How is it possible this happened so long ago? Fifty-eight years to be exact. October 11, 1958. The day my brother died. Doesn’t seem possible. Larry was a happy-go-lucky kid whose death left a gaping hole in my life and my family’s. I was 7 and thought my memories of that tragic day were clear and concise. But 2 years ago when I started writing ‘Storyteller from a One-Stoplight-Town’ about my life, kids from Rock Valley who are a little older than me have offered their perspective of what happened that fateful day. I’m learning more stories about Larry. Although some new knowledge may be painful at times, ANY tidbits about Larry’s life or the day of his death are welcomed and truly appreciated.
|Me & Larry in 1954…|
I guess first were the ramifications of his death. Not just our immediate family, but the whole town of Rock Valley. A small rural, predominantly Dutch farming community of about 1,600 folks. No internet, Facebook or cellphones, but I imagine the gruesome news of his death traveled quickly. Twelve year old kid riding a bike, killed when struck by a car on Hiway 18 on a beautiful Saturday morning. I don’t know if Mom and Dad were trying to protect me, or it was too difficult to talk about, but I remember talking very little about the details of the actual accident. I had to get my version somewhere after it happened. Assume it was from my parents. Too late to ask them now. I was wrong about some things and clueless about others. Then again I was only 7, and remain rather clueless to this day.
|Larry 6, by the playhouse Dad built when we lived on the west side of Rock Valley, 1952…|
My first big misconception was about fault. Yes, it was an accident, but I was always led to believe it was the driver’s fault. That stretch of Hi Way 18 going through our little town had a lip (kind of like a small curb) on both sides. Larry was riding on the shoulder, and I was told the car’s tire caught that weird lip, causing the car to swerve up over that curb. Hitting Larry on his bike.
|Larry 11, Denise 6 and Spitzy the dog, 1957…|
I never knew until a few months ago that our family doctor was driving on Hi way 18 that day too. Stopped just a few cars behind Larry’s accident. Doc Hegg was returning from seeing patients in a nearby town because Rock Valley did not yet have a hospital. He jumped out of his car, ran to see what happened and if he could help. But there was nothing Doc could do but pronounce Larry dead. He had been killed instantly.
|Larry 5-1/2, Mom 24, me 8 months, 1951…|
Since Larry was 12 when he died, the kids who were closer to his age or a bit older heard more about the accident than I ever did. Recently, more than once I’ve been told it was Larry’s blue jean’s cuff that got caught in the bicycle chain, causing Larry to swerve in the path of the car. Throughout my life we always talked a lot about Larry, but some of the details I’ve heard in the last couple of years never came up with Mom or Dad. Did they assume I knew everything about the accident or that it really didn’t make a difference in the scheme of things? It was a horrific accident and Larry died as a result. Period.
|Newborn Denise with big bro Larry 4-1/2 looking on, early 1951…|
John and I just got back from a trip back to northwest Iowa. We meandered slowly once we crossed the mighty Mississippi heading west. Stopped at several spots we lived during our first 20 years of marriage. It was fun, and brought back many fond memories for both of us. Once we got to northwest Iowa there were lots of friends and relatives to visit whom we hadn’t seen in 2 years. The main reason for the trip, however was Hubs’ 50th Class reunion in Rock Valley. I can’t say I knew everyone in town when I was in high school. But I can say with certainty I knew everyone in high school. Freshman through seniors. During the mid to late 60’s the grades at Rock Valley Community were quite small. Maybe 50 kids in each class. Everybody knew everyone else. You might have your own little clique, but you knew every single person in high school. By name. Where they lived. Who was dating and who just broke up. Rumors about a new couple going steady. Who was getting to second base. Who was suspected of buying condoms at a gas station in Hudson, South Dakota. (Back in the Stone Age there were no handy vending machines or schools doling out free contraceptives or condoms for a quarter. You had to ask the pharmacist or a clerk in gas station. Yikes. Out of town so you wouldn’t be seen by someone you knew. Or so I’ve heard. Ok, back to my story. Don’t want my pristine reputation sullied after all these years. Stop laughing. Please). Thus, when it was time for the reunion, I was looking forward to seeing everyone too. These guys were three grades ahead of me and totally cool while I was a no name dork. Scratch that. I think everyone knew this dork’s name too.
