Invisible Threads…

It’s funny what you lug behind after you leave home. You don’t even realize that “they’re” along for the life ride, let alone maybe a bit different or strange. It may take years before you discover “they’re” trying to kick their way out in the open and have some say. Some of these threads are from my home town of Rock Valley, Iowa. Back in the ’50’s and ’60’s this was a pretty small, somewhat isolated, mostly Dutch community of about 2,500 folks. Much of our population was farmers, though I was always a townie. Other threads were instilled in my home as I was growing up.

Neese sitting in front of the house I grew up in. Rock Valley, Iowa 1959..

When I was small, I thought the whole world was like me. Mom and Dad were Dutch, so I thought nothing of their strange words and phrases. I assumed the rest of the world talked like we did. We watched The Huntley-Brinkley Report or Walter Cronkite for our news, but I never realized they did not use the word “kaup” instead of head, or refer to Nikita Khrushchev as “aggawase” instead of saying he was stubborn and pig-headed. Every mom must have told their kids to make sure and put on clean “broekje’s” (Bru-kees, underpants) before you went anywhere. Certainly every house had wooden shoes, crocheted or tatted doilies and Blue Delft brought over from the Netherlands. Each with its own history and story.

Blue Delft w/ floral motif. I don’t care for windmill scenes. Gasp…

Many of my attached threads had to do with our language from Rock Valley. Though primarily Dutch, there were certainly other ethnic backgrounds and traditions in town. But when you’re a kid, and Dutch, I assumed that’s what was used in every home. Phrases like “oof-da” meaning heavy or too much of something, or “heh-tah” meaning simply good grief were used daily. It would be years before someone questioned what I was talking about when I said, “look at all the “ploujes” (plu-shees) John left on the carpet when he walked across with his black socks on!” (Ploujes are fuzzies on clothes or carpets).

Saucijzbroodjes (sah-size-a-broach-ease) Dutch delicacy…

But the Dutch traditions in foods and cooking were even stronger and perhaps stranger than our ways of expression. Just try this one on for size: “saucijzbroodjes.” Yeah, that’s a mouthful! And quite delicious. The Dutch seem to throw around an awful lot of c’s, j’s, and z’s in their words. It’s really not that hard to pronounce. (Sah-size-a-broach-ease) They’re pigs-in-the-blankets. A traditional ground beef and pork mixture, snugly wrapped in a pie-crust like blanket and baked to a golden brown. Usually eaten hot, but excellent cold right out of the frig. As if they ever last that long. Another Dutch delicacy are Fet-Bols. Similar looking to donut holes, these balls of dough have raisens and are dropped in hot oil to cook for a couple minutes. Plopped on a paper towel for a few seconds, then rolled around in sugar, or cinnamon-sugar mix. Best eaten warm. Traditionally made for New Year’s Day. My Mom made them, but I don’t remember if it was celebrating New Year’s. Some Dutch dishes have never found favor by my palate. One is Balken Brei. Made from pork cracklings (exactly what the heck is that anyway?) John makes this occasionally but he uses cooked, shredded pork roast, buckwheat flour, and several spices like cinnamon. Mixed, packed, and patted in a cake pan, then refrigerated, sliced, and fried like bacon. Covered with syrup. Gross. I don’t ever remember Mom making it, but I do remember eating it. Once. I was very young and spending the day at Wilma Van Zanten’s house. Pretty sure Mom and Wilma exchanged babysitting favors. Must have been my turn to stay there. Never ate it again. No offense Wilma.

Dutch Fet-Bols in a Blue Delft bowl. Pretty and good…

Some popular Rock Valley foods may not have been Dutch either. I think they were only popular or named as such in northwest Iowa. One of my favorites is a Tavern. Served on buns, it’s simply lean ground beef, browned with diced onion, drained, then add a titch of yellow mustard and brown sugar, with enough Heinz ketchup to kind of hold them together. When I moved just a couple hundred miles away in the mid-’70’s, no one on the east side of Iowa knew what I talking about when it came to Taverns. By the time I moved to Michigan in the mid-’80’s, if I mentioned the word Tavern, everyone assumed we were headed to the bar. Sigh. Taverns are like sloppy joes. But vastly different than a loose meat or maid rite. And much better. To this day when I open my weekly Rock Valley Bee, I still spot Taverns on the school menu or as an advertised soup supper sandwhich held by a local church. That hasn’t changed in over 60 years, probably longer. Only in northwest Iowa. It warms my heart when I spot the word “Tavern” in the paper.

Rock Valley still enjoying Taverns at school. Rock Valley Iowa paper, 2015…

After leaving Rock Valley, some threads were easy to sever. Dad’s unrelenting rules on movies, make-up, dances, and dating someone who didn’t meet his approval. It was a relief to put some distance between Mom and me. She liked knowing and being part of every facet of my life. I mean every part. Could be stifling. Had to admire Dad’s convictions though. If he felt something was wrong to do in Rock Valley, (example, swimming on Sunday’s) he’d never allow me to do it any where else either. Example: on vacation 2 thousand miles away. He never made exceptions to his high standards.

If he got called to the State shop during a Sunday blizzard, and Mom hadn’t made up his lunch pail, he would not stop at a restaurant in Canton, Sheldon or Perkin’s Corner with the other guys he worked with. If he worked 12-16 hours, he’s come home starving, but would not break his own rules. He would not eat in a restaurant on Sunday, period. Mom would save his supper on a glass or metal pie plate, covered with tin foil. He’d pop it in the oven for a few minutes. Always had his usual prayer, scripture reading, even if he was eating alone and it was 10 at night. It’s not hard to admire his unwavering faith.

