49 & Counting…

After you’ve said your ‘I do’s,’ there might be a gauzy wisp of a vision of growing old together. But you never actually realize what your life will be like after 49 years. Together. Still with the same person. Who knows you better than anyone else. And has hung around through thick and thin. In it for the long haul. We’ve got fortitude and endurance.

Didn’t spend big bucks on elopement wedding pics. Olan Mills special, 1969…

The first couple of decades are normally dedicated solely for the parenthood section of marriage. Trying to raise your incredible creations. Only for a limited time. Just as amazingly, this offer is only for the two of you. These 3 children, available exclusively for John and Denise. Think about that for a minute. There would be no Shannon, Joshua or Adam (or subsequently our 4 amazing grandchildren plus our picture perfect great-granddaughter) had it not been for the elopement of John and Denise. Forty-nine years ago today in Elk Point, South Dakota. Took all of 4 minutes and we were hitched. Joined as one. My how He has blessed this union. Thanks God.

Our party of 5. Joshua 7, Hubs 34, Shannon 11, me 31, Adam 3, 1982…

We talked about it occasionally, but you really don’t ‘see’ yourselves literally growing old together. One of my friends refers to this part of their lives as ‘the 4th quarter, extra innings, or overtime. With the divorce rate still hovering around the 50% mark, it’s great to see silver, golden or beyond anniversary notices popping up. We have become a throw away nation, choosing frequently to toss relationships away as easily as our trash. Rather than stick together, try harder or repurpose.

Yikes, prom 1966…

I’ve always admired single parents. Holding down 2 jobs or more, trying hard to be mom and dad to the children you want so badly to grow up as responsible, kind, productive, hardworking, sincere adults. I don’t think I had the ‘right stuff’ to be a successful single parent. I thought child rearing was hard enough with 2 loving parents in the game. Glad I’ll never have to find out what I’m made of in a single parent home.

Worthington Iowa, with Joshua 1976…

John and I both have some quirks, most barely noticeable after nearly 5 decades together. One of his is, he likes to read the paper. To me. Drives me insane. Why? Because I love reading the newspaper. By myself. Especially a real one. Crinkly, it has its own smell and feel. Fits in my hands. Only happens 3 times a week. The Rock Valley Bee, Thursday and Sunday’s Jackson Citizen Patriot. Every other paper I have to read on my iPad. Ick. Still hate that. There is something special, sacred about sitting down with the daily newspaper. Now the Sunday paper is a fraction the size it was 10 years ago. Hubs, no need to read to me just yet. My ears are faulty, due for a recall, not my eyes.

Too cool for captions…

Our life together is one big ritual. We each have assigned tasks, most of which were never really assigned, just assumed. I’m the better cook, driver of cars and washer of clothing. He can fix anything, does the mowing, snow removal, and fertilizing. I weed my awesome pachysandra bed of ground cover and trim our new landscaping. He handles all grilling, or smoking of pork butts and ribs. He has just started to help me some when I’m canning. He vacuums 95% of the time, I do dishes about the same percentage. I hate sweeping floors. Wish he loved to sweep, but he does not. Dang it.

Both captivated by someone at Les & Mary Jane’s house, early 2000’s…

Is there a certain weird habit/ritual you’ve done for decades in your marriage, yet are reluctant to acknowledge? Or maybe you’re not even aware of its existence? We have one. I doubt John has ever realized it’s what we both do. I would dare bet, he’s never given one single thought there’s a quirk we share. A constant we never change, without thinking about it.

Grandparents day at Landon & Peyton’s school, 2009…

We’re both fond of popcorn at night when we’re watching TV. However, John’s popcorn tastes better than mine. (I think he uses more butter). Yet he thinks I make better popcorn. (I use less salt, so he actually tastes the popcorn). What this really means, while both of us want popcorn, neither of us want to get up and make it. Which takes about 5-7 minutes. No microwave popcorn in this house. Beyond gross. Yellow Jolly Time kernels live here. In bulk. Along with real butter. I believe we are on our 4th Stir Crazy Corn Popper. I know, crazy, right?

