You ever have one of those epiphany moments? I experienced one this morning. The light bulb was so bright, I’m still wearing my shades. A giant piece of the “why is she so stinking weird?” puzzle has been solved. I’m here to share the good news. You remember the TV series Bonanza? It debuted in 1959 and ran until 1973. Guess when I saw my first episode? Late fall of 1969. After I got married. Ben Cartwright’s oldest son Adam had already left the show! That’s right. I missed the first 10 years (that’s a decade) of Bonanza–people. Why you ask? Because I was in church.
|This was the addition where we sat after RCYF…|
I always went to church on Sunday nights. When I was little it was Clavin Christian Reformed. This was a small congregation and tight knit. They had a service in the morning. After the service, you went home, changed out of your good clothes, and had a big dinner. Sunday afternoons were S-L-O-W. Mom was bushed so she took a nap. Dad didn’t change clothes because he did things for the Lord on Sunday afternoons. He would visit people in the hospital, and stop by to see his folks for awhile. I couldn’t ride bike, go swimming or watch TV. Lots of “do nots” on Sunday. S-L-O-W.
Later in the afternoon, after her nap we’d go to Sioux Center. My Mom’s dad lived there. Grandpa Wanningen had a 3 room house. Wasn’t because he couldn’t afford something bigger or fancier I don’t think. He owned an airplane (which was about as big as his house). Grandpa had been widowed twice. His first wife, my grandma Coba died at age 22, 10 days after having my Mom and her twin brother. Grandpa was pretty bitter about that. He didn’t try to raise the kids either. Left the child rearing to grandparents. Both sets wanted to raise the babies. Grandpa (Gerrit, but Lakey to his friends. This because he was well over 6′ tall) remarried when Mom was about 7 (Mom’s twin, Floyd was 7 too). All of a sudden Lakey wanted to raise the twins. That didn’t fly with the kids. They tried it for a few weeks, then went back to living with Lakey’s parents, but spending a lot of quality time with the Berghuis’ too. (Coba’s parents, who lived just a few blocks away).
I digress. Lakey’s house. When you walked in you were in a small, narrow kitchen. Apartment size fridge and stove, sink and just a couple of cupboards. The living room was nice sized. Had a fantastic antique oak crank telephone hanging on the wall. The bedroom was in the back and as soon as you walked through the doorway, off to the right was a toilet. Not a separate room, no door, no sink. Just the pooper. (I always made sure I peed before we left Rock Valley). Grandpa would make coffee, we’d sit around and not talk much. Excruciatingly, painfully S-L-O-W.
|Da plane, da plane. Grandpa Lakey’s airplane, about 1940…|
When we got back to Rock Valley, it was time for a light supper, change our clothes (again) and go back to church. I know. But this had an upside. Because the congregation was small and cordial with everyone, it was RARE that we went home after church. We were almost always invited to someone’s house after church. This wasn’t real early either folks. I believe church started at 7:30, so by the time you visit with 10 people on your way out, get in the car and drive to the host’s house it was 9 or 9:30. But this was a huge social event. Every Sunday night. Honest. If Mom had made some special dessert on Saturday, she would invite a family to our house instead. Not nearly as much fun. Many of our members were farmers, so to this city slicker, going to a farm was a big deal. It was not unusual for us to be heading home after midnight. Work the next day for the folks and school for me. In all honesty though, this was about all my Mom and Dad did for entertainment. For them it was essential for their well being.
|Mom and Dad about a year before we lost Larry. Happier times…|
When “Neese the Brat” became disenchanted with this tight knit group, I entered a year long battle with my folks. The word here was “zhanick” and it became my mantra. My life goal. Zhanick is to whine, beg, plead constantly for something. Until your parents went nuts or gave in. I wanted to change to a different church. I was the only kid going to Calvin who didn’t attend the Christian School. I don’t know why my parents didn’t send me. Maybe they couldn’t afford it. But I was going to public school. All my friends went to public school. When I went to Catechism class on Tuesday’s, I was teased. I was an outsider. The boys called me Dennis. I just hated it. Larry had died a couple years before, Mona had gotten married, so I was the only kid in the house. Not sure if it even took a year of my constant zhanicking.
Most of my friends went to the First Reformed Church. A huge church with a big congregation. Sometimes I feel guilty about this. My Dad adjusted very well. He taught Sunday School, was on the Consistory several times. There were a lot of programs he was involved with and he was quite happy. Mom. It’s just hard to tell about Mom. After we lost Larry, she became much more introverted. Could be that the size of the congregation was overwhelming. And she did have some very close friends when we were at Calvin. I took that away. She was working so she never joined any women’s church circles. We did visit after church on Sunday nights at First Reformed. But I think she was happier or more comfortable at Calvin. Much of this was because of losing Larry. Calvin wrapped our small family unit in a cocoon. I don’t know if Mom would have made it without Calvin’s members or their minister, Rev. Doornbos. Most attentive, sincere Christian man who ever lived. But that’s enough guilt for the day. My fault, it was all my fault.
