid pop puts a goofy smile on my face. I’m so proud of myself when I’m done, sometimes I leave the jars set on the counter for a couple days. Little soldiers in neat rows, wiped clean, all labeled. More likely than not though, it’s just my way of avoiding finding a semi-permanent home to store them.


Strawberry jam. Storage is a huge issue…


I’m giddy with anticipation as I drive to our fabulous Farmer’s Market. I’ve got the fruit and vegetable seasons down pat. Usually pretty darn close when I head to the market, what I’m looking to buy. Our market is big enough that I can shop around. I’m not above mentioning that it’s 1:30 on Thursday, how many more customers are they going to get, willing to buy a bushel of cucumbers or beets when it’s 85 degrees? Sometimes they give me a deal. If they do, the next time I’m at the Market, I bring them back a jar of their produce, canned by me. Gets ’em every time. They remember.

It began shortly after we moved to Michigan in 1987. I became infatuated with the idea of canning. I don’t remember my mom ever canning. My mother-in-law Mag did, but not anymore when this strange idea hit me. I know it was pickled beets and bread and butter pickles that got me started. Mom and I both loved beets, but store bought ones are just kinda blah. Diane, my first, oldest, and dearest friend since moving to Michigan introduced me to all the great fruits and vegetables this state had to offer. She’d haul me around and soon I was picking blueberries, strawberries, peaches, and apples. Diane had canned bread and butter pickles for years so I started helping her every summer before we moved to North Muskegon. Then I started doing it on my own. It’s her fantastic Bread & Butter Pickle recipe that I use. I’d like to think everyone loves them. Guess if someone hated them it would be really gauche to call me up and say, “Denise your pickles really suck!” Still pretty sure they are universally loved. Am I humble about my canning? No. Thinking about it, I’m pretty sure it’s Diane I should thank (or curse) for this kinky obsession. As Sonny & Cher used to croon, The “beet” goes on.



Ten years ago I started keeping a journal on my canning exploits. What vendor I bought from, quantity and what I paid. How many jars total, how long it took. When it became, ah, something more than a hobby, I started dreading the end of canning season. By November I was in a funk. Then I got the bright idea to freeze a few bags of smashed fruit. When I was in the throes of withdrawal, say mid-January, I could get my canning fix. Tis a sad life I lead. The upside, when we were having a truly-miserable-whiteout-blizzard, the kind where I can’t see the city across the lake, I’d can jam the whole day. Felt and smelled like July in the house. “Pump up the jam!”



Several years ago my canning peaked at about 1400 jars a year. Yikes! Sick! Holy moly! We’re 2 people in this house. Donated a couple hundred jars each year for United Methodist Women. They sell them on Sunday morning after church, then donate the money for mission work. Made a hundred Christmas baskets, using about 600 jars to give away, bringing the total down to a more manageable 600 jars. Still a lot to give away and use. After retiring, I knew I needed to make some adjustments to my “canning issues,” but it’s a learning process, and at times painful. When I’m at the market I have every intention of buying a half bushel of beets. How many pickled beets can I eat? Still I want to give some away, so usually when I leave the market it’s with a bushel, not a half. Happy-disturbed-sigh.


Hot, very hot, pickled asparagus…


When I started getting better and more confident, I tried canning new things. John likes hot-pickled asparagus, me not so much. But I like canning it. Only 2 things I can, the asparagus and pickled dilly green beans stand up straight in the jars. Looks so stinking cute. Soon I was ready to venture into canning meat. Had to have a pressure cooker and although I don’t use it very often, the results are worth it. Canned beef tastes like tender pot roast. I usually make it with tiny redskins and fresh green beans, then thicken the leftover meat juices. Yum. I’ve made boatloads of spaghetti sauce for 40 years and froze it until I got the guts to can it. Time consuming though. All the flavors just meld together better when it’s canned. Thank heavens I only do it once a year, cause it takes me 2 days. Start off with lean ground beef browned, cans of Hunts tomato sauce, (deal-breaker) onions, celery, mushrooms and spices. Divide all this up in thirds, cause it’s a lot, simmer for a couple hours, then jar it up and put in the pressure cooker for 90 min. Family favorite. My youngest son Adam is head chef at a fancy restaurant in Ann Arbor. Guess what he requests for supper when he comes home? My spaghetti sauce. Is it that good? Heck no, he’s just been eating it for 30 years. But it is good. Very good. How about The Black Eyed Peas, “Meat me halfway!”



