Hubs was on his way out of our seldom used front door for the mail when he quipped, “want anything special?” Because it was a Saturday, I was instantly transported back to: pick a year, any year between 1970-1985. And it had to be early spring. Those were the days. Let me explain. From the beginning.
|John’s senior prom, 1966. Three more years, we’d be married…|
It all started the year we got hitched, 1969. John had bills up the wazoo and I wasn’t much better off. I brought to the marriage table a humongous car payment-80 bucks and change. Hubs had a car payment too, but get this, he couldn’t even drive because he had so many speeding/drag racing tickets, plus he couldn’t afford to carry the insurance. And he’d just taken a trip through Canada with his buddy Rod and racked up 300 plus dollars on his credit card. Probably equivalent to 4 or 5 thousand dollars in credit card debt today. On top of that he had a brand new color TV which was not paid for. Today I would venture these bill amounts totaling around 10-15. Thousand. Dollars. We were in a world of hurt. But in love, and happy eating tuna salad or casserole every night. When we weren’t worrying on how to pay all those outstanding bills.
|The family of 3, 1973…|
Think Hubs was taking home about 100 bucks a week, me a lot less than that working full time in a nursing home. The list of bills got longer and longer. And we got behinder and behinder. Robbing Peter to pay Paul was the name of the game. Whatever was on the verge of being repossessed, turned off, evicted from, got paid first. That month. Couldn’t worry about the future, we were literally living week to week. Or day to day.
As 1969 closed and 1970 was ushered in there would be new and exciting challenges for Johnny Wayne and Neese. Parenthood was the biggie at the end of 1970, but this mini-miracle/nightmare occurred in early spring. We were filing our first federal tax forms as husband and wife. If I remember right, back then we could write off any and all interest paid from our big stack of bills. Interest on car payments to the credit card. For us, this added up to a small fortune. Since we made squat, when H & R Block figured out our taxes, we would be getting a sizable refund from the government. They explained this was really our money. We let the government use our money throughout the year because we had too much taken out of our weekly pay checks. “Change your deductions, don’t let them use your money all year.” Blah, blah blah. Who could listen to such nonsense, we were gonna be rich. In 8 to 12 weeks. Which always turned out to take longer than all 3 of my pregnancies. Combined.
|Adding Joshua, now about a year old in 1976 on the farm…|
We’d fastidiously mark the calendar, counting down the days and the weeks, praying the refund (it’s our money, send it back please) would be sitting in the mailbox at the end of 8 weeks. As if. There was no turbo tax, no direct deposit, no e-filing, no swarmy businesses offering to give your refund early in exchange for grabbing your refund check when it arrived. Everything involving the IRS moved at the speed of sloth. All of the forms were written out by hand, and moved through snail mail. You could call an 800 toll free number after 8 weeks to see if your taxes were in the process of being completed. But not before that magical 8 week mark. All of our friends got their refunds in a reasonable amount of time. Why, oh why did it take a lifetime to get ours? We were good people, where’s our money? Remember, it’s really our money. We were politely asking the government to send our refund back to us. In a timely manner. Without grief.
|Here’s Adam, age 5 in 1984…|
For that first decade and a half of marriage, every single year it was something. Somehow our refund always got delayed instead of arriving early or on time. And there was no one on this earth who needed the money more than J & D. Gospel truth. One year we waited and waited for our refund to show. Again, it’s our money, not like we’re trying to commit a crime here. We’ve happily let you use the money all year, but it’s ours. “We’re broke, busted, agents can’t be trusted.” (a little IRS humor). So send it back. Pretty please. Zip after 8 weeks, nada after 10. We called the toll free number, waiting hours just to hear there was nothing for John and Denise coming our way. They had received no tax filing from us. So we called the tax man. I don’t know if it was H or R, but his last name was definitely Block. They’d look into it and find out what was going on.