|Larry about 5, 1951…|
Hubs reunion was celebrated on 2 nights. There were some folks who came Friday night but had commitments on Saturday or the other way around. Most folks traveling though went to both events like we did. The first night was hard for me because it was held in the basement of a local restaurant. Low ceilings, lots of bodies, loud conversations, laughter and guffaws. Made it very tough for me to hear much. There were several classmates attending for the first time in 50 years! I recognized and could name about 80% of them right off the bat, without glancing at their name tags. Quite a few didn’t recognize me at all. I refer you back to ‘no name dork’ who was 3 years younger. Or I look like an old hag. That’s probably it. Don’t know, didn’t ask. Since it wasn’t my class, I took a lot of pictures, kept my name tag on, and said hi to almost everyone.
|Dad 34, me 8 mon. Larry 5, 1951…|
So there’s this guy from John’s class named Jack. I hadn’t seen him in decades. He stopped to say hello, then mentioned cryptically, ‘I need to tell you a story when things settle down before you leave this weekend.’ Wondered what that was about, but didn’t think too much about it. Jack was busy making the rounds through 30 plus classmates, spouses and a couple of teachers. Some of whom we would not see again on Saturday.
|Me, Larry and Spitzy, 1954…|
Saturday night was better for this deaf gal. Bigger room, higher ceilings, room to mill about. No one asked who I was (ok, I was wearing tag again, now including my maiden name). I teased them right back saying I would always be younger than any of them. Ha! Jack walked over to our table. I’m quite certain he was squatting in between us. Sure couldn’t tease him about that as I’ve been unable to perform that little feat of magic for the past decade. He said, “I gotta tell you a story about your brother Larry.” That was a surprise because Jack and John’s class were 2 years younger than Larry’s. Although in a small town, boys around Larry’s age of 12 at the time often played together. Jack continued, “this happened right before Larry died. I had a crummy bike. It was blue, had a basket and even worse, it was a girls bike. Larry had a cool Schwinn, and it was a boy’s bike. Larry asked if I wanted to trade bikes with him? For keeps. Larry wanted me to give him 10 dollars for his Schwinn, plus my old blue girl’s bike. Larry said he wanted my bike for his little sister Denise. I couldn’t believe my luck. An almost new Schwinn for my old bike and 10 bucks? Sweet. This was just a few days before the accident. I’ve always felt guilty about that trade. And I thought you should know.”
|Larry Wayne, 1949…|
I was thunderstruck. Why would Larry ever do that? I don’t remember getting the old blue girls bike, but since I was only 7, I was probably just learning how to ride. I don’t remember Mom or Dad ever wondering what happened to Larry’s bike after he died. Did they know about the trade? Doubt it. Think they would have been upset about it. What I do remember with clarity is the morning of the accident. I was watching Saturday morning cartoons when I noticed Larry riding down our driveway. On my bike. I ran outside as he was heading east on 15th Street. “Why are you taking my bike?” Still pedaling, he turned around and said, “I’m going to grandpa Gerritson’s. I’m borrowing your bike cause I need to use the basket. I’ll give you a dime when I get home and bring you a surprise from town, ok?” Last words Larry ever said to me. He never made it home that day. The first responders found ‘my surprise’ in the ditch by Larry and my crumpled bike that morning. A caramel apple. My payment from him for using my bike. Didn’t realize he didn’t have a bike of his own anymore when he used mine that morning. To this day, I still can’t eat caramel apples.
|Dad, Larry & Mom in 1957…|
Another little snippet about the last days of my brother’s life. Huge. Really. Huge. How can I ever thank Jack enough for telling me that story? And let him know he need NEVER feel guilty about that trade. Ever. It was God’s call for Larry to go to heaven that October morning. I want Jack to know much this story means to the little kid sister, nicknamed Neese. Whose big brother sacrificed so much on a lousy trade. What 12 year old boy with cool wheels would give that up? Well, he was my brother and his name was Larry…
|Larry’s last school picture. Love and miss you still…|