Here’s a perfect example of how I get side-tracked with this obsessive hobby of mine. I was zipping through Meijer’s. Great chain of stores, think Walmart size-wise, throughout Michigan, Ohio and Indiana. Big fat blackberries were on sale. Buy 10 half pints for a buck a piece, get the 11th one free. My plan was to buy 40, get 4 free and make half into jam, half into seedless jelly. I’m down to one jar of seedless jelly and a couple jars of jam which has been giving me heart palpitations. Waltzing through the (massive) produce section, I stop dead in my tracks. Red Raspberries right in front of me-2 half pint boxes for a dollar. Yes, you read that right-2 for a buck. Never been priced that low. Mouth goes dry, the palpitations are back, my breathing shallow. You would think there should be more pleasure involved when this happens to me!

This fragile fruit is usually priced about 3 bucks a pop. Ok, calm down, stop and think. I already have a couple dozen jars of raspberry jam at home. Geez, I need to lay down for a couple minutes (pant-pant). How do I justify buying un-needed raspberries when I came for, and desperately need blackberries? Where are those darn things anyway? Cautiously I leave sacred raspberry territory, scared they might disappear if I take my eyes off them for 1 second. Light-headed and feeling faint I’m distracted when one eye catches bags of cranberries sitting on a shelf. Hard not to notice with the Angels trumpeting and bright star above them. There is NO WAY I can face another miserable Michigan winter if I don’t have plenty of my all time favorite meal accompaniment. Cranberry Sauce. Last year I paid 13 dollars for 6 pounds, this year the same amount is 20 bucks. So not fair! But hey, they’re on sale today-16 bucks. Gotta have them so I grab 8 bags.


My usual give away basket of canned goods…


Now, where was I and why was I here ? Oh yeah, blackberries. None spotted with these naked, ok bespeckled eyes. Scout around and spot the produce guy, but my mind and eyes keep wandering back to those stinking red raspberries. “Sorry lady, we’re out of blackberries until the truck comes tomorrow.” Yes God, it’s a sign! I will be strong. I no longer feed the masses or I’d buy 100 boxes. Honest. I’m-really-trying-here. I-promise-I’ll-only-make-a-couple-batches-of-seedless-red-raspberry-jelly-for-something-different. Not everyone tolerates all those seeds well. The produce guy suddenly struts over, makes me put back the blanket, pillow and pacifier in their respective departments and gives me a 10 second ultimatum. I need to decide how many packages of raspberries I want and leave his department. Now. Heartbroken, like I’m letting all the rest of the little raspberries down, I buy just 2 itty-bitty cases-24 boxes. A joke really. Pitiful sigh. Such a waste when I should be taking a truckload home. Produce guy pushes MY cart to a checkout lane, glances back a couple seconds later to make sure I’ve not strayed into his little domain again, and gives me kind of a dirty look. Huh, he’s looking pretty smug. Just wait dude. My blackberries are coming in tomorrow. Terminator Denise gives him a fierce, frosty “I’ll be back” look that makes him cringe a bit, plus wipes that smug look right off his face. That’s better. Yup, I still got it. I happily head out the door with my piddly-little-bit-of-stuff-today. The truly tortured life of a home canner…


Home canned beef, Redskins, green beans and my must have-cranberry sauce…




The title is deceiving. This is mostly about one of my dearest friends. Her real name’s Mary Ellen, but that was just way too much name for her in my book. I nicknamed her “Fred” soon after we met.