Visiting the Falls in Sioux Falls…

The Stir Crazy has a wide base which heats up to achieve the same temperature as Hell. A clear plastic dome sits on top of the base where all the delicious kernels end after they’ve popped from hell’s extreme heat. The dome holds enough popcorn to feed a packed theatre of starving teens, showing a first run horror movie. Or just enough for John and Denise. But here’s the conundrum. While we both like popcorn (who am I kidding? It’s one of my favorite foods, along with fresh tomatoes and cotton candy) while Hubs just likes popcorn. And we like it different. I don’t want much salt, but plenty of butter. He likes lots of salt and lots of butter. Thus after the corn is popped, half of it has to be put in another container, before the condiments are added. Which has always been an old Tupperware bowl. OK, here’s the quirk. Whoever makes the popcorn gets the Stir Crazy Dome. Unwritten law since the beginning of time, roughly September 22, 1969. The remaining lazy ass, reclining in the family room, waiting impatiently for the maker of popcorn to add melted butter, salt, unscrew my lid of Diet Pepsi, hand me 2 paper towels, gets the old Tupperware bowl. EVERY. TIME. The holier than thou person, maker of night time popcorn always gets the dome. Always. How did this even make it into our marriage rules? Don’t know, but yet it remains. In between ‘Denise will be too lenient with the kids, John a bit too strict.’ Just above, ‘do not flap the covers after you fart?’

Hitting our stride in year 15 or so…

These rules/family values/even our quirks have been in existence to help this marriage thrive and survive for the last half century. We’re not about to change what works for us. I’m sure every couple has their own serious and whimsical set of ideals on how to coexist with another person for 49 years. They might be etched in stone, or loosely tossed around during margarita Monday’s. Whatever works-to make it to 50…

The maker of popcorn always get the best bowl. Crazy, I know…

To the one who does nothing, the old Tupperware bowl is sufficient…

Kent=lame excuse for a humanoid…

I’ve not had many bosses during my life because I haven’t work outside the home very long. Some bosses were terrific, some terrible, and others somewhere in between. I blogged about my favorite boss a couple years ago. His name was Mark and he was 3 notches above terrific. He owned several McDonald’s restaurants. I never witnessed him being unfair to an employee. He treated everyone with respect and always went out of his way to be approachable and kind. The world needs more Marks spread around the business world.

The best boss-ever. RIP Mark…

We took a quickie trip to Iowa late this spring. Shannon’s been wanting to go and had a few days off. Next year is my 50th class reunion (yikes) so we’ll be staying for several days, thus no guilt about a shorter jaunt this year. We probably over stay our welcome most years anyway.

Peyton tagged along which was a trip in itself. She got acquainted with cousins she rarely gets to see. Plus she learned how to drive a golf cart, tooling around the tiny village of Langdon like she owned the block, (silly girl, everyone knows that honor belongs to John’s nephew, Ken. And yes, Langdon’s only about a block long and wide). Learning to drive anything, that fabulous new-found freedom feeling might have been the highlight for her, minus the time she drove smack dab into the tree in front of all of us. 

Peyton & Shannon…

We squeezed in most of the important things on our ‘to do’ list. I know it might appear that visiting relatives came in dead last after prioritizing everything else from Wells Blue Bunny Cherry Nut Ice Cream (everyday) to picking up a couple pounds of dried beef and 8 old fashioned ring bologna’s in Orange City, then continuing with Almond Patties from Casey’s in Sioux Center. Lastly heading further south to Scheels in Sioux City for some Iowa gear (go Hawks).

Love my new Iowa shirt…

Yet we did manage to visit much of the time. Quiet early morning chats or late night talks with Hubs sister Elly, his nephew Ken’s family, including their grown children and John’s 2 brothers, Les and Jim and some of their families. A large, boisterous group met us at Les & Mary Jane’s early Saturday afternoon, (cousins swim time) then ate at Archie’s in Le Mars for supper, then went back to Les & Mary Jane’s after we got the boot from Archie’s (kidding, we were all pretty well behaved). 

Just like Hubs & I ate when we were kids. Red ring bologna, mashed potatoes, sauerkraut. Sorry about the drool…

We spent a fair amount of time with our nephew Andy, treating him to ice cream at Wells and lunch at Bob’s Drive Inn. Bob’s, one of the few places which advertises Taverns on the menu. The Taverns are not like the recipe I make however. Good, but not the same, more like a Maid Rite. Andy had just moved back to Le Mars after a stint in New Mexico. It was great to see him and we enjoyed our time with him a lot. Love you Andy. 

