39 Cents…

I realize not every newlywed couple started out like John and I almost 50 years ago. Some young couples might have been handed the 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 our life out 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.”

John working at Channel 4 in Sioux City, 1969…

We all bring our own luggage (ok, baggage) to a marriage. John and I had dated off and on long enough to know every detail about each other. Not. Geez, he slept weird (head cupped in his hand with his arm bent, his face moving ever so slowly, almost touching the mattress, then he’d bring his head uppright again. Kinda like one of those goofy animals that sway to and fro into a glass of water). Plus he expected me to cook. Holy smoke, what had I gotten into? I had a domineering family with issues up the ying-yang, Hubs was more or less ignored by his. Still, we dove in head first, madly in love, knowing together we were a unit. We would make a family and a happy home. Everything else would just gently fall into place. Or land with a big clunk.

One of our first big clunks was a mountain of debt. Thud. OK, me first. I had just bought a car from a young couple in Sioux City. They had one child, were expecting another and about to have the car reposessed. I don’t think we even went to the bank, just had my name put on the remainder of the loan. The payments were pretty high for 1969, 80 bucks & change, which would prove difficult. The car was a 1968 blue Mustang hardtop which is one of the reasons the couple needed to get rid of it. With one small child and another one due, the 2-door would be a pain for kid hauling. That car caused me nothing but grief. Should have been painted yellow-as in lemon. Passenger seat broke 20 times but was never recalled. Bam, the seat snaps. All of a sudden you’re halfway in the tiny backseat with whiplash. Worse than the seat, that sucker would not start when the temperature was between 25 to 40 degrees. In Iowa, this amounts to about 6 months a year. I still feel awful when I bad-mouth this car, however. Just 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. Yikes. Thanks for watching out for me (and Shannon) that night God.

John, not one to stay mad very long…

But it was Hubs who had incurred the bulk of our debt when we started on this journey together. He was paying for a car too. John had a gorgeous 1965 Chevy Impala. Which he completely ruined because he loved to drag race on Douglas Street in Sioux City. So along with his payments he acquired many speeding tickets. And promptly lost his license. Oh no, we’re not even getting started. John and his buddy (Rod Berthelson) had taken a trip that summer. It might have started out as an overnight joyride but lasted a couple weeks. They headed north to Canada, dropped down through Montana to Yellowstone and the Black Hills. In a Corvair. ‘Nuff said.

But I’m still not done with Hubs lengthy spending spree. He worked at KTIV, Channel 4 in Sioux City. You’d think he’d be tired of watching TV cause he had to watch it at work. He worked some pretty lousy hours, mostly nights. Yet he had become a full blown Trekky since that silly show premiered. As soon as he was getting a paycheck, he had to have a humongous flat screen to watch this new fascinating show. Ugh. Mind you, colored TV’s were not yet very popular and were quite expensive. And small. John’s big screen was a 13 inch on a wobbly stand. I believe that tiny TV cost $350. Which was not paid for when we got hitched.

In this union we have me earning a whopping $1.60 an hour as a aide in a nursing home in Morningside. Working full time, my take home pay was under 60 bucks a week. I can’t swear what John was cranking out at Channel 4 but I’m pretty sure his check every other week was about $235. Two car payments (remember, he couldn’t drive), credit card bill for his vacation, plus our Star Trek TV, rent, groceries, insurance for the car. We were in trouble from the get-go.

Me in front of the duplex, 1970 in nurses aid uniform…

We were renting a house in the 32 hundred block of Douglas Street for about 80 dollars a month. The small house was on a slab, had single pane glass windows and when we got our first heat bill, it far exceeded what we were spending on the rent. We couldn’t afford living there very long if we wanted to continue to eat. I needed the car to drive to Morningside, so Hubs walked the 3 miles to work that fall and winter.

We were so broke. All of the time. After paying ‘most’ of the bills, we had about 5 bucks left for groceries, gas and smokes. It was easy to get discouraged and nit-pick each other. But we really didn’t fight very much. Except anything concerning my mom. She was a thorn at times. When Mom was visiting 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 for sure, I set no boundaries with her. Now John paid probably 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 to a darling duplex in Leeds. Maybe a titch more expensive in rent, but I think 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 find more in common with them than just being freshly married. Both husbands worked nights, while Carolyn and I worked days, thus giving us lots of time in the evenings to visit and bond, while anticipating the births of our babies in a few months. Yup, both of us probably should have been on birth control but were not. We each got an early start to becoming a family.