The year was about 1981. We were living in the Quad-cities, consisting of Davenport and Bettendorf on the Iowa side. Across the Mississippi in Illinois were Rock Island and Moline. We were in eastern Iowa again, 5 years later, about 60 miles south of Cascade, my-life-on-the-farm story. A much bigger city than anywhere we had lived so far in our 12 years of marriage. John worked for J.I. Case in Rock Island, but we lived in Davenport, the largest of the Quads. For the first year we rented a small house. Very small. We were 2 parents, with 3 wild, loud, rambunctious kids in that minuscule house. Shannon 10, had a itsy-bitsy room that was actually a sun porch off the dining room, which wasn’t any bigger. Josh 6, and Adam 2-1/2 shared a room with bunk beds, right next to our master, which barely held our queen-size. Didn’t realize it then, but renting that house would still have an impact on my life 30 years later. Shannon and Josh were in school, so during the day it was just Adam and me. (Josh and Adam, showing off muscles in their famous tough-he-man-Storm-Troopers-Underoos in that tiny dining room.)

Bored, homesick and lonely, I bravely gathered up Adam and drug him to a nearby bowling alley, 30 Lanes one morning. This wasn’t a normal league. Four mornings a week they had 30 teams of 4 gals each. They were cutthroat competitive, but it was more of a practice league. You paid for your bowling but there was no prize money at the end of the year. This was in the middle of bowling season, so I wasn’t very hopeful. I walked up to the front desk, and quietly asked the lady behind the counter, name-tagged Doris, if there were any openings for a bowler? She swiped up her microphone, and loudly ventured, “Anyone need a sub? This girl wants to bowl!” Geez, I was mortified but a couple hands went up. She told me to pick one, and where to take Adam for daycare. That scary day for me started some of the most treasured friendships I’ve not experienced since. Hooked up with several gals who would leave an imprint on me, plus a few others who would play minor roles in my life.

First and foremost Mary Ellen, who I discovered lived but one block from me. She was 18 years my senior, we seemed like complete opposites, but a special friendship had sprouted. One of her team members had broken her leg, (sorry, but thanks God), so I was asked to sub for several weeks. Idle chit-chat during bowling told me something odd about this loose (not morally) group of women after a few weeks. They had been bowling on the same leagues for years, but did nothing else together. There were about 10 of us who gravitated towards each other. I invited the group over for lunch after bowling one day. To that tiny house that was way too small for any entertaining. We bowled at 9, got done about 11. I had a bowl of potato salad, baked ham and German chocolate cake.

These women had so much in common, kids going to same schools, some had even lived near each another when growing up, but would only casually talk to each other on bowling mornings. Probably big city life, but it just blew my mind. From that first luncheon sprang regular pot lucks, secret sister gifting, state bowling tournaments in different cities each year. All of us crowding into 2 rooms for a weekend of eating out, lousy bowling, playing cards, staying up late. Good times. The most important thing I contributed to the group that clicked with us was playing euchre. They loved to play cards, and had never heard of double deck euchre. Of the 10, about 6 of us would become obsessed with that card game. Four of us would meet every couple weeks, starting right after supper. Playing cards til the wee hours. We would rotate homes, make a gooey dessert, have some assorted Brach’s chocolates, pop, and we were good-to-go. The bid is 5 spades. Umm, I’ll say 6 hearts.

About a year later, we found a house to buy. Big older stucco with lots of room for this loud, crazy bunch. Maybe 4 miles from our little rental, different schools for the kids, older neighborhood. But the friendships were established. Besides we all lived in Davenport, just not next to each other.



Mary Ellen knew the city of Davenport inside and out. She was a garage sale freak. I was an antique nut. She would find a new interest in antiques, me in going to sales with her. Some of my most prized antiques come from the Davenport area. My 7-foot antique oak bed, a small single door oak wardrobe that had 100 stickers plastered to it when I bought it for 15 bucks. She would pour over the Quad-City Times, starting on Wednesday. In her neat, small cursive script, would list the garage sales for the next day. She would number them, so there was a route by neighborhood, and times. We even got into a couple spats over the years while going to garage sales together. Her daughter Laurie had just graduated from college and gotten a job in Chicago. Mary Ellen was always on the look-out to help furnish Laurie’s apartment. Once I spotted a really cute antique oak night stand, no price. Asked about it. Wife shouts to hubby in the house, “Marv is that piece for sale with the flower pots on top?” Marv yells back, “sure, how about 15 bucks?” I offer 12, she said ok, (without consulting Marv). I piped in, “great, sold!” Mary Ellen was quite mad at me for buying it. Since she was looking for Laurie, that somehow trumped me finding a good deal. You see that huge house I was now trying to fill. I was supposed to give her first dibs on anything remotely cute or antique, that might look good in Laurie’s place. Sorry friend, not in this lifetime. She got over it. Still love that little night stand. Too cute.

