A Small Town Girl…

I’ve been thinking a lot about Rock Valley, my home town. Probably because I was just there for part of a day. That part kinda bothers me. Seems every time I visit, there are less reasons for me to hang around. After I lost my ‘home base’ it feels rather foreign when I’m there. Like it’s not really my home town anymore. What the heck is that about? It was my lifeline for 2 decades. I knew that town like the back of my hand. Though some of my memories are painful, for the most part, I hold Rock Valley in a very special spot in my heart.

My afternoon kindergarten class, 1956…

When I started kindergarten there were morning and afternoon classes. As in 2. Since I still get the weekly Rock Valley Bee, I’m privy to all the newsworthy happenings of my not-so-little-town anymore. Rock Valley Community School District just purchased a half million dollar building because they’re short so many classrooms since the school year started. I believe this extra building will house a couple of preschool and kindergarten classes. I find this amazing. I never thought my somewhat isolated, secluded little town would ever change from the way I remember it. Stuck forever in the 1950’s and ’60’s. I guess it’s like seeing someone from your past that you’ve not seen for years. You expect them to look the same as you remember them and are surprised when they’ve aged considerably. Guess what they’re thinking? Geez oh pete, Neese has gotten all wrinkly and frumpy. How did she get so old?

My heart swells as I drive around my town. When I’m with Hubs, we rattle off who-lived-where 50 years ago. John tells me the strangest little stories as we slowly ride around. Now where the Cedar Rock Grill is located used to be a small gas station. There was an outdoor pop machine that looked like a chest type freezer. When you lifted the lid, the small glass pop bottles were hanging in rows. You made your pop choice, Coke, RC Cola, Dr. Pepper, 7-Up, Sunkist or Squirt. Then you moved the bottle through the maze and because you plopped in your nickel, the little lock mechanism released your bottle. Nope, not the way Hubs got pop. He waited until the station closed, brought along a straw and pop bottle opener. See where this young sinner was headed? He popped the cap off, stuck in a straw and sucked it down. Who would even think of that? Silly question, I married this misdemeanor dude. Hey, I already copped to a felony at the ripe age of 13. The Hubs gets no protection or free passes from me.

As we head east on 14th (?) past the old creamery, he tells me how the driver of the refrigerated truck used to leave his delivery truck running all night to keep the ice cream frozen. Back then, no one in Rock Valley locked their doors at night except the bank. Maybe. So Hubs would open the truck and get some ice cream. Logical right? You can’t make this stuff up.

Just past the creamery, still heading east is a new business I’ve not noticed before. Rows and rows of gigantic round bales of hay, plus what looks like a rodeo fence set up. Don’t know exactly what that is. Back in my day there were very few homes after Randy Timmer’s house (corner of 17th or 18th street and whatever Valley Manor’s street is). Now there’s a huge new housing addition. There’s a serious shortage of homes in Rock Valley which is why the city wisely started incorporating more land into city limits. Hundreds of people drive daily to work in Rock Valley but can’t move there because the housing market hasn’t caught up yet. Incredible.

Hay, hay, hay…

When I was a kid we had 2 big factories that I remember, Kooima’s and Roorda’s. (You couldn’t own a factory unless your last name included double o’s) You can’t believe how many large factories/machine shops there are now. Massive new structures, parking lots full of cars (mostly pickups). Still I’m surprised with all this growth several stores/chains seem absent from such a hot commodity like Rock Valley. Where’s the Hy-Vee, Fareway, and Walmart? I would have thought by now there would be a couple of good restaurants on the outskirts of town plus a 6-8 movie theater complex. This just seems plain backwards to me and their growth potential for bringing in new families. Don’t know what the hold up is.

Rock Valley, my one-stoplight-town…

Heading north out of town (never knew that was north until recently. Yes I have no pride-or sense of direction, for that matter). John wants to see the new bridge where the dump used to be. Oh fun, Hubs’ got another tale for me. He used to go to the dump at night with a spotlight and a gun. Waited to see shiny eyes and then shoot rats. Ugh. The bridge is beautiful, with a walkway along the side. Turning left (west, I knew that) to what was just a field is now a beautiful church with another housing addition, and a landscape business. All of this surrounds a fairly new campground and pond which was full of campers. As I remember this was like wasted space in your house. Now a flourishing plethora of various homes and businesses. This. Town. I. Just. Can’t.

Seeing my old house though was not pleasant. Devastating really. One of my friends, Ray Witte still visits Rock Valley with regularity because his mom lives there. Ray took a picture of my house a couple of years ago and sent it to me. Besides some shrub and tree trimming the place looked pretty good. Let’s take into account it is one of the oldest houses in town. And added on about a dozen times by my Dad (one of my better stories called Preliminary Steps, June, 2014). Haukee after haukee (Dutch word for little add on room or lean to) as Mom dictated what our old house needed at the time. Yard was a mess, the grass and weeds at least a foot high. Junk sitting all over the front yard. The whole place looked run down. The garage shingles had more curls in them than my first (and last) home perm. Yup the house was a big disappointment and brought tears. Mom and Dad took much pride of ownership in that old house and it’s painful to watch it go downhill.

One other thing stood out about Rock Valley which seems unusual. I don’t know if it’s really strange/odd but it jumped out at me immediately. Happened a month ago when The Bee arrived in the mail. The paper had 16 pictures of girls on the front page. A few were senior high school age, the rest maybe 7 to 10 years old. The older gals vying for the title of Miss Rock Valley, the younger ones, Little Miss for Rally in the Valley. Beneath each cute picture was their name and parents name.

I read 2 papers almost everyday, Muskegon and Jackson’s. This spring, each paper had the top academic students from surrounding schools, grade point average, college choice and their field of study. In addition to these kids, another section of the paper about once a week lists all the births from the hospital. I love this part. I rarely know any of them but the snippet has the parents, whether it’s a boy or girl, weight and name for the baby. I like reading their choice of names for some reason. Anyway, getting back to my point. I was surprised when I read all the Rock Valley girls names along with their parents. Not one of the 16 had either parent with a different last name. Not one. Not a single one. While the majority of graduating seniors around here had both parents with the same last name, that’s not the case in the baby’s birth section. By my calculations, less than half seem to have both parents with the same last name. I don’t know what to make of this, still it has struck me as odd.

While I’m proud of the growth in Rock Valley, I’m ecstatic I grew up there before the big boom. My little town may sound hokey, but there was something very special about that tight-knit, mostly Dutch community. The town that rallied around my family when Larry was killed. The smaller school which allowed this mostly-middle-of-the-road-girl to be a cheerleader and accepted me, warts and all. I’m not saying some of the townsfolk didn’t drive me bonkers at times. They knew before I lit up when I smoked. Or if I was letting John get to first base, snuggled deep in the recesses of the nearby Catholic Church. Still, not much I would ever change about this little girl and her history-the storyteller from a one-stoplight-town…

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