My Dad’s lunch pail. Carried it for decades…

Other threads from Mom and Dad I have clung to like a life preserver on the Titantic. Especially as I get older. I appreciate Mom’s great love and total dedication to elderly people. Her whole life. I got this gene from her since I too have loved older folks. Maybe it’s because she was raised by 2 sets of grandparents after she was just a few days old. Dad for his faithfulness to his parents. It was a rare day in his life when he did not stop at his parents house, drink a cup of coffee, and visit for a half hour. I went along lots of times. Some days they didn’t even talk much. But it was out of respect. Making sure they were ok, or seeing if they needed something. Dad was devoted to his folks.

Great-grands Arie & Bessie Gerritson w/ Shannon, 4, 1974…

Mom and Dad both had a wonderful ability to save money. They could be lavish with their gifts and spending. But saving was vital to them and they did it well. Always tithing to the Lord. That’s giving back to God 10% of everything you bring home. Without fail. Since before I went to school. It was just part of their budget. When they got paid, Mom had envelopes lined up in a small box. Very little was put in their checking account. They hardly wrote any checks. Mom and Dad paid cash for most things, even bills. Either one would make monthly stops at IPS, the phone company, and 2 gas stations. Mom always preferred De Boer’s, Dad liked Doc Ver Berg’s. Don’t know why they continued for years to charge gas at both stations. Loyalty I guess. Or Dutch stubbornness. Money went into another envelope for the weekly church collection. They never varied from their own rules and standards.

I wonder how many invisible threads our kids are getting from us? Shannon shares my love of antique oak furniture. Her house is stuffed even fuller than mine! Several years ago, Joshua asked for some of my recipes. He said, “Ma, how do you make banana cream pie? Just email me the recipe will ya?” But I just couldn’t do it. I bought a Longaberger Recipe Basket and wrote out about 30 of my recipes. It was somehow vitally important that he have these recipes written in my half/cursive, half/printing scrawl. When I’m gone, I want him to appreciate having those hand written recipes. Knowing that I took the time. I did the same thing for my granddaughter Ariana. When she opened Her recipe basket she cried. So did I.

Banana Cream Pie. Josh makes his own now…

But our kids grew up way different than we did. None of them ever got to stay in one place very long. Twenty plus years in North Muskegon is the longest we’ve ever lived in one house. Adam, our youngest, was already 15 when we moved here. I only moved once while living in Rock Valley. John and I rarely use Dutch words anymore. None of the kids have ever made Saucijzbroodjes, Fet-Bols, pea or bean soup. Heaven forbid if I could get them to try Balken Brei. They all like Taverns. And Penuche, which is a brown sugar fudge my Mom used to make with her grandma Berghuis (on Sunday’s, oops a minor sin) in the 1930’s. But I think all 3 kids still prefer fudge…

Brown sugar fudge called Penuche…


My great-grandma Berghuis’ Fudge recipe. Still made frequently…


Shuffle & Deal…

I wonder what ever happened to good old-fashioned family card games? Do families still play certain card games when they get together? We didn’t play cards at my house when I was a kid. Pretty sure that wasn’t on the approved activity list. But I played cards everywhere else. By the time I hit my mid teens it was one of my favorite past-times. OK, sneaking smokes was number 1, but cards were definitely number 2. Well, maybe after boys, but it was definitely number 3. Yeah, we’ll let cards stand at number 3.


Pinochle game 1970’s. Jim & Mag Van Berkum, Eleanor VB & Elly Lawrence…

Does anyone remember the card game of Rook? When I was dating this Dykstra kid, it was the game his family played all the time. I played Canasta with Loie Ymker and her sisters constantly. We were addicted. Then we morphed into playing something similar to it called Bolivia I think. More decks of cards involved as I remember. Hours just flew by having scads of fun playing cards. (Plus sneaking those smokes).

Once I started dating John, there was an unwritten Van Berkum law you were not accepted in “the family” (geez, sounds like the mafia) unless you could hold your own in the game of Pinochle. One Christmas Eve about 1966 or ’67, I was at John’s house. The Van Berkum’s always opened gifts that night. Usually followed by going to Midnight Mass at the Catholic Church in Rock Valley. Stunning church with a beautiful service. Another “thou shalt not” at the Gerritson house. Mom and Dad were afraid if I went to even one mass a year, I might just turn Catholic. Really? Anyway the little house of Jim and Mag was packed like a can of sardines. And not everyone was family. (Not even me for another couple years). Arly was on leave from the Navy, and one of his buddies, Randy Timmer had stopped to visit him. It had started snowing earlier in the day. It snowed, and snowed, and snowed, accompanied by howling winds. I had no intention of going home early. Home meant no tree, no presents. My house was solemn and quiet. It soon became apparent that no one would be leaving the Van Berkum house that night. Across the road, the snow drifts were about as high as the baseball stadium’s cement wall. It must have been impossible for my Dad to get to the State Highway Commission shop which was right down the block from John’s house. Dad would have yanked me out of that house and hauled me home before he went to work clearing Hiway’s 18 and 75.


Arly on left, Jim, John, and Jimmy playing cards in RV, mid ’70’s…


Although the house was full, no one ever worried about running out of food. My future mother-in-law Mag kept enough groceries in her house to feed a small third world country. For a month. Minimum. From the time we realized nothing was moving outside besides snow and wind, there was a triple deck game of Pinochle with 6 people playing constantly until 12th street was free of every flake. If you needed to sleep, eat some food or use the bathroom, there was someone waiting in the wings to take your place at the card table. Really, using the bathroom was the biggest problem we had. One bathroom and about 25 people in the house. My Mom called often, worried that John and I would be doing some inappropriate stuff besides the minor sin of playing cards. Honestly we couldn’t have gotten 30 seconds by ourselves anywhere with that many people in that house. But she was convinced my reputation would be ruined. Huh, she must have missed the memo. Long gone by then Mom. That ship sailed.


