For my Mom, it was a no brainer. Her mother, my grandma Coba Berghuis Wanningen, died when Mom and her twin brother were just a few days old. Maternal and paternal grands duked it out because their dad wasn’t interested in raising them. Finally conceded paternal grands would do the bulk of rearing the newborns. But the maternals had a big part in doing their fair share with the twins throughout their young lives too. Mom idolized both sets of grandparents, didn’t see much of her father, my grandpa Lakey. He was bitter about losing his young, beautiful wife.
|Floyd and Florence Wanningen, 1927…|
So Mom and uncle Floyd spent their entire childhood with both sets of 60 plus year old grandparents, living with the Wanningen’s but spending much of their time with the Berghuis’ just a few blocks away. It’s no wonder Mom was always very fond of the elderly.
|Mom, her Wanningen grandparents & Floyd, Sioux Center, Iowa, 1935…|
More complicated was why on earth have I been drawn to the elderly bunch? My great grands, the Wanningen’s were both gone by the time I was born. I vaguely remember my great grandma Berghuis. Dad’s parents (the Gerritson’s, their longevity well apparent), lived in Rock Valley, but I was not close to either of them. Dad stopped at their house daily, but I rarely went along. Since Dad was a decade older than Mom, his parents always seemed ancient. Never went to town with my grandma. She never taught me how to knit, sew, speak Dutch or cook anything. Grandpa Lakey grew closer to Mom and uncle Floyd after they were adults. He died when I was about 10. We went to his 3 room house in Sioux Center nearly every Sunday afternoon, but I don’t remember him ever talking directly to me. I do recall a beautiful antique oak crank phone hanging on his living room wall I really wish I had. With so few elderly relatives to have a relationship with, I still have trouble wrapping my head around why I’ve always loved older folks.
|My grandparents, Arie & Bessie Gerritson. Both passed away in the early-mid 1970’s…|
I know it must have started with the neighborhood on 15th Street. I was only 4-1/2 when we moved and was amazed and ecstatic by the number of kids on our block. But every other house was home to an elderly person on our street too. Most of those names are on the tip of my tongue but have escaped during the last 6 decades. Their faces, the insides of the homes, their smiles, still have a place in my heart. I believe there were 2 widows on our block alone, plus an older couple right east of us. Maybe Kooima’s and related to the Ribbons? Before the Gayer’s moved in the house west of us, a widow lived there. She went on our California trip (sharing the backseat of a 2-door un-air conditioned Chevy Biscayne with one of her grandchildren) and me. She unfortunately was not at the top of my list of favorites. Not her fault, think her trip contribution paid for a chunk of ours. Still I was kind of bratty and wanted the backseat to myself for that long haul. Across the street, east of the Beumer’s was another widow, plus the quirky family living on the southwest corner in a haukee (Dutch word for add on, or lean to, really it was a shack) named the Henningfield’s. Behind our house was Mrs. Kuiper, another widow. I visited all these neighbors with regularity, especially my favorite, Bessie Jacobs. I think most were pretty free with cookies, or sweet breads, a glass of pop or milk to wash it down. They all loved to talk and so did I. Across the street west from the Henningfield’s was another older gentleman friend of my Dad’s named John Dodeward (probably messed up the spelling on that Dutch name pretty good. Sorry John). Mom helped some very special friends named Ivor and Frances Dearborn, who lived just a couple blocks away.
|John Dodeward & Dad, maybe mid 1970’s…|
Even though I was surrounded by these special folks and loved them all, a big part of my life long fascination with the elderly started when Mom got a job at our new nursing home named Valley Manor. An inspiration of several local Rock Valley men with long term vision for our small Dutch, mostly farming community. I’m not sure if Mom was employed by Valley Manor when they first opened in 1963. If not an original, she was one of their first new hires. When the building plans were becoming reality, the committee had the foresight of easy expansion which was needed soon after they opened. Mom took nurse’s aide classes, even learning how to give insulin shots. I remember her practice giving shots on oranges! Yikes. At least it wasn’t on me. And she looked so professional. Bought at least a week’s worth of white uniforms. All dresses, different styles. Kept meticulously pristine white, washed and ironed, hanging neatly in a closet, ready for her next day of nurturing and caring for the elderly.