Shannon, making us a happy family, 1970…

Back to our food issues. Since we were too dumb to stop smoking, tuna was about the only thing we could afford to eat. On sale most weeks 3 cans for a dollar. It was tuna salad or tuna casserole a couple of times a week until I started learning how to cook and got better at grocery shopping. We couldn’t afford to get the Sioux City Journal, which was filled with grocery ads, but I read the paper at work. John had to work until the 10 o’clock newscast was over, then I’d show up to drive him home, so besides running around with Carolyn, I had a lot of free time on my hands. In the paper I noticed a meat sale. But I was torn. Hubs had warned me several times not to go running around Sioux City at night by myself. There were sections of 4th Street which were not safe. Which was exactly where this meat market was located. So I snuck downtown like I was trying to buy drugs or hire a hooker. Peeking around, still in my Pony (the lemon) to see if someone was lurking, ready to pounce on this 19-year-old-mother-to-be. All clear. I slunk in the store, studied the meat counter in earnest, checked my wallet, making sure I had enough cash. Ordered and paid for what I needed. Stopped and looked both ways for the lurkers before heading out the door since John had promised they would indeed be waiting for me.

Hubs has always been a griller. Loves any kind of food cooked outside. It would be years before we could buy a nice Weber gas Genesis grill. All we could afford was a cheap square grill on skinny legs that used charcoal briquettes. The grill was under 10 bucks but had to be budgeted before we could even swing it. And one rarely lasted more than a year because we used it so often. John became an expert in how to light, how to stack the charcoal and what kind of heat he needed for what he was cooking. I do believe he still misses the old charcoal grills. We’ve had several gas grills since we moved to Michigan in 1987.

I smiled all the way home. I hadn’t been mugged (or worse). He’s going to be so proud of me. What a great little bargain shopper I’ve become. It wouldn’t be a fancy meal, but it was, still is about his favorite food on the grill. A big, fat juicy hamburger. I bought buns, onion, tomato and potatoes. We already had dill pickle slices and Heinz (a must in this marriage from the ketchup expert, the Hubs. It had to be Heinz). The potatoes are for home made French fries, my contribution to the meal. Next night, Hubs gets out of work after the 6 o’clock newscast. I’m waiting (in the lemon), ready to cruise home and eat together (not something we got to do very often at night). The grill is lit, the patties are made, oil is heating for the fries which take about 20 minutes. I start them a good 5 minutes before the burgers go on. Condiments are ready, there’s pop for me, Old Milwaukee (the cheapest 6-pack on the shelf) 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 to get his beer.

John grabbed his beer bottle, slaps me on the butt on his way outside when we hear this incredibly loud- WHAAAAAA-UMMMMPHHH! Flames are shooting up the side of the duplex, past the roof!! Holy shit! Hubs sprints out the door, jumps sideways off the cement landing. WTH? There’s not one iota of ground beef on the grill. Not one morsel of hamburger. What happened to our meat? How did this big ass fire start? The smoke is so thick, it’s impossible to see anything but smoke and bright red flames. One of the neighbors runs over to check on the status of the roof in case it caught fire and asks if he should call the fire department? I assure him with, “Oh John’s just grilling!” (Should have come clean that second, John’s always taken great pride in his grilling abilities). Grabbing the lid of the grill, Hubs tries to place it on the towering inferno to douse the flames. Finally drops it kitty-corner on top of the grill. He narrowed his brown eyes (which were also spitting fire-geez, enough with the flames already) towards me. (It was hard to look at him for 2 reasons. I was about to get soundly scolded, but that was a minor annoyance compared to what I was witnessing. The flames had licked John spic and span of much of his hair. He no longer had arm hair, eyebrows, lashes and I’m pretty sure at least one of his nostrils was completely void of hair. It was hard to look at and smelled kind of funky too. 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 have you done?” “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 of town 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, maybe with just a tad 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.”…

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