Mag clearing the table in warp speed so we can start playing Pinochle, 1975…


When it was just a Van Berkum family get together, John’s older brother Jim was the one to watch. He’s a very good card player. But a hot headed one too. I think he counted cards. Not on the scale and brain power of Tom Manning. John swears when a bunch of guys played cards at the bowling alley, if Tom was at the table, he could tell you what you had in your hand right after the cards were dealt. But the Van Berkum’s had some pretty good Pinochle players. As good as Jimmy was, he was shocked if the tricks didn’t fall as he thought they should. More shocked and outraged if he got set. Man did he hate going set. (I rarely go set cause I’m such a conservative bidder. If I bid 6, I probably have 7. Keppi-strunt even in cards). Jimmy’s wife Eleanor was very quiet and soft-spoken. God never put a better person on this earth, which she left much too early and young. She was also a very good card player. She set Jimmy on more hands than he’d ever care to admit, even now. And she did this without a sarcastic word, smug look, not even a smirk. Just those dark, dark Baatz eyes of hers twinkling, with just a hint of a smile. Something I could never pull off when I knew the other team was going down.


Card game in Sioux City, 1973. Shannon 3, me, Helen Reinke, Dale Duits standing…


After John and I eloped, playing cards were a big part of our entertainment. Actually about the only thing we could afford. We were so broke in the beginning. The first few years of marriage, the big treat for Shannon and I was picking John up at work every other Friday (pay-day). Stopping at the bank to cash his check (which literally was gone already) and going to the McDonald’s in front of Sunset Plaza in Sioux City! Yay! Any other eating out or movies were not part of our budget. Instead I’d make a nice dessert, brew a pot of coffee, buy a six-pack of beer if the grocery budget allowed. We would have 6 hours of fun playing cards. Doug and Helen Reinke, Barry and Jeanene Kuiper, and Dale and Beth, sometimes Dale’s folks Bert and Wilma Duits. Great people and good card players. Always played Pinochle. And never any babysitters. That would defeat the purpose. Plus the no extra money ever part.

I remember a time when we were playing cards at Gary Junges’ house in Sioux City. Shannon was about 3. They had a son (this was 40 years ago and cannot remember his name) about the same age. We were in the middle of a heated game (husbands versus wives, naturally) and the 2 kids were playing somewhere in the house. But it had gotten very quiet. We went to check on the little stinkers. They were not in the playroom. Bad sign. And the master bedroom door was closed. This did not bode well. We opened the door and couldn’t see a thing. A complete whiteout. Eventually we spotted them both standing on the bed. With huge smiles and the biggest, emptiest plastic bottle of baby powder. The entire room and them completely shrouded in Johnson’s Baby Powder. The floors were so slick we could hardly get to the kids. We called this Pinochle-interrupted.


Sioux City, 1973. Bob Smith, Dale Duits, Elton Hammock. Lots of smoking, YIKES…


I’m pretty sure we played Pinochle with the neighbors when we were living in New Vienna, but don’t remember playing at all in our next 2 moves. Worthington, Iowa was a quicky, and not friendly town at all. The other stop was the farm in Cascade, which I’ve already written about. We would have had to teach the hogs to play to get enough for a card game there. We played some Pinochle in Spencer with John’s sister Elly and her hubby Dewey, but card playing was in a definite slump. I don’t know if there were fewer people around us who played cards, or we just got into other things. Too bad either way. Someone, somewhere had to teach me how to play double deck Euchre because once I got established with the bowling gang of gals from Davenport, we played that card game in earnest, and often.

We’ve been in Michigan for over 25 years and I don’t think we’ve played cards a dozen times. What happened? When we lived in Jackson the neighbors were friendly and we chummed around a lot too. Well, the kids were growing up. That was a biggie. Hauling them to football, baseball, cheerleading, jobs before they could drive themselves. Extra activities at school. Still many nights were free, but no card games with other couples. After Shannon married Tracey, and Adam and Josh were still single, our family holidays often included a night of poker when the house was full. The boys would invite a couple of their friends over and the guys would have a night of cards. Drinking and teasing the snot out of each other. But there hasn’t been couple’s night of cards at our house for way too long. Anyone up for a night of Pinochle, or Euchre? Please come over. I’ll make pie.

When the family was here for Christmas I decided that it was time for our 14 year old grandson Landon to learn at least one card game. Sarah, Adam, Landon and I played several games of double deck euchre. Landon struggled a bit with learning about the bowers. If hearts were trump, the 2 highest cards of trump would be the 2 jacks of hearts. But the 2 jacks of diamonds were the left bowers. Confusing for him until you played it several times. But he loved it and wants to keep playing. I think we may be able keep the family-card-game-playing-tradition for at least one more generation…




Ticked or Tickled…

A couple of days ago, I mentioned to John that I was working on story # 60 for my blog. Shaking his head in total amazement and wonder he inquired, “what on earth can you still find to write about?” Ugh. Thanks Hon. While number 50 wasn’t a big deal to me, I feel differently about number 60. Huh. So all 4 of you lucky readers get a sneak peek into what makes me tick-and what ticks me off. In no particular order and without further ado:


Two favorites. Potato salad in a Blue Delft bowl…

1. Many of my favorite foods start with the letter P: PRETZELS (soft chewy bread ones), POPCORN with real butter. PIE CRUSTS. Leftover crusts topped with cinnamon and sugar, or those that are tucked underneath fruit and cream fillings. PEPSI (diet) and all things POTATO. Mashed, fried, baked, scalloped, French fries and my number one, Potato Salad.

2. I detest winter. Pretty much any day under 32 degrees.

3. I come from a long line of squinty-eyed females. If there’s snow on the ground or the sun is shining, I’m wearing shades with my left eye partially closed. My Mom, grandma, and great-grandma were afflicted with this too.

4. I hate snow. Every stinking flake. EVERY. STINKING. FLAKE.

5. I truly believe I’m a better driver than 99% of the drivers on the road. Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson are in the other 1%.

6. I loathe frozen lakes.

7. I love the word “supper” and use it whenever possible. For example: “We’re having home canned beef, gravy, redskins and fresh green beans for supper. Let’s not forget my cranberry sauce. Most suppers (only my plate) include this and are better because of it. Yum.”



