Tater Tots…

Dad passed away just over 10 years ago. Mom’s death was in 2004. Some days it feels like multiple decades have passed, other days it seems like yesterday and I can recall conversations with one or both of them in great detail. At times I swear I can hear the sound of their voices, and see some of Dad’s quirky mannerisms, or Mom’s occasional scrutinizing glance. 

The earliest picture I have of Mom & Dad together, early or mid-1940’s…

They were married 62 years. The sheer length is quite impressive, but if you truly knew my Mom and Dad, you’d be shaking your head in disbelief and wondering how 2 such different people could have possibly stayed together that long. Had to be grace of God. No, that might not be right either. By the time I hit my teens I thought these 2 people would be much happier-apart. Why didn’t they simply just split up? What held them together? 

Dad, tending the garden, late 1950’s…

I blogged about my own marriage awhile back. The many differences between the Hubs and I. Some are silly, like real butter-Diet Pepsi (me) vs. Olivio-Diet Coke (John), some not so funny. I was more lenient with the kids, but maybe to be a halfway successful duo in a  2 parent household, you need one who is more strict than the other.  In most instances though, when really important issues come up, we were on the same page. On many counts, we are quite compatible.

Just the cutest! Mom sunbathing around 1950…

Mom and Dad didn’t share much common ground-down to the foods they preferred. Dad liked his meal separated or compartmentalized. I think this might have to do with their different upbringings. Dad’s family had more mouths to feed and spuds were a great way to stretch a meal, like noodles. My Mom, on the other hand lived with her maternal grandparents after her mom passed soon after she and her twin brother were born. The Wanningen grands were not wealthy but comfortable I think. Not sure if every meal at my Dad’s boyhood home included meat but pretty sure potatoes were a staple. I can remember eating crispy fried potatoes at Grandma Gerritson’s house when Dad and I were visiting a long, long time ago.

Sioux Center Iowa, about 1930. Wanningen grands, Mom and twin brother Floyd…

Anyway, Dad’s preferred meal always included a meat: beef roast, meatloaf, ring bologna, or pork chops. Mashed, baked, fried or boiled potatoes, gravy and a vegetable. He would have been happy every day with a divided plate holding one of these meals. Mom, not so much. I think she could have easily been a vegetarian. And she wasn’t that keen on divided dry little compartment meals. She much preferred casseroles and soups. Tasty broth to compliment soups or a thicker, creamy base holding the meat/potato/veggies together. She, like me had to have something cold to compliment our meal. Usually cranberry sauce, apple sauce, pickled beets, or fresh tomatoes during the summer. Yup, their differences could be summed up between a 3 course dinner plate for Dad, or a casserole/soup for Mom’s supper. Mom certainly cooked both kinds of meals but leaned more to Dad’s choices on meals even though she might have chosen something different. 

Mom in a teaching moment-cleaning light fixture w/Shannon, 1971…

I smile when I think of some of Mom’s soups and casseroles. I still make most of her soups. Chicken (though I’ve been using pearl barley more than rice the last few years) Vegetable Beef, Pea (whole, not split-ever) Bean soups. But Mom had this one hot dish. Her favorite ‘go to’ casserole. Dad and I could smell it as we walked in the house. We didn’t say anything because 90% of the time she catered to what we had requested for supper. But with the regularity of a well oiled clock we could count on this casserole making it to the supper table almost every month. 

Mom, Mona, Ed & Dad, September 1960…

It was called Tater Tot Casserole. Sigh. It’s been blocked from my memory bank for awhile, the same way we tend to delete the negative. Something like this. Ground beef, browned with onion, drained and maybe mixed with Cream of Celery soup. Mom did not like or use Cream of Mushroom, but she might have used Cream of Chicken. This was placed in the bottom of a glass baking dish. A can of drained green beans plopped on top of the ground beef mixture. Then came those rascally tater tots. Each about the size of a walnut in the shell. Frozen, pale, kinda of funny looking. The entire top of the beef/green beans layers was covered with white-frozen-ping-pong-ball-sized-tater-tots. Sigh. In her defense, Mom did make it halfway appealing. Our gas stove temperature had to be set pretty high because when she plucked it from the oven and placed it on her trivet potholder, (thus sparing the table), the-little-stuck-together-rice-size-fake-potato-tidbits were nicely browned. Really, about the only meal Mom made that I didn’t care for. Mom wasn’t a fancy cook but everything she fixed was tasty. But where tater tots (much like McDonald’s frozen hash browns-yuk) were concerned, there’s only so much you can do with that shit. 

Mom & Dad with first grandson, Brian in 1962…

Dad expected supper on the table every night, except Saturday by 5 pm. (We had our big meal at noon on Sunday, so Sabbath suppers were more sandwich type, though none of the Gerritson’s exhibited even the slightest basic knowledge on how to make a good sandwich). Even Dad’s daily lunch pail had only buttered Hillbilly Bread, with one slice of American cheese. Topped with another slice of buttered bread. Never had to worry that Dad would come home with mayo or mustard stains all over his bib overalls. Ha-ha. But supper was to be shared. We prayed, ate, read scripture, prayed again together. 

Mom & Dad visiting us in Jackson about 1990…

After Larry died, Dad became obsessed with helping others/church committees/visiting the sick/preaching the gospel/spreading the word of God. He had places to go every night so an early supper was mandatory. He needed to wash up, eat, change clothes and get out of the house to save some souls. Mom had supper to fix, laundry, ironing, windows to wash, lunches to make, sweaters to knit. And nothing excited her less than going out after she got home from a hard day at work. 

Happier times, a year before we lost Larry, 1957…

I have a difficult time coming up with any compatibility where my folks are concerned. Dad was very social, Mom was an introvert. They weren’t even reading the same book where discipline was concerned when raising us kids. I don’t think Dad was even consulted most of the time. Yet they remained together. I’m sure a big part was the stigma of divorce. Not a popular choice in a rural small Iowa town. Which was predominantly Dutch, a half century ago. Since I was only 7 when we lost my brother Larry, maybe I’m just not aware of how happy Mom and Dad were before his death. I don’t remember them fighting or angry voices very often. Larry’s death took an unbelievable toll on all of us. Perhaps they just accepted and made the necessary adjustments for the enormous fissure that opened between them after he died. Mom and Dad. Different as night and day. From personalities to food preferences. Together, for better or worse 62 years, plus one month-exactly…

A later church photo, maybe early 90’s. Classic Mom and Dad…

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