One year ago. A whole year since I published my first blog post. It’s been immensely satisfying, therapeutic, and scary. Painful much of the time. But I’m hooked. At least until the words and stories in my head empty out. Since I’ve been leaning to one side lately when I walk, my head is probably sitting below half a tank. I will run out of stuff to write one day. Fair warning. Yeah, I know, you’re all devastated. For my first story there was no doubt what I would write about. Someone very important who I loved with all my heart. My brother Larry, killed in 1958 when he was 12 and I was 7. It seemed only fitting that after a year of evading, avoidance, sticking my head in the sand, and generally beating around the bush, I finally tell the story about my sister Mona. And me. So here goes.
|Larry 4, Mona 7, 1950…|
Mom, Dad, Mona and me since Larry died. Only four people left in our small family, and we couldn’t get along. Four people. Pitiful. I accept much of the blame. I was clearly favored and spoiled rotten. That must have hurt Mona a lot to watch year after year. But I was a little kid. I followed along in Mom and Dad’s footsteps, accepting their rationale. Being led and manipulated most of my life. Complicated. Pathetic. Regrettable. Disturbing. Antagonistic. Pick one or all. Every one of these adjectives applied in our family’s dynamic.
|Mona 5, 1948…|
Mona’s almost 8 years older than me, so we never had a lot in common. She has a very different version on growing up in the Gerritson house than I do. Her recollections of what happened. I never heard her descriptions until a few years ago. Mona said Dad hit her. Beat the living snot out of her. Often. Something I never witnessed or remember. Dad never laid a hand on me. Maybe he wanted to at times, and sometimes deservedly so. But had he, Mom would have knocked him into next week. Mona’s stories and views of growing up came as shocking news to me. I assume if it’s true, it was before Larry died. Before Dad accepted Jesus Christ as his Savior and his life (and ours forever) changed.
|Larry 3, Mona, 6, 1949…|
First and foremost, as far back as I can remember, having any kind of relationship with Mona was never encouraged. Not by Mom or Dad. In fact it was discouraged. Who does that? Not any normal families I know. Mona got married soon after Larry died. I think she was happy to be out of our house. And I don’t think Mom and Dad were sorry she was gone either.
|Larry 2, Mona 5, Dad 41, 1948…|
I remember going to Mona and Ed’s house in Canton quite often. Not as much after they moved to Orange City, or later to his family’s farm. Mom seemed captivated by her first three grandsons. Although their ratings dropped significantly once I had Shannon. First and only granddaughter. I don’t recall any of my nephews ever staying overnight at our house. I don’t think Mom took care of them very often.
|Mom and grandson Brian, 1962…|
This might have been Ed’s doing. He and Mom got along like oil and water. (Mom was an equal opportunity hater when it came to son-in-law’s though. She hated John as much as Ed after I got married. One Christmas Dad was handing out presents to my family. When he got to John, he looked at him and said, “we ran out of money.”) Ed made a colossal error in judgement by making light of the fact how hard Mom worked to buy something very special for herself. This was about the mid-60’s. Mom scrimped and saved enough to buy a beautiful grandmother’s clock (slightly smaller than a grandfather clock) from Vander Ploeg’s Furniture in Sioux Center. All with her own money. She was extremely proud. The clock was hard rock maple, matching her dining room furniture.
|Mona 11, Dad in the background. 1954…|
Our house was one of the oldest in Rock Valley. None of the walls were straight, not one level floor in the place. The clock’s new home was in our dining room. On Mom’s beautiful shiny, dusted-on-hands-and-knees-daily oak floor. Much easier to level the clock in there than on the carpet. Still the clock guy had to make several trips from Sioux Center (15 miles) to get the clock started and keep it running. Mona, Ed, and the boys came over to visit. Mom went ballistic every time one of my nephews got within 6 feet of that darn clock. She was “this close” to installing an electric fence around it to zap them back a few feet from the danger zone. She went on and on how expensive it was. And how hard it was to get perfectly level on our crooked floors so it would take a licking and keep on ticking. Ed jokingly quipped, “I think it would look real good in my hog barn.” Gulp. Honest, the daggers Mom shot him caused his male-pattern baldness. And he shrunk a good foot. Nope, not feeling the love.
|Mom’s beloved clock…|
It’s now the mid-90’s. Mona and I have seen each other sporadically during the last 20 years. We weren’t living very close, first having moved to eastern Iowa, then another 350 miles farther east to Michigan. Just a few months after a healthy Mayo Clinic physical, Mom was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins’s Lymphoma. A fast growing, but highly treatable cancer. I went home for her first chemo treatment in Sioux Falls. She was in bad shape. The cancer was obstructing her ability to breathe. She was sleeping all the time, and her respiration was very slow before and after the first chemo dose. But this cancer responds well to treatment very quickly. Literally, in a matter of hours, she was breathing better, and resting comfortably. Mona and I were sitting in Mom’s room. I said I was going to get some lunch. Mona asked where I was going? “I’m going to ride around until I find a Chinese restaurant. I need to get out of here for an hour.” To which she replied, “I know a great place not far from here. I love Chinese.” Pretty much the first time we ever did anything together. I was in my 40’s, Mona in her ’50’s.