8. I hate slippery roads, sidewalks and parking lots.

9. I love cake and cupcake sugar topping decorations. To get my fix I nervously wait for whatever holiday has just passed, rush to the store, buy however many that are leftover. Usually now at half price. Yeah, I’m a bargain hunter. Pop them off the cardboard, put them in a snak bag. Carefully dole out 3 or 4 a day until gone.


Godzilla or Princess. Love these. Yup childish…


10. I have this fear (ok it might be irrational) that sometime I’m gonna get the flu right after I’ve eaten one of my 2 favorite meals. Major bummer. But no matter how debilitating this fear has become, it’s NEVER ONCE prohibited me from making, eating and over indulging in either meal. Stay strong Neese! BTW the 2 meals in question (in no particular order) causing all this drool is my own home canned spaghetti sauce with garlic bread, and roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and cranberry sauce. Yup, life is better for all concerned when cranberry sauce is served.

11. I dislike wearing coats a lot. Ditto for hats, gloves and scarves. Haven’t owned a pair of boots in years. Not planning on buying any either.

12. I am afraid of clowns (Stephen King’s It) and I have no fear making this claim. Clowns are sinister, evil and creepy. If you love your children, be good parents and keep the terrifying clowns out of their lives.


For their good mental health, keep away from kids..


13. I hate days when it gets dark by 5 pm. Why God?

14. I keep a stash of a couple hundred assorted cards for every occasion. On second thought I got no card stating, “I’m sorry your rotten neighbor’s dog dug his way under your kennel to knock-up Fi-Fi.”


My stash of cards. Only reason I don’t send one is pure laziness…


15. I get twitchy if I run out of anything. I have been a “quantity” buyer since I found an extra 20 spot in my wallet decades ago.

16. I hate being deaf. Saying “what” 50 times a day. Trying to read lips. Feeling excluded when I’m really not. Feeling isolated, and I am.

17. I thank God everyday since I started losing my hearing. Thankful that it’s my hearing that took a hike instead of my sight. I’d be learning a whole new set of life skills if it was my sight. Kinda old to learning too many things like reading and cooking minus vision. Thanks again God.

18. I’m infatuated with Michael Kors bags, and own a few. Not nearly enough.

19. I tend to hold grudges for a very long time. As in decades. Big problem.

20. My least favorite household chore is sweeping floors. I know, it’s odd.

21. I have very little respect for any organized religion anymore. Another big problem and very sad.

22. I can be “not nice” at times.

23. I am annoyingly loyal to certain products and brand names. Realized recently that my favorite shampoo, conditioner and hair spray are no longer on the shelves in stores. Scoured the Internet and ordered a dozen of each. Yes folks, in just a few short years, you will see this grandma walking around with very dirty, smelly hair. Better enjoy the fragrant eucalyptus while I’ve still got some inventory. And hair.


Part of my recent order. It had better last a long time….


24. I’ve been addicted to Mentholatum Natural Ice Lip Balm for 25 years. Not ashamed to say I have 50 unopened tubes in the house. Panic sets in when the total drops below 30.

25. God invented cotton candy so my life would be happy and fulfilled.

26. I’m hopelessly old-fashioned. I love diamonds, sapphires, and rubies. Worse than that. Wait-for-it. I still like and wear YELLOW GOLD. Gasp.

27. I don’t like taking any medication. Ever.

28. I’m amazed every day that I manage to keep any house plants alive.


A baby African Violet I started…


29. I love laying out in the sun. But not when it’s hot out. Perfect day is bright sun, vivid blue skies, green leaves from the trees against the sky and about 60 degrees. Me, a book on a chaise lounge. Perfect. Ok a glass of water.

30. I still prefer (literally) holding and reading books and newspapers.


Books that I’ve read and loved. My favorite way to read…


31. My arms are always cold. Even when it’s 90 degrees out.

32. I loved smoking. Tareyton is better, charcoal is why. I quit 25 years ago.

33. I love eating more. Haven’t quit yet. No plans in the future to do so either.

34. When real, fresh tomatoes are available, I eat at least one a day. Like an apple using salt, or sliced on bread topped with sugar. Often the whole month of August I’ll eat a BLT everyday. And no mayo.

35. Same goes for fresh rhubarb. Peel, sprinkle with salt and eat daily during spring and early summer. When the stalks are small and tender. More drool.

36. I hate gambling. The noise from all those clanking coins and machines nearly drive me insane. I have no problem buying, and wearing an expensive top ONCE. Then decide it doesn’t look good on me. Donate it and never give it another thought. But I am almost incapable of sliding a quarter into a slot machine. Best thing about my trips to Las Vegas were the mountain goats at Hoover Dam. Butting horns. Echoing off the mountain.

37. Old hymns and the lyrics from You Are My Sunshine make me cry. Every time. So do some commercials, especially freaking Hallmark.

38. I’ve loved driving since I was 12.

39. While I hope not many (Oops, I meant any) fall through, I really dislike ice fisherman. And the second city that pops up in my backyard during our long, miserable, frozen winters.

40. What good ever comes from getting into a cold car? Maybe escaping some 50 mph winds from a blizzard. Pretty lame reason. No good comes from cold cars. I hate cold cars. Huh. I hate cold.

41. I don’t tease children. I think it’s mean. Don’t like it when anyone else teases them either. That doesn’t make the kid a better person. It’s mean.

42. On the other hand, I love teasing my son-in-law Tracey. He can dish it out as well as take it. I only tease people I like. In person or on Facebook. He’s 6′ 4″ and has yet to smack me in 17 years. But he’d probably like to sometimes.

43. I don’t like scary movies. If I hear a door creak during a commercial, I flip the channel to ease my thudding heart.

44. I do like psychological thrillers and action adventure movies.

45. My favorite genre in books are cop/lawyers chasing/defending serial killers. Guess I can read scary better than I can watch it. I’m not very brave, adventuresome or daring, ever.

