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…





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