About the time I hit third grade, Mom went to work full time. As a treat, or maybe because Mom and Dad were exhausted, we started going out for supper every weekend. Always on Saturday night. Various restaurants, different towns. From the tiny blink and you missed it, Perkins Corner, Rock Rapids, Sioux Center, Hull, to Canton, S.D. Generally, I got to invite a friend along. I don’t remember who picked the location. Probably Mom. She was more adventuresome in trying new foods. As I remember Dad ordered a hamburger steak wherever we ate. I think he was about 70 before we convinced him to try a slice of pizza for the first time.
|Mom and Dad as newlyweds, 1942…|
Six nights a week, Mom cooked. I don’t think she loved cooking, but there was a hot meal on the table most nights. Mom was orderly. She had a plan. Not one of these, what should I make tonight when it was already 5 pm. She wanted her meal served, dishes done and out of the kitchen by 6-max. It was not in her DNA to come home from a long, tiring day of work, maybe facing a couple hours at the laundromat or ironing and not have a good idea of what she was making for supper. She often used her electric fry pan, or popped something in the oven soon after she got home. She loved casseroles, and so did I. Dad, not so much. But he didn’t complain about her choice or her cooking. I don’t remember him ever cooking when I was a kid. I only remember having one grill in our back yard. And it was rarely used. Dad wasn’t a steak guy, but Mom and I had steak once in a while. She always bought rib steaks because she thought the marbling gave it such good flavor. She usually just fried them in a pan. Often with fried onions. Maybe a touch of pink in the center, but certainly not as rare as I eat steak today.
|Mom and Dad about their 15th anniversary…|
Her meals weren’t fancy, but they were good. Iceberg lettuce for salads with Wishbone Catalina French dressing. I can honestly say I never had broccoli, cauliflower, shrimp, crab, lobster, or Chinese food while I lived at home. Mom must have become enlightened after I left. Not about seafood (other than Starkist Tuna and Demings Red Sockeye Salmon) or Chinese but her world really expanded in the fresh vegetable department.
|Mom, Dad, Mona and Larry. Before Neese, about 1949…|
Dad might have attempted cooking a few meals after Mom got sick, but that was rare. One of them might suggest Green Acres Drive Inn, chicken dinners from Hy Vee, or Pizza Hut. After Mom was home bound, I routinely stocked their freezer to the brim. Only requirement of Dad was getting their choice out of the freezer to thaw and heating it up. It worked for them for years. If Dad was picking up take out for them, Mom was still well enough to be left alone for short periods of time. Although had the house caught fire while he was gone, she surely would have perished. He often left without leaving the phone within her reach, or locked the door when home health care aides were due. Thus they couldn’t get in the house. And if they called, Mom couldn’t answer the phone. Frustrating when I was 800 miles away. These just weren’t things he thought about. He wasn’t being negligent on purpose.
|Mom, Dad and grandson Brian, 1962…|
This also afforded Dad a break from Mom and being in the house. He was always much more social than Mom and the isolation of them being alone together constantly took its toll. But after almost 60 years of marriage, this was just the way it was. Dad got on Mom’s nerves, and poor Dad just wanted his old life back. Teaching, preaching, visiting the sick, not stuck in the house constantly. Mom knew how to push his buttons alright. He’d bring her supper to the living room, go back to the kitchen and sit down to eat when she’d yell, “Ri-ich, Ri-ich.” He probably needed to count to 10 (or 100), get up, walk in the other room to ask what she needed? Only to learn she noticed one of the dining room chair legs was moved a 1/2 inch out of its own carpet indentation groove. She could be trying at times, and a caregiver he was not.
|Dad, me and Larry, 1951…|
I don’t know why they didn’t eat together anymore. Dad would bring Mom her plate of food to her usual spot in the living room. He chose to sit alone in the kitchen. I suppose there was just too much togetherness when Mom became home bound. They still needed their own space, maybe mealtime apart from each other filled the bill.
|My favorite shot of Mom. Late 1970’s…|
When it became apparent that Dad was not keeping up in the caregiving and cleaning departments they hired some outside help. My longtime friend, Char came over nearly every day for several years, helping Mom out with her personal needs. Picking up the place. Other aides were hired too. But Mom and Dad stayed in that house way too long to be healthy for either one of them. Mom’s needs far exceeded what Dad was capable of giving. I really can’t tell you how many times she fell, because I don’t know. And they were quite secretive about such things. The worst part of her falling? She never, ever fell alone.