46. I know it’s nearly impossible to fathom, but at times during my life, my sarcasm and sometimes razor sharp wit with has been a hinderance. Go figure.

47. I don’t miss periods. Or commas.

48. You are now an expert in all things Duh-Neese…


Life After Larry…

In 1958 my brother Larry was killed. I was 7. My sister Mona got married a couple years later. So basically from then on I was like an only child. I was old enough to stay home after school by myself until Mom and Dad got off work. By 5:30 we were sitting down to a big supper. In the span of 2 short years, our once family of 5 was suddenly down to a sad, measly 3.


California trip to visit Dad’s sis and Mom’s brother in 1961. Disney and Knott’s inc…



I don’t ever recall watching TV together as that small family unit. Dad and I watched “The Whirlybirds.” It was a treat for me to stay up late I think. But if Dad and I were watching TV, Mom was doing something else, and vice versa. This was around the same time Dad had accepted Jesus as his Savior. While that was wonderful, sometimes he went a little overboard with the religion in his life. (And mine) He got very involved in the church, and spent quite a few evenings away from home. He was on the Consistory, plus visiting the sick, and members of the church. If Mom minded that he was gone at night, I never knew or heard them fight about it. As a treat, some nights she would make us popcorn. In a small fry pan that Larry had given her as a gift. Shaking the fry pan back and forth over the burner of the gas stove. I can still hear the kernels popping under the lid. That wonderful smell wafting through the whole downstairs. Mom would then divide it up in bowls, adding just a titch of melted butter and salt. We shared a pop too.


I loved watching this with Dad in the late 1950’s…


Since Mom was working full time, a lot of house work was done at night after supper. She was the neatest, cleanest, housekeeper God ever put on this earth. We had a wringer washer in the basement. (Until the Rock Valley Laundromat opened. It would be a few years before they bought a washer and dryer). Mom hung the clothes on the clothesline in the back yard. During the most bitter part of Iowa winters, she had to hang the clothes in the house. Dad pounded nails on top of the door trim. He’d hang up thick, white cord from doorway to doorway in the dining room. It was the biggest room and the one we used the least. On the down side, that room was used because of the front door. And you had to walk through the dining room to get anywhere else in the house. On wash day during January and February, our dining room was the equivalent of the modern day corn maze craze.

When the clothes were finally dry, Mom would fill a green 7 Up glass pop bottle with water. She had a cork with a metal top with tiny holes, like a salt shaker that went on top of the bottle. She would sit on the end cushion of the couch with a bath towel on the middle section. She’d place an almost unrecognizable wrinkly piece of clothing on the towel. Then “sprinkle” it with the pop bottle. This just after she worked so hard to get the dumb things dry! But there was a method to this madness. She’d sprinkle the clothes just damp, then rolled them up tight. Now this was before permanent press, so every stitch of clothing we wore was a mass of wrinkles each time they were washed. More so when they had to be hung in the house. Soon she would have a neat pile of clothes. Then she’d tuck the bath towel snugly around them. No steam irons back then. Although I do think the iron had some settings. Pretty sure she ironed the sheets when they could not be dried outside. Clothes line dried sheets was the best smell in the world! Well right after bread baking, and brownies.


Mom used this to sprinkle the clothes before she ironed…


Mom would do a couple other chores before the old wooden ironing board got hauled out of the front closet. She always made Dad’s lunch pail the night before work. A black metal rectangular thing with a clip closure. The top part was round and held his thermos. It stayed secure with a metal band that snapped in place. Dad always brought a thermos of coffee to work. Back then he used cream and sugar when he drank coffee at home, but Mom never included those condiments along in his pail. He either drank it black at work, or they had cream and sugar at the State shop. No sandwich bags either. Waxed paper, squared corners, folded around Dad’s sandwich. She even wrapped his banana (his favorite fruit which was packed almost daily) in waxed paper, so the smell would not seep into his Wonder bread sandwich.


Sort of beat up, but Dad use it for decades…


Mom would let me go to Koster’s grocery store about once a week. Not to get the big groceries, but just a couple things. This was a big deal for 2 reasons. There was always an extra nickel for me to spend on a Hershey bar, Nibs or Mallow Cup. Then I’d zip through the store to the meat department in the back. There stood Thor. My hero. My order was always the same. “A quarter’s (yes folks that’s 25 cents) worth of sliced American cheese please” I’d say shyly to Billy Van Maanen. I had such a crush on him when I was about 8. I’d stand there all tongue tied while Billy worked his magic with that meat slicer. I was smitten. He was probably just out of high school.

Honest Dad ate cheese sandwiches most of the 30 plus years he worked for the State Hiway Commission. Once in a while hard-cooked eggs. Just a way to switch up those fancy lunches for him! Mom peeled the eggs for Dad.(Remembering this is painful, bittersweet and always gets to me. Mom and Dad were not romantic at all. Only picture I have of them kissing was at Mona’s wedding, when it was “required” at the reception. They never teased each other that I remember after Larry died. But the very act of her peeling his hard boiled eggs at night, wrapping them in waxed paper seemed so intimate to me. Then she’d shake a tiny pile of salt in waxed paper and twist the ends like a wrapped piece of hard candy. This always makes me believe she really cared for and about him) I sure hope so.


A big smooch for Mom and Dad at Mona’s wedding in 1960…


Early morning before the crack of dawn, I’d wake up to a Dad sneezing frenzy across the hall. He had horrible allergies. Downstairs Mom was zipping through her daily (though most were unnecessary) chores before work. I’d hear the front screen door slam a couple of times. Then this wop-wop-wop. Mom was shaking out all the throw rugs. EVERYDAY. Really. When every rug was completely free from any “ploujes” and patiently waiting to be put back in the exact same spot with precision of a drill sergeant, she’d dust the kitchen and dining room floors on hands and knees. EVERYDAY. Really. The dining room floor had beautiful narrow golden oak boards. She never used a dust mop or broom in either of these 2 rooms. Using a small cloth, she’d crawl over the entire floor dusting every square inch. Then she’d gather up the whopping 20 grains of sand/dirt, pinching them together between her thumb and index finger until every grain was safely nestled in the cloth. Meticulous.