|Neese 10, Mona 18, 1961…|
Thus began a decade long, pretty decent friendship between sisters. Why Mom and Dad objected so vehemently was not only a mystery, it was just plain crazy. It was their constant-on-again-mostly-off-again-relationship with their eldest daughter. If they were going through a period when they were on the “outs” with each other, Mona was not welcome in their home. Nor did she want to be there. Sometimes this occurred while I happened to be Iowa visiting. When Mona and I made plans, she’d just pull up front of Mom and Dad’s house. I’d yell bye to the folks and scamper out to her car. (Mom always preferred when I flew to Iowa. Without my own car, I was literally stuck there the whole time. Neither of them wanted me traipsing off to do other things. I was there to cook, bake, visit and help them. Period). After running out to Mona’s car a couple times, Mom and Dad put the kabosh on that. No, they couldn’t stop me from going away for a few hours with her. But they would not tolerate me running outside like a teenager 50 years ago. Trying to date someone on their long disapproval list. Heavens sake, it would appear as though we weren’t an upstanding Christian family if their daughter wouldn’t step in the house to pay her respects for a minute. Holy moly, sometimes they were so unbelievably hypocritical. So that’s exactly what Mona did. Got out of her car, stepped inside the front porch, where I’d meet her and away we’d go. Strange and pathetic. Mona and I’d go to Le Mars, Sioux Center or Sioux Falls. She didn’t really care for shopping at a mall, so we’d hit a couple Goodwill or antique stores, and eat some lunch. Always Chinese. Then she’d drop me off again AT OUR PARENT’S HOUSE.
|Mona 13, Larry 11, Mom 31 and me 6. 1957…|
This tormented, angst filled relationship was not all Mom and Dad’s fault though. Mona knew just how to push their buttons. With glee and wild abandon. And in a way I could never master. And you’ve read how good I was. Knowing exactly where and what buttons to push. I thought I was the resident expert, but alas I was just a rookie compared to Mona. Many times I think she pushed their buttons just to get a rise out of Mom and Dad. Force their hand to show SOME kind, ANY kind of emotion towards her. To be truthful, they often acted like they hated her. Looked at her with such disgust, it actually embarrassed me. Man, that’s hard to even type. Harsh, but that’s the way I saw it. And if I noticed it, Mona certainly did too. I’ve often wondered if maybe Mona wasn’t Dad’s kid. Then I could kinda understand why Dad seemed to dislike her so. But she was still Mom’s kid either way. So why didn’t Mom love and protect Mona? Actually I didn’t dwell on this much. Mom, Dad and I had so many issues of our own, it was hard to be concerned about their life long battle with Mona.
|Mona, me and Larry, 1953…|
Mona had to solidify her feelings. On paper. About 3 or 4 years before Mom’s death, Mona wrote them a very bad, scathing letter. I didn’t read it or know what precipitated it. It could have very well been in retaliation from something Mom said or did to Mona in the first place. I would bet Mom memorized Mona’s letter verbatim after she got it. Although there was somewhat of a reconciliation between them the last year or so of Mom’s life, I don’t think either of them ever forgave Mona for that letter. Mom and Dad both made their wishes known explicitly when the will was read. And Mona had not been invited to that event with Dad and me. Their “will” is not something I’m going to talk about. Ever. And yet, here I sit, putting words on paper. Vicious cycle with those Gerritson girls.
|Mom, Dad, Mona 6, Larry 3, 1949..|
As Mom’s health declined, especially after she went into the nursing home, I came home more often, and started staying at Mona’s house. Things were pretty good. Ed and I were like 2 peas in a pod. He loved it when I brought my grandkids to visit the farm. Ari and Landon holding newborn, squealing piglets.
|Landon with Ari, Ed and baby piglet at their farm, 2003…|
Until Mom died. I knew Mona would never want to take care of Dad and he certainly wouldn’t be comfortable with her in that role either. Dad had been rudely uninvited from Mona’s house for Thanksgiving Day with a pitifully lame excuse. Since I was in Michigan, rather than spending the day alone, he decided to eat at his favorite restaurant, The Royal Fork. At least have a good meal, though by himself. On his way to Sioux Falls, he purposely drove past Mona’s house. There in the driveway were about 8 cars. Celebrating the holiday with family. But not including Dad.
|Ed and Mona’s wedding, 1960…|
Dad was adamant about selling the house after Mom died. Tired of being a homeowner. So I encouraged him to move to Michigan. Near me. I stayed about a week after Mom passed away, then went back to Michigan. A few days Dad called, in a panic. “Denise, you’ve got to come back home. Mona’s taking stuff from the house. And she won’t listen to me.” I called her, told her I was coming back. She said she’d pick me up from the airport and I was welcome to stay with her. Once we got to Dad’s, there were a lot of items missing. That had been willed to other people. We had a pretty bad argument. I insisted that she bring back all the things she took. When I got up the next morning, Mona said Ed didn’t want me to stay at their house anymore. I needed to leave, and not come back. Later Dad and I talked it over, we decided to invite Mona back. Divided up all the household goods. Besides the specifics in the will, and what he was keeping for himself. He was beside himself with fear that Mona would talk about him behind his back. Ah, his perceptions again. What other people might think of him. My Mom would be unbelievably upset with Dad for caving.
|Not a happy family, 1961…|
After Dad moved to Michigan, Mona and Ed stopped to see him on their way to Niagara Falls. We had a very awkward lunch. Mona and I rarely talked anymore. I did call her a few times when Dad’s health declined. This was about the time of my blog post, “The Bonus.” Neat story from last August, 2014. When Dad passed away, Mona and I met at Porter Funeral Home. Together we picked out a casket, bulletin cover and food for the reception. We were civil, but not much more. As all of my immediate Michigan family and I were walking into Dad’s visitation, I spotted Ed with their 3 sons, and grandchildren standing in a loose circle. When our eyes met, as God is my witness, he turned around. Literally. With his back to me. Stood there, facing the outside wall! I guess it was a self-induced time out, since he was acting like a 2 year old. Even though my kids have joked about that incident for years, I was really hurt.
|Happier days. Ed, Mona, me and John, around 2003…|
Dad was buried in Rock Valley on March 18, 2008. It was the last time I talked to my remaining sib…