Shannon, Andy (1st cousins) and me after Wells ice cream…

On Sunday morning we met for breakfast in Le Mars. A place on Highway 75, which was packed and busy. Like many small town’s eateries, a few strangers and passers-by, but mostly the same weekend crowd. Families meeting on Sunday after church, a couple big tables sporting same age young families with small children, where high chairs, Cheerios and sippy cups abound. All one-upping each other on the prowess of their own amazing offspring. 

Cousins, Peyton, Marissa and Miranda by the iconic Wells ice cream dish…

We were a party of six (Les, Jane, Shannon, Peyton, Hubs and yours truly) and were shown a table far from the front entrance, which was ok with me. I was hoping for less noise. I always sit with the wall on my left side. (My left is my lesser hearing ear) so found myself facing one more row of small tables against the restaurant’s back wall. The back wall was partly covered with paneling, a chair rail and paint. My eyes were immediately drawn to 3 small crudely made signs taped just above the chair rail. 

Are you kidding me? In full view of several tables of customers. Dipstick…

Oh my stars! Who is this asshole named Kent? Doesn’t he realize actual paying customers are privy to his immature rantings plastered for everyone to see all over the wall? How can anyone work for such a douche? And why would they? I forced my eyes away and looked at some of the help scurrying about. Nope, they were neat, hardworking, and appeared to be busting their hump trying to serve good old Kent’s customers great service and hot food. Wow. The pay must be fabulous. If I saw a negative, derogatory sign like this where I work, I’d be sorely tempted to paste old Kent right in the kisser. 

Not a lot better, but at least a polite ‘thanks’ appeared…

What contributes to the making of a good boss? How can one be the best guy in the world while another is just a plain dick about stuff? (I first named this blog post-Kent, the dick… Then decided that was as insult to my good buddy Dick B, the car guy, so had to come up with some other title without the word dick in it. Does not have the same ring though. I really, really liked Kent-the dick. It just fit). Communication skills are a must when one is a boss. Well, Kent does communicate, I’ll give him that. But not in a positive manner. He’s rude, crude, and condescending. Yikes, not too many complimentary terms of endearment here for Kent-the jerk. Well, what’s good for the goose, is good for the gander. With 3 small signs, Kent managed to place an inexpensive piece of inanimate equipment far above the feelings of his employees, (and in a way, his reading customers). Well done dick-um-I mean Kent. Mission accomplished…

Yes, he really says, “if I see you being disrespectable you will buy it” Kent…

Where were you…

It was one of those beautiful, late summer days when I was healthy and happy. We were living in North Muskegon, on Muskegon Lake, at the bottom of a hill. I didn’t particularly enjoy living at the bottom of the hill because this narrow strip of land was only a couple blocks long and wide. Everything in the world except Muskegon Lake existed-on the top of the hill. And it was pretty steep to get to the top. 

My favorite color combination…

I’d been walking every day for about 3 years. Meaning if I wanted to walk farther than 2 blocks, I had to trek to the top of the hill. After 3 years it was no big deal, but those first 6 months took everything I had just to huff and puff my way to the top of that little hill. What made this sweat inducing jaunt worthwhile wasn’t really at the top of the hill either. It was literally the ‘hiking to the top’ part. North Muskegon has more that their fair share of trees, like the rest of our forest infused state. The tree trimming code in Michigan states as follows: don’t trim anything-ever. Not even a twig. Let nature (wind gusts of more than 50 mph) do it for you. Free. I’m from Iowa and expect to be able to look west and see straight through South Dakota. We have near forest conditions everywhere I look, except when I’m at Lake Michigan.

Except, in the instance of this dang hill in North Muskegon. There were no sidewalks below the hill, so walking up or down is done on the road. Many mornings as you’re walking up, just when the altitude makes you short of breath (kidding, that was caused by rolls of fat, not altitude), this was the most picturesque scene. My breath literally caught every morning and not because of my slow/slug/slothness. The top of the hill was one huge wall of very dense green tree foliage. Varying shades of green, mostly kelly. Above this dense green wall of trees was the most vivid blue sky. Chicago Cubs Blue. Usually cloud free until noon. There’s always a time limit on sunshine in Michigan. One of the biggest differences between Michigan and Iowa. Iowa has abundant sunshine-winter and summer. Most days are split evenly between baby blue or sullen gray skies, but with just enough gorgeous ones like the Cubs blue sky to keep you walking up the hill everyday. 