Thee-biggest-die-hard-Cub-fan-EVER. Only way to describe Mary Ellen. One set of her grandparents had lived near Wrigley Field when she was a child. She spent a lot of time with them during the summers, going to the afternoon games, (until 1988 would there be no lights for the hapless Cubbies-actually it’s still lights out for those perennial lovable losers) already keeping a scorecard in second grade. She invited me to take a bus trip to a Cubs game. I really had no interest. Josh had barely started T-ball. (Wait until you read the story on that little escapade). I went anyway. Cubs vs. Cards, major rivalry for decades, who knew? Ok, so after a few games I was hooked. Geez, I even kept scorecards on both boy’s little league games. But we didn’t take the bus anymore. Mary Ellen couldn’t stay awake driving from home from the grocery store, so I did all the driving (remember my 14-year-old-car-theft-felony-story? Still love to drive). We’d stay a couple days in Laurie’s apartment. We usually had something to do for the apartment, painting etc, but got free lodging, plus we went to 2 or 3 games before we headed back home. We went to the Cub’s Winter Caravan tour every year. Still have a baseball autographed with Ryne Sanberg, Keith Moreland, Larry Bowa, Fergie Jenkins and Scott Sanderson. Circa about 1985.



One of my favorite pieces from the Quad-Cities is a gorgeous oval oak library table. Two dudes had their yearly sale and loaded it in my truck. By the time I drove home, it was raining hard and the table was soaked. I tried unloading this mother by myself. As I eased the heavy, wet slippery piece down from the truck bed, one of the legs clipped the curb. The table bounced back up and hit me in the chin. Then it smacked the curb again, breaking off the leg. By that time I was so stinking mad I could have picked it up with one finger and heaved it across the Mississippi. John ended up repairing the leg and my big bruise lasted about 2 weeks. No hard feelings, love that table.


Another collection Fred would get me hooked on was a local icon artist from the Quad-cities named Isabel Bloom. She had her studio a few blocks away. Nestled between the mighty Mississippi and our new (old) home in a quaint little section of the Quad-Cities called The Village of East Davenport. She had discovered a way to create sculpture pottery using Mississippi mud. After it was fired, she would coat this greenish cement with a white-wash, wipe it off, then add a bronze hue. She had started this art form in the late ’50’s, after training with Grant Wood. By the time I moved there in the ’80’s she was very popular. Mary Ellen had several of Isabel’s large statues. Many of the statutes were either kids, angels, animals, and snowmen. I would be content with a couple small pieces for many years. It was always a great gift idea in our secret sister group.

Mary Ellen was really gifted in her handiwork. She could knit and crochet just about anything, plus her cross stitch projects were just beautiful. She made me several ornaments, but one was just a little more special. I think it was attached to a gift one year. It was cute, a knit mouse sticking out of a stocking but didn’t reach such a high status until she made this simple statement, “that mouse in the stocking was so much work and way too hard. I’ll never knit another one.” That bumped it up a notch. (One of my all-time favorite ornaments. A tiny stocking with the little grey mouse. Thanks Mary Ellen!)



There was only one thing Fred was addicted to more than her love of the the Cubs. Smoking. Hooked for over 60 years, she had a raspy voice, bad lungs and circulation. After we moved to Michigan in the late ’80’s, we continued our long-distance friendship. I’d stop for a day or 2 to play cards on the way to see my folks. We’d go to a couple days worth of garage sales, and have a potluck with the group over the next 25 years. We talked often on the phone, and wrote letters. I actually quit smoking on her birthday, May 5, 1990. She would never be able to master that feat. She passed away from COPD in January of 2013, at the age of 79.

