Two years…

I’ve been tripping. Not literally the fall down kind. The memory lane variety. It all started with our basement. Our house is about 120 feet from Muskegon Lake. The basement is only 30 inches deep. A royal pain. The only thing I really hate about this house. Want the dozen containers holding all our Christmas paraphernalia? Go crawl around the basement cement floor for an hour.

 

Just before we moved to eastern Iowa. John, Denise, Shannon, 1973…

Hubs decided to clean the basement. Brought up countless tubs, containers, boxes, old toys, and miscellaneous junk that has been stored down there for 20 years. Shoved it all in the garage. What? How does that help anything? His goal was to have the basement squeaky clean, and have nothing stored down there. He swept (crawling), painted the floor, (also crawling) until it sparkled and was naked as a jaybird. But now the garage is a holy mess. Except for my car. I refused to give up that space and park my Jeep outside. And all my canning equipment, extra fridge and freezer. The rest of the garage was awful and a constant reminder of what still needed to be done.

We’ve been saying since spring, “we gotta defrost the freezer, and go through every one of those containers and downsize.” The freezer was a snap. But most of the basement stuff was going to be emotional. Much of it stuffed down there 10 years ago when Mom passed away. After Dad moved to Michigan, Mom’s stuff slid right down the 4 steps and has been sitting there ever since. Doubling in mass after Dad passed away in 2008. Things from his apartment, too painful for me to part with. Handwritten sermons, neatly stored in a nifty business sized tub Shannon bought him to help organize her lay-preaching Poppa. Just lots of stuff.

 

Dad’s handwritten sermons he gave at the prison, 2006…

 

John encouraged, “just bring one or 2 containers in the house at a time. Go through all the Rock Valley stuff. Only keep what you truly cannot part with. Please.” And that’s what started the tripping. I was doing pretty well too. Decided to keep a dozen of Dad’s sermons rather than the hundred languishing in the box. Plus his handwritten, detailed, original copy of what he wanted said and done for his funeral. I brought in this olive green container. Marked “Rock Valley-Denise’s early school papers and pictures.” Now that was fun to go through. Immediately, I did a blog post on my 13th birthday bash, and scavenger hunt. Sharing the pictures of that special day.

 

The famous letters from me to Mom and Dad, 74-76…

 

 

Then I found this stack of letters. Just after we had moved from Sioux City to New Vienna, Iowa, about 325 miles away. It was 1974. Hubs was working for the Whack Brothers at a toy tractor company in Dyersville. Shannon had just turned 4 and I was pregnant with our second child, sex still unknown. Just as God intended. New Vienna was a very small, close knit, 99.9% Catholic community. Plus the Dutch, Protestant Van Berkum’s, numbering only 3, but soon to be 4. Make that 5. I’m claiming our German Shorthair Pointer Anja as Dutch. I’ve definitely heard her bark, “heh-tah.”

 

Probably writing letters. Worthington, 1975…

 

In this container of Neese Notes, school pictures, perfect attendance accolades, award winning elementary poetry, and odds and ends of my childhood was this cache of letters. About a 100 of them. Written by me to my Mom and Dad. Mostly to Mom though (who obviously saved everything). Surprisingly, I didn’t cry very much when I read them. They’re not sad, depressing or morose. Most are about the happy, yet mundane life of a young stay at home, broke on her ass mom of one, soon to be 2.

 

Perfect attendance in kindergarten, 1957…

 

Once in a while, I mention something Mom must have written, because I’m answering her or clarifying. After reading the letters, I decided I could not part with them. About a third contained the first letters from 4 year old Shannon to her grandparents. Words run together, s’s that are backwards for about 6 months. Truly priceless. I told Shannon she and Joshua have to read these after I’m gone. A couple of years in the day to day life with their mom. That was about a month ago. Haven’t been able to stop thinking about those old letters. They just sloshing around my head. So I went back to the green container, and pulled them all out again. A couple no longer have envelopes. A couple more I’m unable to read the postal stamp date. I put them in chronological order best I could before reading them a second time. It was easy to insert the others. I’m either pregnant or got a new baby. Pretty sure some of you will identify with some of the subject matter I’m writing about. We were in the middle of our first decade of marriage during the mid 1970’s. Here are a few of the snippets from the assortment of letters to my Mom and Dad.

1975: Mom, Shannon is now able to write most of the letters of the alphabet. I write a sentence or 2, then she copies it. She doesn’t understand separating the words though. She’s quite proud of herself and loves to write you letters when I’m writing.

 

One of Shannon’s first attempts at writing my Mom and Dad, March, 1975…

 

We have to do something about our 1965 IH truck. While we were driving in Dubuque last night, we turned a corner and the passenger door flew open. Scared us to death. Would if Shannon had been standing by the door instead of in between us? How are we supposed to feel safe when we have 2 kids in there? We must get some better means of transportation before the baby.