|Uniform like Mom wore to work everyday in the 60’s…|
This was about 5 years after my brother Larry had been killed. Our family life was sort of kapoot. Dad had accepted Jesus and spent 6 nights out of 7 a week teaching, preaching, visiting the sick or other church activities as an elder on the Consistory. Didn’t feel the need to be with his downsized family of 2, namely me and Mom. Working at Valley Manor was good for Mom. Mostly a loner, she formed some incredible friendships over the years she worked there. Admired and respected the administrator, Al Porter, and Dorothy Smith, the head RN. Adie Dykstra, Marion De Young were some of her dearest friends.
|Al Porter, Valley Manor’s administrator, mid-1960’s…|
And me. I was like the mascot of Valley Manor. It was like a magnet, drawing me in. Anyone who frequents nursing homes should be puzzled by this. I still am. Most times these places are difficult places to visit, even if you have a loved one there. I knew no one, but the residents were a hot topic at our supper table each night. Right after getting the lowdown on my day at school, Valley Manor stories would begin. Never anything confidential or health related, but usually a cute quip one of them had said to Mom or a conversation they had that day. Not sure, but believe Doc Hegg took care of the residents after it opened. Hegg Memorial Hospital was on the drawing board, but wouldn’t be built for another 3 or 4 years.
|Dr. Hegg making rounds at Valley Manor. I adored him….|
In the beginning they’re weren’t many residents in Valley Manor, less than a dozen I think, when I started visiting. Making my way through the wing, stopping in every room. I was 12. Hubs grandpa Van Berkum lived there. (I didn’t know who John was at the time, he was 3 years older than me. Safe bet though, we may have visited Valley Manor at the same time). Mr. Manning was an original too (living there and being a character. Mom adored him as did I). He rarely wore shoes, scooted around in a wheelchair and wore red socks. Now who couldn’t dearly love a guy like that?
|Neese as a teen when I frequented Valley Manor, mid1960’s…|
As the place filled up, they added wings to Valley Manor. One newcomer was a gal about my Mom’s age, who was in her late 30’s at the time. Her name was Kathy (another butcher job on her Dutch last name, sorry) Boekestine. Mentally challenged, she was thin and didn’t talk much and wasn’t easily understood, at least by me. Still we were great friends. Once a week Mom would buy Kathy a package of Little Debbie’s when she got groceries. Mom let me bring the treat to Kathy when I visited. At times it seemed like the high point of her week. She could sense when I was coming and would be standing at the front door. She’d grab the box, giggle, run (yes she could run) to her room and put them away. Then sprint back to me. Grabbed my hand in hers for the rest of my time that day at Valley Manor. We’d go up and down the hall, wandering in rooms and visit. Kathy, clinging to my hand, smiling and listening to this young teenager talk to old people. Man those are some precious memories I’ve got stored up.
|Valley Manor, early 1960’s. Mom and I both loved the place…|
A gentleman named Frank Kelly moved into Valley Manor from Alvord. Mom learned through their chats when he was younger he was an artist. She bought some paints, different sized canvases and encouraged him to start painting again. He was really good. After Frank finished several paintings they hung them up somewhere in Valley Manor with a ‘for sale’ ticket attached. Weeks later I don’t believe any paintings had yet sold. Frank was discouraged and disappointed. So Mom bought them all. Yay, Mom! She had them all professionally framed.
|A Frank Kelly original, 1977, while living in Valley Manor…|
|Mom, describing in great detail one of Frank’s paintings…|
I immediately claimed I needed, at the bare minimum, at least 2 of them. Mom being the detail person she was, turned my favorite one over, got out an ink pen and wrote on the back. To this day, the painting makes me smile, while what she wrote on the back still makes me cry…
|My absolute favorite painting by Frank Kelly who lived in Valley Manor…|
|Mom was thorough in the details, which brings tears to this day…|