A couple weeks later I contacted Laurie asking if there would be a sale? I had given Fred a few gifts, and wanted to buy a couple of her things if the family hadn’t claimed them. Fred’s family decided to have an auction. Late February in Iowa, well you can imagine the weather. We made it, the roads were bad. Mary Ellen’s stuff was combined with a couple other folks belonging’s. But there on a small flatbed were 2 of her large Isabel Bloom’s. Leaned into John and whispered, “I don’t care if it’s my last dollar, I will not leave here without at least one of them.” Got them both. Little guy with the snowball is of course named “Fred.” Mary Ellen would be happy they are now living with me…















First time I saw him, he was headed down the side aisle at church. Sat about the same place every week. He was tall, debonair, with snow white hair and beautiful blue eyes. After the service he would regularly pick up women (literally, not like in a bar) off their feet and swing them around. Geez, he had to be about 90! He was strong, fit and a lady’s man. One Sunday the children of the church were performing a skit. They had asked him to be Goliath, letting David plunk him on th head with his itty-bitty slingshot. He obliged, liked the attention. They had the good sense to have a couple adults nearby to catch him when he fell. Quite a guy.

Francis (Rube) celebrating a birthday well into his 90’s…

His name was Francis. He had been a widower for nearly a decade when I got to know him. An avid gardener, he had gorgeous flower beds. In his 90’s, he still insisted on digging up his tulip bulbs every fall. He told me many times he’d get down on the ground to work, then wasn’t able to get back up. Someone walking or driving by would notice him flat on the ground, stop by to help him up and visit for awhile. He kept a shovel nearby that was older than him and sometimes used it to help “walk” him back to a standing position. After that old shovel handle tore up his arm, leaving nasty slivers a couple times, he decided to either sit on a chair or ask for help. He convinced me one spring to plant his annuals. I had asked a friend to help. (Should have said no, I’ve never been a flower girl, or enjoyed digging in the dirt) We were almost done when he wandered outside, holding a yardstick and some string. We hadn’t measured the distance between plants, or made sure the rows were perfectly straight! (You’re kidding right Francis? No, he was serious) We had to take them out and plant them all over. Never offered again, he never asked. He had friends who were master gardeners.

He had 2 daughters, Jane and Cynthia, both living around Chicago, about 175 miles away. They came often to visit and help. They were attentive, but he was about the most independent man I’ve ever known. They would drive him to Chicago a couple weeks before Christmas. After the holidays, he’d catch a plane to spend the worst months of Michigan’s winter in Arizona. I’d watch his house, water his plants, make sure no pipes froze or broke. His cleaning lady called me one day when he was out west in a panic. She heard a noise when she was down the basement, got scared and ran out of the house. Thanks. Me, a major keppi-strunt, exploring weird noises in the basement of an empty house was not my strong suit. Heck, I changed TV channels if a door creaked in a Hallmark commercial. I drove over and cautiously crept down the stairs. There was an artificial tree at the foot of the stairs. As I was walking past a black squirrel jumped out in front of me, clawed his way up the drapes in the next room. Scared me to death! I hiked up the steps, making sure to close the door tight, and called John, the fix-it-guy. After we located and borrowed a live trap, it was just a matter of time before the squirrel was lured by my tasty tidbit inside. John and I evicted him for not paying rent. Man that little squirrel was ticked, hissing and snarling. Sounded like he weighed 40 pounds and was gonna take a hunk out of both of us.

Francis had gone to Western Michigan University on a baseball scholarship, graduating in 1933. Really.


Francis at 17 pitching for North Muskegon H.S. (my youngest played there, too)
His only sister Elva, lived and worked in Chicago and routinely sent him money to help with his tuition. Still, these were tough depression years and money was tight. He worked on campus and frequently stopped at a bakery in Kalamazoo when they were closing for the day. They sold their left over pies for a nickel a piece. Francis would buy 6 or 8, eat a couple, selling the rest to his buddies. He told me he thought he would have grown bigger and taller if he’d had more to eat growing up. Of the 7 children in his family, six of them had college degrees. Unbelievable. His senior year at Western, Francis went 8-0 for the season. He beat Michigan State in the state championship game 1-0. A real pitching duel. He was an amazing right-handed pitcher. He got his nickname, Rube after another pitcher named Rube Marquard, who had pitched in the early 1900’s and was inducted into baseball’s hall of fame. Professional Rube was a lefty.
Francis at 17
My Rube signed with the St. Louis Cardinals, but an arm injury ended his professional career. He did play for a South Carolina semi-pro team for awile.