 

Doors flying open were the only parts moving fast on our 1965 IH, 1974…

 

I need socks for Shannon. I want cotton, not white nylon that gets gray the first time I wash them. Would you look at Bev’s for me? K-Mart carried Buster Brown for 38 cents a pair. Now they’re 69 cents and have no colors to match her summer outfits.

John went to J. C. Penney’s during their sale. Sports coats regularly $40.00 on sale for $19.88. He came home with one, spending his 8 dollars of birthday money. He’s going to Milwaukee for work next week, and needs to be dressed nice. He also bought a writing tablet that they use in school. Oh Mom, I’ve been teaching Shannon to write some of her letters wrong.

John’s been car shopping. He brought home a 1970 Chevy, gold Nova. Almost identical to your blue one except this one has 4 doors, which I don’t like. It has 70,000 miles and they’re asking $1,200.00. They first offered us 75 bucks for the pickup in trade-in. They finally went up to $290. which is just enough for the down payment. That means we drove the truck for one year for 150 dollars. But since we now have a loan on the Nova, we need to carry full coverage insurance which will cost 60 dollars for 6 months. Our car payment is $49.00 a month. I’m so anxious to get our $700. dollar tax refund.

 

1970 Chevy Nova. Huge improvement over the old truck…

 

I bought Shannon a new set of sheets for her bed. She wanted purple, but were out of the flat full size, so I got her pink checks. Each sheet was $2.94, and matching cases were $2.14. If you and Dad need some, they had loads of twin size. They are 50% cotton, 50% polyester. They feel cool and nice.

 

Hanging out those new sheets. Joshua 1, 1976…

 

Boy am I ever mad. I heard my favorite program, “Petrocelli” might be cancelled. I wrote the television station. Can you believe they wrote me back? First time I’ve ever been addressed as Ms. They assured me it’s not being cancelled, but will be on a new night. Now they are running it against Monday Night Football. We will be watching Petrocelli unless the Viking’s or Dolphins are playing on TV.

 

Barry Newman as Petrocelli, 1975…

 

Shannon wants to bring May baskets next week to a dozen neighborhood kids. Helen says no one around New Vienna does May baskets. Poor Shannon won’t be getting any baskets in return. John brought a new book home for me to read until I go into labor. It’s by Peter Benchley, called Jaws. About some big killer shark.

 

Me and Shannon. Wearing my “eternity clothes,” 1974, Rock Valley…

 

I’m so uncomfortable. I get charley horses almost every night, bad enough to make me cry. Dr. Mulay said the baby is pressing on my esophagus which is why I have to sit up and swallow 40 times a night. Makes my throat hurt so much. Haven’t been able to drink coffee for the last few weeks. Hope that goes away after I have the baby. We went to Dubuque last night to get the new crib off lay-away. Guess what? They wouldn’t give it to us. That model doesn’t meet the new government standards. Now each crib side has to have 15 slats. The one we picked out has 13. Get this. All the new models are 20 dollars higher. We don’t have the extra money. John argued with them for a long time. They finally agreed to give us the newer, safer model for 10 dollars more.

 

What a beautiful head of hair! Joshua in his government approved crib, 1975…

 

Our dryer has been on the fritz for a couple weeks. It’s still under warranty, but they haven’t been able to fix it yet. Now the washer is broke. John brought the new box of Tide down the basement and set it on the washer for me. He accidentally shoved the box against the on button, forcing it to run for a day before I noticed it. What next? Now it doesn’t work right and smells like burnt rubber. I have to literally run down and turn it off after every wash cycle. Just started what I hope is the last time I ever have to wash my “eternity slacks” again. I’m really very tired of wearing them. (I swear the last month of a pregnancy is equivalent to a year in solitary confinement)

 

Joshua 4 months and Daddy, 1975…

 

I’m bringing Joshua to Dr. Mulay for his first check up. Since he’s almost 4 weeks old, I’m sure the doctor will have me start feeding him cereal.

 

May, 1974. John 26, Shannon 4-1/2, Joshua 2 weeks, me 24…

 

We’ve been going to a small Presbyterian church in Cascade, a few miles away. Joshua sleeps during the service. I don’t want to feed him a bottle because when he burps, he sounds like an uncouth grown man. (Honest, I wrote that. What a hoot). He’s still waking up for a bottle at 3 am too. In his book, Dr. Spock says a 9 pound, 1 month old baby does not need that feeding. This mom thinks otherwise. (Go mom!)