God bless America. We will never forget…

I had my cell phone, but it was still more of a novelty and I hadn’t gone through the process of having it permanently attached to my body like a tattoo just yet. That would come soon enough when Mom and Dad started their decline, and an emergency phone call was no longer a rare occurrence. I was in my own little world. Listening to some funky music compilation from Joshua, my tech wizard kid. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Beatles, CCR, Pointer Sisters, but I had walked to the same music for 3 years! He changed all that for me.

My plan that beautiful day was to put on my Parish Visitor hat, so I was trudging up the hill by 7 and home again by 8:30. Cool down, eat some toast, shower and be on my way. The older folks I visited don’t get moving too early in the day, thus I was in no rush. Done with my walk, but still appreciating the hill scene with those stunning contrasting colors. I felt really good. 

The skyline before…

I’ve never been one to watch TV, especially during the day, so I was just ready to head upstairs when Hubs called me from work. It was right before 9. “Turn on the TV, a plane just crashed into one of the Twin Towers. How could they get so far off course?” I sat down at the kitchen table, clicked on the news and watched, horrified as the second plane crashed. Dumbfounded, it just seemed surreal. Mesmerized, I wanted to stop watching before I got sick, but was unable to pull my eyes from the TV. Or stop crying. OK, there’s definitely a loss of life through a few floors, but I honestly felt this was as bad as it was gonna get. Then John called back. “I think the whole building might come down!” I couldn’t come to terms with that. “I don’t think so, the damage looks to be on a few floors.” “Denise, do you know how hot jet fuel burns? It’s gonna melt the steel holding that building up.” The engineer was right.

Horrifying, 9-11-2001…

This still was not the worst. The news started covering the Pentagon crash, then the Pennsylvania crash. Thousands of people running away from the Towers, (as the first responders still continued to run into the buildings) covered with blood, ash in the smoke filled streets. But I will never forget watching in horror as people on the top floors-started jumping. Quite honestly, I could not believe what I was seeing. My mind simply couldn’t comprehend or refuse to accept this was their decision. At first I thought, why are they throwing stuff out the window? Just head down the stairs, you’re wasting valuable time. But they knew they weren’t going to make it out. As a psychologist would explain a few hours later, “this was the last decision these people could make on their own terms. Would you rather have fire and smoke consume you, or come to terms with your own impending death and decide how to end your life?” What an awful tragedy for America. Unbelievable how much some people, cultures, and religions hate us. I always thought we were the good guys and the world loved us. We help everyone. Naive Neese. More countries hate us than love us. Sad. 

There are no words…

Two things stand out in the days that followed. First thing happened the very next day, Wednesday the 12th. All the local churches were opening their doors for anyone to pray. For the victims, our country. Seeking solace through God. I drove to the closest church, got out of the car the same time as the pastor. I said something about needing some quiet time with God because I couldn’t understand or accept. He said, “this is our fault. America asked for this because we didn’t side with Palestine.” To me, this was as unbelievable as the folks I watched jump to their death the day before. And so began my disdain for organized religion.

Second thing happened a few days later. Muskegon had just built a beautiful mall about 10 miles away. I thought I was ready. Hopped on 31 south, got off on the exit and down a couple blocks to the stoplight. There was a Perkins Restaurant at the stoplight across from the mall. In Perkins parking lot was a humongous American flag, rippling in the breeze. Still flying at half mast. I couldn’t pull my eyes from that beautiful flag, commemorating all those lives lost. And here I was, trying to get on with my life. Pulled into the parking lot sobbing, turned around and drove home. Filled with guilt for wanting my regular life back when I hadn’t lost anything but my insensitive naiveté. No, I was not ready. I’ll never forget… 

We all remember…

The Empathy App…

Change is inevitable. Virtually impossible to cruise through life and not be affected by what happens to us, around us, or to those we love. How we respond to the good, the bad and ugly in life can help or hinder who we eventually become. Still, the older I get, the more I resist change. I tend to like things the way they are or used to be. 

