39 Cents…

Not every newlywed couple started out like we did decades ago. Some young couples might have been handed keys to a business, deed to a farm or home. I don’t know if that properly prepares you for the rest of your life. Hubs and I had to figure out life the old-fashioned way, the hard way. By ourselves and making a few mistakes along the way. As John’s dad was famous for quoting, “you made your bed, now lie in it.”

Not long after we eloped…

We all bring baggage to a marriage. John and I had dated off and on long enough to know every detail about each other. Ha! Geez, he slept weird (head cupped in his hand with his arm bent, his face moving slowly, almost touching the mattress, then he’d lift his head uppright again. Kinda like one of those goofy birds that swing into a glass of water. Plus he expected me to cook. Holy smokes, what had I gotten into? I had a domineering family with issues, Hubs was generally ignored by his. Still, we dove in, head first and in love. knowing we were a unit. We would have a family and a happy home. Everything else would fall gently into place or land with a clunk.

Our first big clunk was a mountain of debt. Thud, me first. I just bought a car from a young couple in Sioux City. They had one child, were expecting another and about to have their car reposessed. I didn’t even go to the bank, just had my name put on the remainder of their loan. The payments were high for 1969, 80 bucks which would prove difficult. The car was a 1968 blue Mustang hardtop which is the reason the couple needed to sell it. With one kid and another on the way that 2-door would be a pain with 2 kids. That car caused me nothing but grief. Passenger seat broke 20 times but was never recalled. Bam, the seat snaps and suddenly you’re halfway in the backseat with whiplash. Worse, that sucker would not start when the temperature hovered between 25 to 40 degrees. In Iowa, this is about 6 months a year. However I feel awful when I bad-mouth the car. A few months after I bought it, the former owners, now a family of 4 were all killed when their car was hit by a train. Ironically, about a year later I nearly collided with a train in the Mustang at the railroad crossing in Merrill, Iowa. I was about 5 months pregnant with Shannon. Thanks for watching out for me and Shannon that night God.

A twin to my lemon…

But Hubs incurred the bulk of our debt when we started this journey together. He was paying for a car too, a gorgeous 1965 Chevy Impala. He was hard on his car because he loved to drag race on Douglas Street. Along with his payments came speeding tickets and he lost his license. Plus he and a buddy took a trip that summer. Might have started out as an overnight joyride but lasted two weeks. They drove north to Canada, dropped down through Montana to Yellowstone, then the Black Hills. In a Corvair.

Not done with Hubs spending spree. He worked at KTIV, Channel 4 in Sioux City. You’d think he’d be tired of watching TV cause he watched it at work. Yet he’d become a full blown Trekker since that show premiered. As soon as he got a steady paycheck he bought a humongous flat screen. Mind you, colored TV’s were not yet popular but were expensive. And small. John’s big screen was a 13 inch on a wobbly stand. That tiny TV cost $350, which was not paid for when we got hitched.

So I’m earning a whopping $1.60 an hour as a nurse’s aid in Morningside, working full time, taking home 60 bucks a week. John was cranking a check every other week around $235. Two car payments (remember, he couldn’t drive), credit card bill for his vacation, plus our Star Trek TV, rent, groceries and insurance for the car. We were in trouble from the get-go.

Hubs working at Channel 4, 1970…

We were so broke. After paying the bills, we had 5 bucks left for groceries, gas and smokes. It was easy to get discouraged, but we didn’t fight much except about my mom. She was a thorn at times. When Mom came over and wanted something from the fridge, if she spotted beer, she would dump every ounce down the sink without saying a word. This was my fault, I set no boundaries with her. Now John had paid a buck-fifty for that six pack, but until next payday, it was irreplaceable. Mom and John bumped heads until she died.

With less than 6 months of marriage under our belt, we moved from a house on Douglas that was costing us 3 times more for utilities than the rent, to a darling duplex in Leeds. More expensive to rent, but some of the utilities were included. Cute brick one bedroom and as a bonus a fabulous couple living in the other half named Lee and Carolyn. We would soon have more in common than being newlyweds. Both husbands worked nights, while Carolyn and I worked days, thus giving us lots of time in the evenings to bond while anticipating the births of our babies in a few months.