She had a floor polisher for the dining room that resembled a vacuum cleaner in size and height. Two circular disks that spun around. There were different attachments for the polisher. First Mom would put on a coat of Johnson’s paste wax on her hands and knees. Again. The last step was snapping felt like disks to the buffer to get a really good, glossy shine. She was ever so careful NOT to have the round pattern lines from the polisher be noticeable. She wanted the floor shiny, but without any lines. Just shiny. Holy moly that floor would be slippery. We all fell a time or 2 after she did the floor. (Several years later, she could tell if someone had been in the house with me after school. This was before she got home from work. I had John sneak in naked so he didn’t leave any DNA. Just kidding. He always donned a shower cap. Duh. This was the prequel inspiration to all those CSI programs. You’re welcome). After supper, Mom would be sitting in the living room. I truly don’t know how she could see any scuff marks without her eyes watering. The glare from that awesome floor could be blinding. And the lighting in our entire house was horrible. She could spot certain scuff marks, then she’d remark, “Diane Wilson was over after school wasn’t she? She sluffs when she walks. That girl has got to learn how to pick up her feet!” Maybe meticulous wasn’t a strong enough word.

At the dwindled down family supper table, I did most of the talking. What happened during my exciting school day. Dad always had a long prayer before our meal. After we we done eating, he would read a chapter from the bible and have a longer prayer. At least then our food wasn’t getting cold. While we ate, sometimes one of them might tell a story from about work once in awhile. But it was usually just me keeping them abreast on the happenings at school.

Remember how folks driving around northwest Iowa always had such a strong inclination to validate and empower every other driver they happen to meet on a highway, gravel road, street, alley, or sometimes even in the driveway? My Dad’s acknowledgement of other drivers on the road was a subtle lifting of his right index finger off the top of the steering wheel. This was his “hello.” I guess maybe he figured the scripture and prayers were enough talking at the supper table for him. I would be in the middle of of a truly mesmerizing story when Dad would do something so irritating. Really kind of rude. He would use his index finger like when he was driving in the car. But not in his friendly hello greeting way. During supper he was indicating something was missing from meal time. Used to infuriate Mom. Suddenly Dad would stick his index finger in the air. Sorta indicating what cupboard might be responsible for that missing item from his meal. Mom didn’t roll her eyes, but would grace him with a good healthy glare from time to time. Slowly her eyes would turn and follow the general direction of said index finger. Soon she’d spot what it was this mute-eating-man was trying to convey. Butter, pepper, once in a while salt. It was our job to get up and retrieve it. Really hadn’t thought about Dad and his pointy index finger at meal time for many years. Huh…






So I’ve been thinking about this wonderful institution of marriage. Actually I was cleaning up the kitchen after supper. I was sliding bread crumbs off the cutting board into the garbage. We had homemade vegetable beef barley soup with a slice of crusty bread. On the counter sat this tub of Olivio. I guess it’s a buttery tasting concoction made from olive oil. John’s eaten it for a long time. This after years of eating “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.” Ugh. I believe it. Right next to the Olivio sat my little Rubermaid container. Cuddling 2 sticks of buttery stuff. Called butter.


Butter versus Olivio. No contest says me, the butter lover…

My Mom rarely ever had margarine in the house. She used butter for everything, even when she baked. I’m not that extreme. I use Imperial Margarine when I bake unless the recipe calls for butter. But this isn’t about butter or Olivio. It dawned on me how different John and I really are. He’s rarely without a big glass of ice water (iced tea all summer long). I can barely choke down 3 ounces of water to take my one pill a day. I have been drinking Diet Pepsi for decades since it hit store shelves. John prefers Diet Coke, but he doesn’t drink very much pop. (So my grocery list includes 2 kinds of pop and 2 different spreads. No, I can’t call my butter a “spread.” Sounds like something that goes on top of our bed). I hardly ever put extra salt on anything. Not on sweet corn or a baked potato. And very little on popcorn. (But all three HAVE to have real butter or I’ll go without). John salts everything before he tastes it. In his defense, after 45 years of my cooking he knows what everything is going to taste like. Therefore knows what’s needed to make it edible. And that obviously includes a lot of salt. I would be happy making a big pot of spaghetti sauce, homemade soup or beef stew and eating it 4 nights in a row. John might give a fleeting glance in the fridge at something I made 2 days ago. But the dish has lost all appeal now because it’s a leftover. So it’s usually me scarfing up the leftovers.

But it’s not just food where we differ. I’ve always been an early riser. Never slept in, even as a kid. John requires much more sleep than me. I get up about 5:30 or 6. Drink a cup of coffee, read the paper. An hour later eat a toasted whole wheat bagel with yup, butter. Almost everyday. Then start working on a new post for my blog or read for awhile. John wanders downstairs about 9. By this time, I’ve been up so long, the coffee pot has already shut itself off. I really should change that feature. Eh, he likes his coffee tepid anyway. He says I have no tastebuds cause I drink hot liquids-hot. Duh. So I’m now ready to head back upstairs, make the bed, take a shower and tackle what the day has to offer. When I mosey back down, he’s done with the paper and in the kitchen making breakfast. What in the world? It’s 11 o’clock. I’m ready for lunch. He’s eating eggs, sausage and orange juice and I’m making tuna salad, chips with a Diet Pepsi. Ah, the odd eating habits of our retirement. We do always have supper at the same time. But rarely sit by the dining room table anymore. Kind of sad really.