3 year old Neese, busy making mud pies…

Even after I hit 40, I never gave a passing thought about the actual physical changes my body would experience as I aged. I watched my parents age, but their physical limitations never smacked me upside the head. Wearing blinders to avoid the inevitable. When I style my wet hair (using the word ‘style’ loosely as I really don’t have a style) my raised arm resembles a flag waving gently in the breeze. Or that my right hand would turn into some kind of gargoyle since the first of 2018. Stop growing extra bone, hand. Just stop. My younger Neese never realized age spots, wrinkly skin, and thinning gray hair (yeah, unable to face that one yet) would make an entrance and stay (uninvited) forever. While these minor changes are unsightly, even more disconcerting are actual changes which test my perseverance. My muscles are weaker, my vision’s fuzzy, my wrists, knees and shoulders snap, crackle and pop with any movement. And I certainly didn’t realize most of my hearing would disappear, only to be left with more noise than when I could hear. 

Graduation with Joshua, my early 40’s, no glasses or hearing aid-yet…

I wasn’t always like this. I remember how I used to be. Not trying to recapture my youth, I’m happy where I’m at. It’s only been 2 decades since I’ve become an introvert. No denying how drastic that change feels at times. When I remember the young Neese, I recall being quite social. Never the ‘belle of the ball’ but occasionally quick witted, rather outgoing, certainly outspoken, sometimes kinda funny, often smug and always sarcastic (ok, tiny pieces of old Neese remain-my sarcasm button is in relatively good shape and still under warranty) who wasn’t afraid of being front and center to get attention or a laugh. I was rarely subdued. Or quiet.

Never coy about being front and center then…

Maybe my slow conversion to aloneness started much earlier. Perhaps being a stay at a home mom (which I wouldn’t trade) for 20 years, (without a car) changed me. Lived in a variety of small towns, rarely staying long enough to get established. Spent everyday-all day with my kids. Since I’ve been such an advocate on spacing children (I’m a firm believer in spacing children at least 3 years apart. Goodness you already have a baby/toddler who’s now learning to walk, talk, pick out weird outfits, use the potty and move to a big bed. Why would you want to set him back a year by bringing another baby into his world)? However, maybe this is the single disadvantage of spacing. Geez, I had a baby/toddler/preschooler in our house for 15 years. Just get one kid ready for kindergarten and pop out another newborn. No, I wouldn’t change that either, though I strongly believe being alone all those years may have stymied my social skills. 

This is a spaced family, Shannon 10, Joshua 4-1/2, Adam 3 months, 1979…

No, I began morphing into a loner soon after I started losing my hearing. At least with me, my hearing loss and isolation went hand in hand. Firmly entrenched. The more hearing I lose, the smaller my world becomes. The isolation part is sneaky, subtle and somewhat depressing. It took me years to realize I was now a whole new Neese. Forever different. Not looking for pity. Compared to every other disease or chronic illness, my profound hearing loss doesn’t register a blip on the radar screen. Plus, look at all the folks my age or younger who are no longer with us. Kids (like my brother Larry) who never got the chance to grow up. Young people robbed of discovering true love or the incredible joy of a newborn baby. Nope, my hearing loss is nothing but a major annoyance in my life. A royal pain in the ass. Nothing more. 

This hearing aid is 8 years old. Time to replace, hoping for new technology…

One thing I believe is sorely lacking in the world today is empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s how we understand what others are experiencing-as if we were feeling it ourselves. Wow. Not sympathy, which is feeling sorrow for the hardships someone is going through. Wouldn’t an empathy app make lives better? It would be a roller coaster ride for sure. Emotionally draining, leaving us physically exhausted. So we’ll fix that part by limiting the length of our empathy app to 30 seconds. The knowledge of what others are feeling would linger indefinitely. But my amped empathy app would go one step further. For a few seconds we would literally ‘feel’ what they feel. Physically. 

Wouldn’t this be a godsend when you’ve got appointment with your doctor? “Doc, I hurt my leg 2 weeks ago. This is what I feel with every step.” Or, “I’ve been feeling this unbelievable fatigue for months. It takes everything I have just to get out of bed.”  Doc would literally experience a torn muscle or fibromyalgia coursing through his body. Might help with diagnosing and decisions for treatment and medications. Empathy-the app everyone needs.

Not me, but pretty much my life, yakking on the phone-before deafness…

While I wouldn’t wish my deafness on anyone, I’d like everyone to experience 30 seconds inside my head. Now that’s a scary thought isn’t it? Not the what I’m thinking part of my head, geez you guys are friends. Friends don’t do that to friends. Just briefly visit the noise department on the 5th floor. That’s all. I guarantee you would not go crazy because of time limits. You’ve all watched an old movie where an alien takeover forces everyone to fall to the ground while grabbing their head and covering their ears to help block out the screeching/sonic boom/loud sirens. That’s me. Deaf, but noise filled. This is my world. Welcome to it. 

