Our first home. We were working on year 3 of wedded bliss. The rental house in Hinton, Iowa had been sold right from under us. Our landlord of 2 years, Louie, really should have been named Dick. We had 30 days to find somewhere to live. We were a little panicky. Much more pressure to find decent housing when you have a child. Shannon, our first-born was now the smartest, cutest, most adorable toddler on the planet.
|Hamming it up. Shannon, 2, 1972…|
Called a realtor. We knew a house payment was gonna be higher than our $60 a month rent. But we found a big old house on a land contract. Located on a postage sized city lot. This neighborhood was on the cusp of several things. I don’t know how we got in or out of the area during the winter. About a block east on 23rd street was a hill with a drop so steep, I didn’t dare walk down it with the stroller. Roller coaster engineers routinely came to that hill to set the standard in the angles, heights for new construction at theme parks. Enthusiasts with a death wish drove down it faster than 3 mph. Going west was a slow incline to get to some of the main streets running through Sioux City. The houses were just starting to look a little run down. But this was a biggie for us. Our first house. We were ecstatic.
The rooms were all huge. Oak trim throughout. The doors, mop boards and staircase. Only a half bath downstairs. But the upstairs bathroom could have easily held the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Plus the pipe organ. Shannon’s bedroom ran almost the length of the whole house. Plus a closet that was nursery sized and had a window. But her room was quite narrow. Something like 20 x 11. I thought salmon and white stripes along the 20 foot wall would make the room look wider, but John didn’t want me to wallpaper. So I painted the stripes. John marked off 4″ and 8″ stripes for me with masking tape. We painted the wall white first, then the stripes. The rest of the walls were salmon. Her room looked great with her 5 dollar Goodwill crib, covered with yellow asbestos based paint. The crib also boasted a whopping 3-slats per side. We hung a cute curtain on her closet window and turned it into a playroom for her.
|Shannon, the avid reader. 1972…|
The downstairs had a huge living room, dining room, den, half bath, kitchen and enclosed back porch. Lot of house for 3 people. One who weighed less than 30 pounds. The dining room had a humongous window seat. That place had so many possibilities. We painted every room a different bold color. Oak floors throughout. We could not afford to carpet them, but had a couple area rugs. That was OK. The floors were worn but beautiful. The entry and foyer were stunning.
|Shannon 3 in our fabulous foyer. With our first huge Christmas tree…|
John had just gotten a job at Zenith as an industrial engineer. No more nights or holidays at KTIV. That was good because he had much to do after work now. The lawn and landscaping was a mess. No grass to speak of because of gigantic trees hanging over and covering most of the tiny front yard. John, a handy and brave guy took down all the low hanging branches himself with a hand saw. I kid you not. Branch by stinking branch. After the trees were trimmed he tackled the yard. Rented a rototiller, seeded, and fertilized. Didn’t seem postage stamp sized to him. The back yard was pretty decent.
|John before leaving KTIV about 1971…|
We were attending a Reformed Church in Morningside. Our precocious toddler enjoyed running up front for the children’s sermon. On this occasion as she made her way back to us, she plunked a few keys on the nearby piano as she passed by. Someone laughed. She whipped her gorgeous head of hair around to smile and acknowledge her new friend who laughed. And then she hit a couple more keys. Someone else giggled. That’s all it took. She started pounding on ALL of the keys with the fervor and grace of Liberace. By now my face was hugging the carpet under our pew. John was awarded the honor of daughter retrieval. But I was to have my own turn soon. Not too many weeks later, Shannon didn’t come back to us after their sermonette. This was a young church packed with little kids. Hard to keep track when 30 or 40 tykes start running back to their seats. Heaven forbid, no Shannon. I bit a hole in my lip, and wanted to head for the now familiar carpet beneath the pew. John poked me in the ribs hard, meaning (your turn, you go find our kid). I didn’t even have to search. Minister backs up, bends over, stands back up with Shannon in his arms. She was hiding under his pulpit, drinking his water. My turn for retrieving. People are snickering. So friendly, beautiful Shannon waves to her admiring fan club all the way back to our seat.
|Shannon looking angelic until she got to church…|
John was an avid hunter. Mostly pheasants. Decided he wanted a hunting dog. Found a kennel in Cherokee and bought German Shorthair Pointer. He read the books, got advice on how to train your hunting dog. Big stick and a rope attached to a dummy bag with pheasant feathers stuck on it. He’d place it in the tall grass of the empty lot on the hill from hell. The pup was supposed to stalk, stop, point at the bag (fake pheasant). But this pup was not learning anything or cooperating. Would not listen or follow simple commands. Turned her head away when John was talking. He finally brought her to a vet to have her checked out. She was in good health. “But she doesn’t listen to a thing I say! She’s not afraid of the starter pistol, but shows no excitement. Runs away when we practice any of the hunting exercises” John moaned. The vet suggested setting an alarm clock near her when she was sleeping. Huh? Well the sonic boom alarm went off and the pup never moved. Completely deaf. With a heavy heart he took her back to the very irate breeder. Couldn’t hunt with a deaf dog, unless both of them were going to learn sign language.