Francis at 28


He once found himself pitching to Shoeless Joe Jackson, who was almost 50 by then. I kid you not. Francis said the fans were screaming at him to let Joe get a hit. Shoeless did win that match-up, but Rube always thought he could have struck him out. ESPN interviewed Francis a few years ago because he was the only pitcher still alive who had pitched to Shoeless Joe.

Francis returned to Western for Homecoming & Alumni weekend for years. They would announce the year each class had graduated as they walked on the field. Hardest part for him was seeing less and less folks he had gone to school with each year. One of the perks for the weekend was getting a percentage off any merchandise he bought, based on how many years ago you graduated. Francis was getting like 70% off stuff. He loved it.


He belonged to the same Methodist Church for 88 years. Joined when he was 9. During that long tenure, he had some not-so-great preachers, yet he stuck it out, waiting and hoping the next guy would be better. Meanwhile, I skipped around, no patience once they had “done me wrong.” One day the minister’s wife called me. Said that Francis’ daughters were concerned about him. He had just finished rehab on a knee replacement at the spry age of 90+. It was harder for him to get around, and he wasn’t eating right. Asked if I’d be interested in making him some meals? I talked to one of his girls. Told her I’d be happy to bring him food-when I cooked. I didn’t want to have to cook a meal for him if we were going out for supper, or going to be gone for a couple days. Ended up being about 3 times a week. He was demanding. “Denise, don’t come when Peter Jennings is on. (Seriously?) Either come before or after. And not during Lawrence Welk reruns on Saturday night. (My stars, he was serious!) He sounded gruff, but after a short time we became good friends. He was old school-meat and potatoes. Little bit chauvinistic and stubborn beyond belief. Discovered when I arrived with his supper, set up his tray, (he refused to sit at his nice dining room table, preferring his chair), and got him a glass of milk, the time I spent sitting in a chair next to him talking (listening mostly) for 20 minutes was just as or more important than the food I brought. In the beginning this just wasn’t working. I thought I could cook the meal, run and drop off his food, go home and eat with John. But I ALWAYS took too long at Francis’ house. Meanwhile our food got cold, John was hungry. Since Francis wasn’t fussy about his meal time (except-for-his-strange-explicit-rules), it worked better if I made him a plate, but John and I ate first. I’d let the dishes soak, then head to Francis’ house. We got into a routine and it worked for both of us.

Rube met a large group of friends for coffee 6 days a week for over 50 years. Imagine, that’s a golden wedding anniversary. Unfortunately for Francis, after 50 years he had lost most of his coffee group. One day he said, “I used to enjoy watching the Lions play on Sunday.” (a pain many in this state must endure year after year. Kind of like being a Cub’s fan). “Monday morning, during coffee we’d hash over every play of the game. Now the only left beside me having coffee is Marie, and she doesn’t even watch football. Why don’t you join us for coffee sometime?” So I did. For about 5 years. After my Dad moved here, he joined too, and became a good friend of Francis. Dad was 8 years younger, and since Francis was slowing down, Dad would stop and buy 2 fish dinners on Wednesday nights, bring them to his house and they’d have supper together.

Francis started a special ministry of his own in the early ’60’s that would continue for over 40 years. He bought bolts of wool material and made 100 blankets for the needy each Christmas. Divided them up between a couple churches and agencies. He did this in his garage on a sewing machine that was older than him. When it broke, (often) he’d had John come over to get that antique (sewing machine, not Francis) going again. Most of the bolts were not particularly pretty colors or patterns, more like seconds, rather plain and functional. One night though I stopped by with his supper, and there on my chair was a gorgeous 100% wool red and black plaid blanket. He had thought of me when a “special” bolt had arrived at his door. Taking the time to make me a pretty blanket. Thanks Francis.


Francis, now in his upper 90’s was slowing down. He needed much more than just my suppers and visiting a half hour 3 nights a week. Jane and Cindy hired help so he could stay in his lovely lake home. While neither Shoeless Joe or Rube made it to Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Francis was voted unanimously into the most important “Heaven’s Hall of Fame” on December 9th, 2006. His achey, crooked middle finger on his pitching hand hurting no more….