Niagara Falls. Rushing water sounds fill my head even when I’m not there, too bad…

Little did I know, losing my ability to hear birds sing, crickets chirping and “listen to the rhythm of falling rain, telling me just what a fool I’ve been” would not make my world silent. I got the exact opposite. How is that even possible? When one goes deaf, shouldn’t the silence be deafening? Au contraire. I’ve got more noise in my head than U of M’s Big House-on game day vs. Ohio State. Filled with 100,000 rabid fans sporting maize & blue and scarlet & gray. Ugh. Nasty teams.

This is what TV looked like on every (3) station after midnight…

I can’t determine what you’re saying because of all the noise in my head. Reading your lips works, but I’m still a rookie. And it only works if you’re facing me. This major grievance began the same time I started losing my hearing in my left ear. Subtle and sneaky. The noise is similar to an old time TV station that went off the air. There was this circle sign with an Indian that came on TV when that particular network was done programming for the day, usually midnight. I called it snow. Kind of a loud, static noise. Which now rested comfortably on the top left side of my head. This was still OK because the hearing in my right ear was phenomenal. As long as I could keep this 20 mile an hour wind gust sound/static/snow/water waves on just one side of my head, I was good. 

Niagara Falls Rapids are one of my favorites-except I hear them constantly…

A couple years later the hearing in my right ear started going. Oh hell’s bells. Soon I had dueling banjos in my head. A wind tunnel/waves of water on one side and a revved up chain saw on the other. Awake and trying to function like a normal human during the day seemed to keep the noise decibels within the ‘I’m still sane on the range.’ But oh boy, watch out for nighttime. I was done working, done thinking, bone weary and sleepy. Until my head hit the pillow. 

The more quiet the room, the louder the noise. The noise is actually my brain trying to help me for the sounds my ears no longer hear or recognize. So this wacko brain of mine makes its own noise. Thanks. Loads. Which at times has come temptingly close to driving me over the edge. Because there are no distractions at night, only your thoughts. White noise (fan) helped for a few years when something odd occurred to me. I could no longer hear if the fan was on or off, so that strategy no longer helped keep the monster noises at bay. The irony is Hubs can no longer fall asleep without the fan. Ha-ha, it’s just a laugh a minute here. 

I begged my ENT, (ear, nose, throat doc) if he could eliminate the 24/7 noise in my head? Surgery, cut the nerve or something? Anything? Please, I’m begging you here. No can do, my deaf patient. The noise is constant, though not always the same sounds, loudness or frequency. Varies at times from a dentist drill, to an engine whine, but usually sticks with a noisy gust of wind/water. If I were using my 30 second time limit empathy app, my ENT could accompany me with the duo noise blast inside my head. Hopefully finding a solution to why this deaf person still hears way too much-but not much of substance or value…

Riding the Clutch…

I don’t know if Iowa laws still remain the same as they did back in the Stone Age when I was a teen. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m not remembering right. I believe when you turned 14, you could get a learner’s permit. In the Gerritson abode it meant this: Mom and Dad were supposed to tag-team teach their youngest child-me how to drive a car. So with about a year to go before I took Driver’s Training I could become an accomplished driver. Right.

Yup, this Rock Valley Rocket booster was claiming all roads her territory now…

Unlike the majority of families in the mid-60’s, my parents drove cars with a manual transmission and a clutch. Ugh. It takes some skill and a lot of concentration to learn how to drive a car with a manual transmission. This was done on one of the cheaper varieties from Chevy. I believe it was a maroon 4 door, 1963 Nova. Three speed on the column. For anyone younger than 50, the gear shifter thingy was connected to the right side of the steering wheel. Try to envision that little scenario.

Much like our 63 Chevy when I learned to drive a straight stick…

Neutral was in the middle of this 12 inch span and could be moved a bit towards the dashboard or pulled in towards the driver. Me. Neese was learning to drive. Watch out world. First gear was pulled in and down towards your lap. You wanted to shift to second gear when you were going about 10 mph. Mom was pretty patient. My left foot had the clutch depressed to the floorboard. My right foot was either on the brake (if there was ANY kind of slight in-or decline), otherwise my right foot rested lightly on the accelerator. Not hard enough to race the engine. I was fairly coordinated (helped by the fact though I was not a ‘smokin hot, I was indeed a ‘smokin’ cheerleader, I could do more than walk and chew gum at the same time).