 

Going to church in Cascade, 1976. Shannon 5, John 27, Joshua 1…

 

Just about everyone gave us 5 dollars as a baby gift. I can usually find a one piece Health Tex outfit for that. While I was in the hospital, one of the nurses remarked about my frosted hair. Mom, I’m getting so gray. (I was 24-1/2 when I had Josh) Well, I’m not going to start dyeing it because I’d be doing that for 20 years. (Try 35 years Neese! But that’s a blog for another day).

 

New Vienna, May 1975. Mommy and her newborn Joshua…

 

I’ve been trying to find Baby-that-away for Shannon. One store has it for $17. but in the Sears catalog it’s only $10.66. Quite a savings, so I ordered it.

 

Shannon thought Baby-that-away could teach Joshua how to crawl, 1976…

 

Shannon always seems to get sick around the holidays. Now I think Joshua is following in her footsteps. He woke up with a very high temperature. I called Dr. Mulay, who is out of town. The doctor covering for him now practices in Dubuque. The visit cost 10 dollars and the medicine was $9.44. Can you believe it? I wonder how people with 6 kids do it? We’re only having 2. Every time we get ahead, something comes up.

 

Joshua, sick for another holiday, continuing the tradition, 1980 chickenpox…

 

Shannon’s Christmas program was something else. Shannon was with 7 other children, and during their part you could only hear one of them. Wanna guess? Right, your granddaughter. I was so embarrassed. John kept telling her, nice and loud when she was practicing. Naturally she went a little overboard. She had everyone in church in stitches. Boy, she likes to be the center of attention.

Have you ever heard of Fran Tarkenton? He’s the quarterback for the Minnesota Viking’s. Yesterday they lost in the playoffs so they won’t be going to the Super Bowl as they did for the last 3 years-and lost all 3 times. Well, Fran’s dad was watching the game from Savannah, Georgia and had a fatal heart attack during the game. I feel so bad. Poor Franny.

 

Minnesota Viking’s QB Fran Tarkenton, 1976..,

 

1976: Joshua won’t drink his bottle anymore. Mom, he’s only 8 months old. He likes drinking out of a cup and loves sucking his thumb. I guess I’ll just stop trying to give him the bottle.

 

Don’t worry about me. I got my thumb. Joshua, 1976…

 

The Eagle’s store in Dubuque is having a meat sale this week. Rib steak is $1.19, sirloin $1.29, and pork chops .99 cents. I’m getting extra steaks because we’re bringing some to Ankeny when we visit Barry and Jeanene Kuiper next weekend.

I’ve been saving green stamps for a new toaster. The cheapest one is 5-3/4 books. I need 3/4’s of a book yet. Now I have to go to the National store, which I don’t like to get some more stamps.

 

Joshua happily eating, 1976…

 

Shannon’s teaching herself to blow bubbles with bubblegum and whistle. She’s also been drawing faces on paper bags, coloring and cutting out parts. Then she wears the paper bag on her head all day. Joshua giggles when she walks past. We had some new snow, so Shannon went outside to build a snowman. She came in all excited. I looked out the window and just laughed myself sick. She made a “busty” snow-woman. I wanted a picture of it but she sort of melted and fell over. Boy does that girl have an imagination.

 

Shannon and Joshua, 1976…

 

I’ve been making homemade bread. I only have one loaf pan, so I make half into cinnamon rolls. I think I’m getting better every time I make them. I got a new book I want to read before the mini series comes on TV. It’s called, Rich Man, Poor Man.

 

Shannon 5, Poppa 58, Joshua 6 months, 1975…

 

I’ve had the worst toothache. (This letter was funny in a painful sort of way. I can hardly read my writing due to the pain pills I was on). How am I supposed to care for these kids all afternoon feeling so dizzy and giddy? The pills only help for about an hour, but the goofy affects last a long time. Dr. Mulay found a dentist for me in Cascade. Only way to save the tooth is with a root canal which I can’t afford, so he pulled it. Instant relief. The wonderful dentist only charged me 10 dollars and said I was very brave. Now we are trying to save 20 dollars a month so John can get his teeth fixed.

 

I was in pretty bad shape taking pain meds for a toothache, 1976…

 

We’ve been watching the Winter Olympics. It’s not fair that Russia sends their professional hockey players. I don’t think we should even play them. They showed some comparison food prices to the United States. How can people afford to live there? Gas is $1.47 a gallon and 72 cents for a quart of milk. We sure couldn’t.

Probably more than you wanted or needed to know about this small thriving family. Makes me remember and appreciate some of the tough times we went through. Yet there was never talk about throwing in the towel. We were committed (or should have been committed somewhere) to each other and our great kids. All part of my continuing journey. And so it goes…

 

Me and the Hubs, 1976, Worthington, Iowa…

 

 

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