So by age 11 or so we were members of the First Reformed Church. I went to Sunday school. On Thursday nights we had youth choir practice. Think our tough taskmaster was Mrs. George Van Beek. She must have had a first name. Maybe Anna Marie? I loved it. Not choir so much, but being welcomed and accepted. This church had so many activities. One of the biggest church events of the year was Easter week. Maundy Thursday service, Good Friday service that got you out of school if you attended. Easter Sunday sunrise service with a huge breakfast for the whole congregation. Followed by a wonderful Easter service. Whenever I remember Easter services from First Reformed, the first thing that comes to my mind is, “Up from the grave he arose. With a mighty triumph o’re his foes.” Gives me goosebumps.
Once I hit junior high, there was RCYF. This was a youth group that met before the evening service at church started. Had our meetings in the basement. First Reformed had a HUGE youth group. Our meeting would last until about 1/3 of the evening church service was done. We would all march upstairs together, filling up the new side addition to our building. Just in time for the scripture and sermon part. About the same time as Bonanza started. Argh. But we did some awesome things in this group. We attended a Jewish Synagogue for their service one Friday night in Sioux Falls. It was fascinating to witness such a different ceremony than how we worshipped. When I reached high school and started dating, the Gerritson rule was if Rich (Dad) did not see John Van Berkum’s head sitting with the RCYF group for the duration of evening service, there was no dating Denise that night. Period.
|Wow we were young. About 1965. That’s a lot of hair…|
OK, so there were maybe a dozen different churches in Rock Valley back then. No they weren’t all Reformed or a clone. About half had church services on Sunday nights. And most parents required their children to attend. Holy moly, that’s a bunch of kids in town at night for something other than a school function. After the folks got to their appointed coffee get-togethers, what remained were a couple hundred cars. Filled with hormonal teens riding around downtown Rock Valley. Which was about 8 blocks. And that was stretching it. Plus all periodically stopping at my now famous ONE STOPLIGHT.
A word about my wonderful, story inducing, one stoplight in town. I got my driver’s license in December of 1966. I was cruising around town a few weeks later. Don’t believe it was a Sunday night though cause there wasn’t much traffic. Tooling around in my Dad’s 1963 Chevy, 3-speed on the column tank. I was heading east on 14th Street. I believe OUR ONE STOPLIGHT changed to a yellow blinking light going north and south and red flashing light from east and west about 10 pm. As I neared Valley State Bank, (where the famous stoplight is located) I downshifted to second, tapped on the brake and cruised through the-red-fricking-blinking-light. Didn’t make it as far as De Boer’s Station (1 mere block) before I was stopped by another set of flashing lights behind me. My knees were shaking so hard, I didn’t think I could push in the clutch. The emerging cop was none other than Casey Wagner. All 6 and a half feet of him. Imposing and intimidating. He didn’t give me a ticket, but I did get a verbal warning and a severe tongue lashing about not making a COMPLETE stop for the blinking red light. Yikes.
You might be wondering why this weekly teenage ritual always took place on Sunday’s? Why not on Friday’s after a game or the ever popular date night on Saturday? We did ride around on other nights too. Just not near as many, or with the same fervor and enthusiasm as on Sunday’s. Plus on the popular nights there were scads of things to do and keep us busy and out of trouble. All the restaurants, bowling alley, gas stations were open and hopping. In Rock Valley during the late 50’s and ’60’s, the only establishments open for business on Sunday’s were buildings belonging to the Lord. End of discussion.
Usually on Sunday nights, every car, passenger, license plate and driver were known by everybody else. I don’t know why Rock Valley was so darn popular. For some reason RV was the hotspot. Many times kids (hoodlums who always thought they were better than us) from Sioux Center (mortal enemies), Hull, Inwood, or Canton would come to Rock Valley just to ride around our LOOP. In OUR town. AT MY ONE STOPLIGHT. We did have the neatest, widest Main Street in the country. Plus all of us locals were extremely cute, handsome, and super cool. Guess that’s why they chose to ride the loop and gawk at us. But at the time we really didn’t appreciate all this attention. Many of the boys were testy and offended. Don’t be coming to our town and flirting with our cute girls. The cops were always on our case on Sunday nights. They should have been bored spitless on the deadest night of the week in our little town. Instead they were kept busy watching us ride around a few blocks. So they made some of their own rules for our busy Sunday nights. You can only ride around the loop so many times. No stopping, standing, congregating, or horsing around. It was enough to drive us out of our own town. After awhile we felt compelled to find a nice, quiet, peaceful cornfield in the country. Yup, we all had our own little make out spots. Highly regarded secrets. Still…