2 of the same pillows. His is now a round ball, mine remains in it’s original shape..l


He beats the living snot out of his pillow every night. Before my “new” pillow 3 years ago, I used the same one for 15 years. It just fit me and my head. He needs a replacement pillow 3 or 4 times a year. He’s a night owl. My head’s bobbing all over “my nest” after 9 pm. He comes from a large boisterous family that enjoyed a bit of drinking. My family was small, house always extremely quiet. And no drinking. He likes to work outside. Putzing around with yard work, mowing. He wants, needs and insists on the greenest, weed free lawn this side of the Mississippi. If I have to be outside, I want to be laying on a chaise lounge, reading a good book, getting a tan. I know, I’m terrible. He likes to hunt. He loves being on a boat fishing. I get seasick just looking at a rocking boat. I do think this has a lot to do with my hearing loss and Miniere’s Disease. Problems with my inner ear fluid imbalance. Causing me well, balance problems.


John’s first fishing boat. He said it was too small for Lake Michigan, ugh…


He’s still listening to Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Beatles. Nothing against either, especially the Beatles. Best band ever. But I’ve moved on. After I started walking daily in 1998, the tunes I still had on my Walkman by 2005 were literally putting me to sleep. I coerced John into making me cassette tapes of mixed music. Not an easy task. I’d line up about 6 CD’s with written instructions. Ok, I want track 2, 7, and 10 from CD # 1. Tracks 1, 3, and 5 from CD # 2. I’d have to add up the time of each song and get as close to the total minutes and seconds as the cassette allowed. If it cut off a song, I’d be ticked. For awhile I tried using a personal CD player attached to my waist. It was so finicky, when I blinked it skipped. Soon Josh (tech wizard) was making me tapes. He’s really the one who started me on today’s pop music. He’d add some songs he liked with a good beat to keep my feet moving. Now I listen to P!nk, Maroon 5, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull. And I make my own playlists from iTunes on my itsy-bitsy iPod. Such a big girl.

How do 2 such different people stay together for 45 years? Or is it because of our differences we play off each other and get along pretty well for the most part? He’s much more opinionated than me. That’s a fact Jack. Or at least about voicing his opinions. He’s amazing at fixing about anything this house, car, truck or yard equipment can throw at him. I can’t, won’t or don’t fix anything. Except food. He watches a lot more TV than me. We do have programs we watch together at night. Shows we record so we can zip through them without commercials. But I would certainly give up the TV before my iPad or Nook. Doubt that’s what John would choose.

We have a lot in common too. We both love movies. Although 98% of the time if it’s a star, name of a program or movie in question, I’ll have the answer. In the trivia department I rule. He says I still make him laugh. He’s been good to me. Denying me very little over the years. And I’ve asked for plenty.


John and me years ago. Good times…


The last 45 years hasn’t always been a cake walk. When couples loudly declare they NEVER fight, I can’t help it, I just don’t believe that to be true. Even couples head-over-heels in love and lust have to get irked at each other sometimes. Our marriage journey has been a bit bumpy at times. I was always more lenient with the kids than John. That caused some spats. And 90% of our arguments were about one kid. (He-or-she-who-must-not-be-named). We went through a rough patch at about year 20 that was scary tough. But we were committed to each other, our kids and our marriage.

One of my pet peeves is reading about lavish weddings. Spending enormous amounts of money on a stress-filled-money-sucking-waste-wedding that lasts a few hours. Just nuts. If couples invested as much time and effort into the first 3 years of marriage as they do planning that idiotic event, the divorce rate would plummet. Don’t misunderstand me. I know not all marriages are made in heaven. I’m not against divorce at all. Actually my parents should have divorced. They were not a happy couple together. And it wasn’t all because of Larry’s death either. But divorce was rare back in the 50’s and 60’s. Especially in a small Iowa Dutch town, so they stuck it out. Sometimes you just marry the wrong person. Move past it and try again. Or not.

John and I do whole heartedly agree on quite a few things. One biggie is that we have been blessed with 3 amazing kids. And if that weren’t enough, they in turn have graced us with 4 fantastic grandchildren. Thanks God. We weren’t the best parents in the world, but we tried hard and loved them always. Shannon, Joshua and Adam all have college degrees (and then some) and are responsible, giving, ambitious, hard-working, caring adults and parents. The family as a whole has been blessed with good health. Another biggie. We have an enormous amount of love and pride for all of them. There’s really not much in my life I would change…

Zipping thru year 11 with Joshua 4-1/2, Adam 3 mo. and Shannon 10. 1979…


Accumulating losses…

I started my blog 8 months ago. Several months before that I had been invited to join an open group (thanks Ray) titled, “If you grew up in Rock Valley.” As in Iowa. Which I had. When I signed up, the group consisted of 30 various aged people. (Now there’s over 500) Writing little stories about our childhoods. Snippets of school shenanigans. Many are hysterically funny. Growing up in that quaint little northwest Iowa town. After someone posted, most of us would write comments. That’s always the fun part. Comments continued sometimes for days. Often a hundred or more. What a hoot! Some of the posts were a bit ahead or behind me, but there weren’t many posts where I didn’t comment. Always love to add my 2 cents worth to the total.


Rock Valley’s elementary school when I was a kid. It was new then, now it’s gone…


And I posted quite often. While most folks would write 2 or 3 sentences, I would write 20. Took me more than 3 sentences just to say hi, let alone get to the subject matter. During the span of a couple days, 2 gals from the group asked if I was doing any writing? (Shouldn’t they have been able to tell by the 20 sentences?) One said, “you should write a book about Rock Valley. You’ve got a great memory. I’d buy it.” Bless you woman. The other one said, “what takes someone else 20 words to describe, takes you 100. But that’s not a bad thing. At the very least, I hope you’re writing a blog.” (I did not know what a blog was). She suggested I read a couple.