|Dad, Mom, Mona and me, 10, 1961…|
During Mom’s first bout with Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, smack-dab in the middle of her chemo treatments, they discovered the chemo had done some damage to her heart and she suffered a stroke. Weakness on one side. She went to physical therapy for about a week. Refused to go after that. She would never walk by herself again. Or write with her beautiful penmanship. (Yes, schools should still teach cursive writing). It was not only hard to lose her independence, but depending on Dad for help, food, house cleaning, companionship was more than either had signed up for. They did make it work, though awkwardly for a few years. Since Dad had to help her stand and walk or move to a wheelchair, whenever she lost her balance, she took him with her. I can’t believe neither of them really ever got hurt. No broken hips, arms or concussions that I learned about. But they would often show me the bruises of their last tumble when I went home. Dad would either soften Mom’s fall, or she would soften his, depending on which way they fell. Oy vey. Since they were about the same height and weight, usually Dad could manage to get her up by himself. If not, he did call for help. Often my brother-in-law Jim, the chief of police in Rock Valley at the time, was the first to show up at the house.
|Mom, 24 and newborn me, early 1951…|
Mom always had a real soft spot in her heart for Valley Manor. She had worked there for years (I’m doing a story on Valley Manor soon). But Mom was failing and getting weaker, and Dad, almost 10 years her senior, those caregiving duties were just too much. They talked to Valley Manor’s administration and decided Mom would become a resident in a couple weeks. Dad was so relieved. Mom was on board, and I thought the transition would be smooth. But soon Mom got it in her head that living in Valley Manor would somehow be a huge mistake. She did moved in, but it was ugly. Mom had worked at Valley Manor 2 different times and in 2 positions. First as a nurses aide, later as the coffee lady, 6 mornings a week. She loved both jobs. The more she thought about her decision to become a resident there, the more she hated the idea. Mom was suddenly embarrassed at the idea of living where she once worked. From the get-go she was not a happy camper. Not very appreciative or nice to the help. And downright mean to Dad. She begged him to take her home. She wailed. Loudly. For hours. Which turned into days, then weeks. When Dad refused to bring her back home, she had a sign put on her door. Strict instructions plastered for all to see that Rich Gerritson was not allowed to visit or enter her room. This was a huge embarrassment for Dad. After just a few trial weeks, Dad unhappily brought Mom back home. Now there was a happy reunion. Not.
|Mom and Joshua, 1976 in the orange kitchen…|
This arrangement wouldn’t last long. Now Mom really required skilled nursing care. I believe this was her idea a few months later. She requested Dad call Fellowship Village in nearby Inwood. It would be a few miles hike for Dad at age 86, but this time Mom was really willing to give the place a fair shake. I finally realized how it uncomfortable it must have been for Mom to live at Valley Manor. But it had been totally her idea in the first place. With her mental capabilities somewhat diminished, she needed some of those decisions made for her, not by her. Mom adjusted beautifully at Fellowship. Grew very fond of several of the nurses and aides. For the last year of her life, she was quite happy and contented. The cancer was back with a vengeance, huge lumps all over, but Mom had decided she was forever done with more treatments. She was ready to go to her real home. Heaven with her Mom, Dad, brother Floyd, and the 4 grandparents who raised her and whom she loved like parents. And Larry. She couldn’t wait to see her only son Larry again.
|Mom and Dad, mid-1980’s…|
Dad drove to Fellowship daily, spending several hours with Mom. Often eating their noon meal together. Him sitting on the empty bed in the same room. Not talking much but spending time together. He’d help Mom eat first, urging the aides to help someone else. He had a tendency to try and hurry her along. Mom was always a slow, deliberate eater, and after the stroke needed more time to chew. Dad had to be reminded to slow it down and use smaller bites when helping her.
|Josh, Mom and Shannon, 1977 on the farm…|
On September 19, 2004 Mom and Dad celebrated their 62nd anniversary. Hard to believe from a couple so mismatched. Fellowship hung a banner on Mom’s door with a big 62. There was a cake and ice cream celebration during the afternoon. The couple who stayed together, but often lived on their own terms looked rather happy and proud of their accomplishment. I could see real affection between them. Something nice to remember about my folks. Exactly one month later, Mom slipped away, shortly after noon. She had called me the night before, barely able to whisper, saying “I love you, Denise” over and over…
|Me and Mom, eastern Iowa, about 1975…|