He started researching Shorthair kennel owners and found out one of the best ones in the country was just outside of Sioux City. This time John was not in a hurry. Found and fell in love with the best hunting dog ever. Anja. She was half trained at 4 months when we got her. She was so good and quiet at stalking pheasants, she often brought them back to John. But he hadn’t shot the birds. She just snatched them up in her soft mouth, bringing them back to her master. If she saw John with his gun case, she was beside herself with anticipation. He would literally let Anja run the last couple blocks out in the country before he stopped the car. Getting rid of her piss and vinegar or she’d be too excited to listen to commands. He built her a huge kennel behind the garage with a warm house. All on cement so she could run around. Anja would live to hunt with John for 13 years.
|Anja eyeballing the cat Max…|
Now I had to go to work for awhile. We had borrowed half the money for the down payment. (At Beneficial-beep-beep-you’re good for more). Ugh, anyone remember those loan companies? Awful. I had to get rid of that extra whopper of a bill. So I applied for a job at Zenith. The factory was huge. 3,500 employees, about 200 were men. The minimum wage back then was $1.60 an hour. Working 40 hours I made $64 bucks a week. Minus taxes and paying a full time babysitter. So I probably took home about 20 dollars a week. To be gone from Shannon from 6 am until about 4. Didn’t like it, but had to be done for awhile.
I worked on a line that produced boards for color TV’s. These boards were the size of an iPad mini. Tiny diodes, transistors and capacitors being placed in itsy-bitsy holes. My job was to turn the board over. Using what looked like a hair cutting shears, (it was called a swedger) clip all the ends off at an angle. Our line probably consisted of about 180 women. Sitting shoulder to shoulder. But Zenith offered an incentive. Once the engineer set the standard of what we should be able to produce in an hour, we could make a lot more money if we cranked up production a notch. You could get paid up to 130%. Money wise this was the difference between the 64 bucks and a whopping $87.60 a week. A huge increase. Didn’t leave a lot of room for goofing around, but the job was easy enough. We sat on stools, shooting the shit with neighbors or gals right across from us. (The other half of our line)
There were daily fights with that many women. Admission was always free. I remember John was walking down the aisle and 2 young gals were fighting in the middle of 2 lines. Pulling hair, screaming, just knocking each other senseless. Like cage fighting, but without the cage. John came running and caught one just as her opponent shoved her hard enough to send her flying into a wave solder machine. Think of it. A bath tub sized vat full of melted, leaded tin. The other incident I recall 3 gals were arguing over the use of a fan. Zenith got very hot in the summer. Only the offices, and management’s cafeteria were air-conditioned. One chick wanted a fan blowing on her. The girls on either side did not. After a 20 minute yelling match between them, the middle gal takes off her shirt and bra to cool down. Holy moly. I was missing being with Shannon for this? I lasted about a year.
One of our neighbors was a gorgeous gal married to an older guy. OK so I was 22, meaning this guy was in his mid-30’s, his wife Randi about 28. They had a little girl named Katie who was Shannon’s age. Randi had just gotten a job at a western clothing store down by the Stockyards. She needed a babysitter. I decided to quit the rat race at Zenith, stay home with Shannon and watch Katie. Money wasn’t that much less. And I was home again. But I didn’t understand how Randi could afford to pay me on a clerk’s wage. My hours watching Katie got longer and longer. Randi never came home on time. She was drop dead beautiful, and wore the newest, fanciest cowboy outfits. Leather jackets with fringe, fabulous cowboy boots. Pretty sure she was messing with the owner. A lot of nights she just never came home. Katie would spend the night, and next day before one of her parents would show up. Sad. She was an adorable little girl. Had kind of a lisp and called herself Tee-tee instead of Katie. Wonder what happened to her? Her parents divorced before we moved to eastern Iowa.
|Katie, dolly and Shannon, 1973..|
This was a house made for parties. And we were having our first big one. New Year’s Eve, 1972. Barry and Jeanene Kuiper, Bob and Arlene Smith, Dale and Beth Duits, Doug and Helen Reinke, Elton Hammock. Plus the kids. No one hired a babysitter. Think there were about 5 kids, all under 3. We bought a blender to make a new concoction called a frozen Daiquiri. Yum. We had a great time ringing in 1973, but nobody could leave. A blizzard of epic proportions. Howling winds and the wind-chill was minus 30 something. Our friends all bunked where they could. We had lots of room. Next morning John tried to make a grocery run for eggs and bacon. I had not yet acquired the quantity stage of keeping extra groceries. You needed money for that. Our 1972 Vega was sitting in the driveway. Sucker wouldn’t start. John opened the hood to attach jumper cables. The battery had literally cracked in half.
About 18 months later, a dude came to town to recruit some engineers for his crazy family owned toy factory. (We did not yet know he and his brothers were really insane). This was on the eastern side of Iowa, about 350 miles away. We were floundering in Sioux City. Mom, 60 miles away had her nose and influence in everything we did. We saw this as a great opportunity to put some distance between them and us. Or our fledging marriage might be in trouble…