The famous playground slide. Still used by kids in Rock Valley School…


So I thought about this blog business. I have an app on my iPad called Notes. That’s where I first wrote my posts for the Rock Valley group. Had to read it several times, change words, re-write and proofread it. (I know what you’re thinking. How is it possible after all that checking and proofreading she still continues to make so many mistakes?) I wonder too. I cringe when I see my mistakes. Just be happy knowing it makes me nuts. And I did some writing in my Notes. Mostly stories about my early childhood I wanted to get down before those memories leave me. No, my memory is pretty good. I have a severe hearing loss, so I’m kind of a loner. Writing has proven to be satisfying and fulfilling. I keep reminding myself that the blog is for me. I try not to hurt anyone’s feelings, but this is my story. Ok, so the posts about my four lousy minister bosses weren’t very kind. But then neither were they.

I got a techie son named Joshua. He owns a business in Detroit. He always has the latest gadgets. I don’t think he stood in line for hours to get the new iPhone 21, but he aquires them pretty darn quick. He said he’d help me set up my blog. The trouble with that little scenario, he’s very busy and I don’t see him that often. I’m very slow to catch onto things. Especially things he assumes I should know. Which I don’t. My friend Marlys (The “I hope you’re writing a blog” gal) said she would help me. She lives 45 minutes away. By the way, we were young childhood friends, but she moved from Rock Valley when I was about 10. We reconnected some 50 years later on the “If you grew up in Rock Valley” group. How cool is that? Thanks God. So I traipsed to her house for lunch with my new iPad hoping she could get me started. There were tons of words and stories swirling around my head. Trying to get out. Hmm, I may be deaf, but I hear those groans loud and clear. (Josh has helped me immensely since I started my blog. Countless hours sitting beside me, always on my good side so I can hear him. Always patient. Thanks Josh)


Joshua, CEO. Still patient with his mom on her blogging issues…


Holy moly there was a lot involved (even before I could start writing). The blog had to have a name and domain. What? I live in my house Doofus. When I was a kid, my nickname was “Neese,” short for Denise. “Duh” (That was my other nickname) I thought the blog name should maybe have Neese in it. (As opposed to “Duh”) Something like “Nifty-Fifty-Neese-Notes.” I was born in 1950. Ok so it wasn’t very clever. But the pull from my home town of Rock Valley, and acknowledging it was flirting with me. Until a couple months ago, Rock Valley had one stop light. One stop light in the entire town for over 50 years. Just couldn’t let that one go. Thus my blog became “Storyteller from a One-Stoplight-Town.” It was a great choice. I don’t know how good the stories have been but I really love the “One-Stoplight-Town part. When I think about it, I only lived in Rock Valley for 18 years. More than 2/3’s of my life (so far) have been living elsewhere. But the ties that bind and much of what makes me-me happened in Rock Valley. That’s where it all started.


The only stoplight in Rock Valley. The widest streets too


A couple days after my lunch with Marlys, I posted the first story on my blog. It was about my big brother Larry, who was killed riding his bike in 1958. He was 12. My entire life has reflected losing my brother when I was 7. I’m sure had he not been killed my family’s whole life story would have been very different. So I learned at an early age about life-changing loss.


Third grade pic of Larry. My favorite. He died in 6th grade, 1958


You see now how I write. Six paragraphs in and I’m finally getting to the subject of this blog. Yikes. Too wordy. Got to do better than that in the future.

When I read the paper lately, often several of the obituaries are folks who are younger than me. Wow that’s scary. My Rock Valley class of ’69 has been hit hard with loss. John’s class of ’66 has only lost one. A couple years out of high school, one of my classmates Laura passed away. Later we lost Tom, Randy, and Pam. Gone. Could be more. I’m hopelessly out of the loop, and we haven’t had a reunion since our 40th in 2009.

Accumulating losses. That seems frightening enough. Being a mom and grandma, my biggest fear has always been about my children’s and grandchildren’s health and well being. 2015 is not yet 5 weeks old. Two of my Rock Valley classmates have lost children in 2015. None of us parents have yet to reach the age of 65. We’re too young to be losing each other, let alone our kids. Nothing on this earth can be as devastating as losing a child. Nothing. I can’t imagine the anguish they’re going through. Whole-heart-breaking-loss. I can’t stop thinking about them and the kids they’ve lost.

As a parish visitor for many years, the deaths of those I regularly visited piled up. Visiting the elderly you know it’s going to happen. When I added up how many I lost, it averaged about one a month. I grew to love these folks over the years. Their deaths were hard on me. But most were not a surprise. Or unexpected. Some were not old, a couple younger than me. That put a different perspective on my fragile life circle. But most of the folks were elderly, and had lived a full life. They were ready, even eager to meet their Maker. We don’t feel the same about losing children (like Larry only 12) or young people. We want and need them to live long healthy, happy lives. As parents we certainly want to pass away many years before our children.

I lost a dear friend, Rosemary 4 years ago to breast cancer. She had just turned 46. She was a true fighter and never gave up trying to beat that horrible disease. A few months before she passed away I was at her house for the day. She was failing, but hadn’t stopped fighting or treatments. I made her lunch. We were talking and I was about to pick up her dishes and clean the kitchen. I glanced at her and saw big elephant tears rolling down her cheeks. (She wasn’t easily moved to tears) I grabbed her hand and said, “honey what’s wrong?” Lip quivering, she quietly cried, “I’m so scared Denise. I don’t want to die.”

I read something in a booklet about the stages of dying. And I witnessed it countless times, especially with my Mom and Dad as they were nearing the end of their life on earth. The day to day stuff just started fading away. Each had more important tasks on their agenda. With my Mom, she slowly stopped asking about the most important things in her life. Her grandkids. It seemed odd at first when she stopped inquiring about their lives a couple months before she passed away. But those things were no longer on her top ten list. Same with Dad. His sense of worth concerning his preaching and teaching in the prison system held the top priority when he moved to Michigan. Soon after his 91st birthday, that changed. The focus of his life (or death) shifted. The importance in his daily routine of preparing for his bible study, or sermon now seemed trivial and overwhelming to him. It was just time for him to stop. His mind was filled with more important details I was not privy to. But they had lived long lives. The utter devastation of losing children causes us to question why God needs them so soon? When we’re not near done loving and watching them grow. That leaves a very bitter taste…