After a sleepless week (multiple bill collectors were calling us daily). Some nights after supper I would not answer the phone. There was no such thing as caller ID, no answering machines. Just pissed off worker bees hired to harass people who owed their company money. Namely us. The pain was palpable and excruciating. It’s our freaking money, why have you got in it for us? We’re just a broke young family trying to pay off our stinking bills. Which we could do if you’d send us our own money back. Maybe we really should look at changing our deductions. But then there would never be this big boost to our economy every spring. To spare us from bankruptcy another year. Yes, it was a dilemma.
|Newborn Joshua, New Vienna, Iowa, 1975…|
Houston, we have a problem. One of the tax workers (neither H or R would take responsibility) who had the mundane chore of filling out our paperwork by hand, inadvertently put a Z instead of a V at the beginning of our last name. (Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Nobody knows our sorrow). John had to fill out an affidavit proving his name was Van Berkum instead of Zan Berkum. It had to be notarized, mailed with exceeding speed because the IRS really cared what happened to us (ha-ha, I jest). While we waited. And waited. Took about 6 months to get our refund. Yikes, it was almost time to file again. Holy cripes. The only thing not repossessed during this lengthy timeframe was Shannon. This may be a slight exaggeration.
|Through it all, we’ve made it work, 1977…|
Although I’ve never felt the rush drug addicts claim come from a snort of coke, the euphoria experienced when that refund check was sitting in our mailbox has not often been duplicated. Oh good heavens, we were rich. Beyond our wildest dreams. Or to the tune of a couple hundred bucks. Just enough to keep the jackals at bay. For now.
It didn’t take us very long before we figured out the IRS sent out massive refund mailings on certain days back in the 1970’s when we lived in Iowa. If you did not get your federal refund on a Saturday or Monday, you were screwed for the whole week. The refund checks arrived only on those 2 days. Now state refunds were another matter. But Iowa’s refund never amounted to much for us, so there wasn’t a lot of excitement surrounding its arrival. Ho-hum.
|Daddy and his boys in 1979…|
I think our bank was Toy National in Sioux City back then. Giddy, like we were high on something, we’d drive to the bank to cash that whopper of a check. If the check arrived too late on a Saturday, the bank was already closed, then we had to wait until Monday to cash it. A whole weekend filled with dreams and schemes of what could be done with that money under different circumstances. When we finally made it to the bank and cashed that check, there might have been a couple twenty’s but mostly five and ten dollar bills. John would fold the stack in half and stuff them in one of his back pockets of his pants. For the time being, he was about 3 inches taller in the car seat on one side. What a feeling! Sitting in our expensive Mustang (the lemon). We’d just drive around downtown for awhile acting like crazy people. Talk and argue how much we could afford (zilch) to squander before heading back to the bank to deposit the rest, which was never, ever enough. But it was more than enough to pay off that dang Canadian trip, if it was the only outstanding bill we had. Ha. One of 20. So divide and conquer. Pay a little to this bad guy, and a little to that one.
|The most decrepit house in Worthington Iowa, 1976…|
I’d like to say every penny of every refund went to pay our long overdue bills. But that would be a lie. We always spent a portion on ourselves. Yup, just blew through a portion of the money. One year it was a trip to Omaha. Umm, that was maybe 90 miles away. We had supper at a fancy steak house called Ross’ then we bought a deep fat fryer. What? Like we really needed that. So began our love affair with real French fries cut from fresh potatoes. Needed to buy something for Shannon, who was about 14 months old. We got her a red corduroy one piece outfit. It had an enormous zipper down the front, and snaps along the inside of her legs so I could easily change her diaper. Now why on earth would I remember something like that? Because the first time I put the outfit on Shannon, while I was zipping it up, she put her head down to look at her pretty new clothes, and I got her tender skin caught in the zipper by her neckline. She cried so hard, but not as hard as I did. That’s why I remember that outfit in great detail. Total wad blown was about 30 bucks, more than 10% of our precious refund. We were so young and dumb.
|Right before we moved to Michigan, 1986…|
This yearly high and low of tax refunds and the length of time endured while we waited lasted half way through the 80’s. Until we moved to Michigan and started making better than decent money in the auto industry. Suddenly, we weren’t cursing when every interest statement, every W-2 form hadn’t arrived by mid January, so we could get filed and start that painful waiting game. Meh, it’s mid-March, time to file again.
So when John said, “want anything special,” as he sprinted (more Hubs humor, he no longer sprints) out for the mail, I said right back, “Yes, I’ll take 2 handwritten letters from dear old friends and our huge federal refund we’ve been anxiously waiting for,” because my mind immediately zoomed back to those early spring weekends during the ‘70’s (as we were wringing our hands and gnashing our teeth). Waiting for the mailman, who walked our route. Praying the Good Lord had encouraged the IRS to be mindful of how hurting this young couple was. Up to week 10 and still counting the days. We continued waiting and waiting…
|A better life-Hubs & me in our hot tub, 1992…|