The duplex in Leeds, 1970…

Back to food. We were too dumb to stop smoking so tuna was the only thing we could afford. Usually on sale for 3 cans for a dollar. It was tuna salad/casserole a couple of times a week until I learned how to cook and grocery shop. We couldn’t afford the Sioux City Journal but I read the paper and grocery ads at work. John often worked until the 10 o’clock newscast was over, then I’d pick him up. I noticed a meat sale in the paper, but I was torn. He’d warned me several times not to run around Sioux City at night. Sections of 4th Street were not safe, which was where this meat market was. So I snuck downtown like I was trying to buy drugs. Peeking around, still in my Pony to see if someone was lurking-ready to pounce on this 19-year-old-mother-to-be. I slunk into the store, studied the meat counter in earnest, checked my wallet to make sure I had enough cash. Ordered and paid for what I needed. Stopped and looked cautiously for any lurkers since John warned me they would be waiting.

Hubs loves to grill any kind of meat. The grill we had was a small square on skinny legs that used charcoal briquettes. The cost was under 10 bucks, but we had to budget for it, and it lasted one year because we used it so often. He was an expert at stacking charcoal for what he was cooking. I believe he still misses those old charcoal grills.

I smiled all the way home cause I hadn’t been mugged (or worse). He’s going to be so proud of me. What a great little bargain shopper. It wouldn’t be fancy but it was his favorite food on the grill. A big, fat juicy cheese burger. I got buns, onion, tomato and potatoes. We already had dill pickle and Heinz (a must in this marriage from the ketchup expert, the Hubs. It had to be Heinz). The potatoes were for home made French fries, my contribution to the meal. Next night, Hubs gets out of work after the 6 o’clock news. I’m waiting (in the lemon), ready to cruise home and eat together (not something we got to do very often). The grill is lit, the patties are made, oil is heating for the fries. I start the fries 5 minutes before the burgers. Condiments are ready, there’s pop for me, Old Milwaukee for John. The grill was on the sidewalk close to the side door of our duplex. The fries are cooking and Hubs puts the burgers on the grill, comes back inside for a minute.

Living on love, French fries (and Heinz) that meatless night…

John grabs his beer, slaps me on the butt on his way outside when we hear this incredibly loud- WHAAAAAA-UMMMMPHHH! Flames shoot up the side of the duplex higher than the roof!! Hubs sprints outside, jumps sideways off the cement. There’s not one morsel of ground beef on the grill. What happened to our meat? The smoke is so thick, it’s impossible to see anything but bright red flames. One of the neighbors jogs over to check the status of the roof and asks if he should call the fire department? I assure him with, “No, John’s just grilling!”

Grabbing the lid of the grill, Hubs tries to fling it on the towering inferno, finally dropping it kitty-corner on top. He narrowed his brown eyes which were also spitting little flames towards me. It was hard to look at him for 2 reasons. I was about to get soundly scolded, but that was minor compared to what I was witnessing. The flames had eliminated most of his hair. He had no arm hair, eyebrows, lashes and I’m pretty sure at least one of his nostrils was completely void. He was hard to look at and he smelled kind of funky. Like singed chicken. I was morbidly drawn and repulsed at the same time. If I smiled, it would surely be for the last time-ever. He said testily, “what did you do?” “Umm last night I went down to the meat market on 4th Street,” I said meekly. “You mean the one spot in this huge city I’ve specifically asked you not to go alone? At night?” “Um, I think you’ve mentioned that part to me,” with an appropriate down-trodden face. “What exactly did you buy? How come the meat literally disappeared? What was this?” (He can be awfully smug sometimes). Now with a dose of defiance I shot back, “it’s just hamburger. I saw the ad in the paper and wanted to surprise you. It was on sale. Only 39 cents a pound.”…

5 thoughts on “39 Cents…

  1. Wow! My sis had a red Mustang. She’d flown somewhere and I was to pick her up in her car. I was worried when I drove it over some train tracks. It was cute, but I was afraid the doors (and other things) would shake off!

    Liked by 1 person

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