This may look easy, but combined with the clutch, accelerator, brake and parent, it wasn’t

Mom would go over the sequence again and again. Push the clutch in, shift to first gear. NOW, AT THE EXACT SAME TIME, EVER SO SLOWLY, let the clutch out with your left foot as you apply light pressure to the accelerator with your right foot.

If not done with the precision movements of a brain surgeon wielding a scalpel, the car stalls. Shit. Once you hear something being wound too tight, take your foot off the gas with your right foot while depressing (wow, this was actually hard & scary) the clutch to the floor again with your left foot. If that wasn’t confusing enough, your right hand now had to manually move the transmission from first to second gear. Your left hand is steering the car BTW. Move the shifter thingy back up to the loosey-goosey neutral spot, then gently push it a bit towards the dashboard. Then straight up towards the headliner. Ta-da, you’re now in second gear. The clutch should be all the way out and you are still pressing on the accelerator to go faster. One more gear to go. Thank you Jesus. Now you’re up to about 25 mph, Mom’s yelling encouragement or “slow down, hit the brakes, stop, or we’re gonna die,” when it’s that time again. We’re shifting, we’re shifting. Take your foot off the gas, push the clutch all the way in and shift to third. Right hand takes the gear stick and brings it straight down. You’re cruising now baby. And here’s a stop sign. On an incline. Oh boy.

My first car was a green nifty-50 Chevy like this one during the mid 60’s…

Once you’ve mastered starting from a dead stop with a clutch on an incline, your status is forever changed to the ‘pro series driver.’ But as an inexperienced driver, tackling a stick shift from a dead stop-on an incline was enough to break me out in a cold sweat and my mouth was as dry as a popcorn fart. If you don’t give the car enough gas while you slowly let the clutch out, you start rolling backwards. Scary enough, but to be certain you’ve got moxie & mettle, make sure an impatient old Dutch guy is riding your bumper 2 feet behind you while you try these 12 steps at once. If one (grumpy old Dutch guy) is not available, you can get the same hyperventilating effect doing this when the roads are slick. Why, oh why couldn’t one of our cars be an automatic? Was that too much to ask?

The easiest way to make sure you don’t stall the car while stopped on an incline is learning to ‘ride the clutch.’ Not an acceptable option if a parent was with you. This method is rather hard on a clutch for some reason. But it’s what I did many times as a rookie driver. Instead of leaving the clutch depressed to the floorboard while you wait, you let the clutch out-about a 1/3 of the way. If you don’t give the engine some gas at this point you’re gonna stall, and if you use too much gas, you’re gonna start moving. Remember you’re at a stoplight or stop sign so you really shouldn’t run either one. But if you do this just right, your car stays motionless. The clutch is out a bit and just a touch of gas. Sounds as though you’re goading the guy next to you into racing as soon as the light turns green. These learning experiences however were conducted in Rock Valley. We had one stoplight (I was so smitten with Rock Valley’s one stoplight, it’s what I chose when naming my blog) smack dab in the middle of downtown, only one lane each. And it was flat as a pancake, so most of my ‘riding the clutch’ was done from stop signs on an incline or in some other small town where I was just looking for trouble.

I was legally allowed to drive unattended now, hallelujah…

Didn’t take me long to master driving a stick and little did I know it would be about 20 years before I’d buy my first automatic transmission car! Most of my stick shifts though have been on the floor and not the steering wheel. And I very seldom stalled a car. All of our kids learned how to drive a straight stick too. I think every one of their first cars were manuals. Even Ariana, our first grandchild drove a straight stick for several years. Actually great skills for anyone to have.

Mom had some different money ideas. Thought nothing of buying Shannon a fancy wool Sunday coat to be worn one winter when she was little, but would not spend a dollar on a new paring knife. Mom made it abundantly clear early in their marriage she was chairman of several committees which Dad would not get a vote. One area of concern was money. Mom decided where almost every penny went. Dad did have spending money, but Mom doled it out. Bills were paid early and mostly in cash. Tithing to the church wasn’t optional, it was mandatory. No questions or doubt. She was strict in her savings goals. As chairman of the car acquisition committee, her job was to decide what kind of cars they would drive. Mom felt a small engine, 4 good tires, some steel to protect them, a heater and most importantly-the cheaper manual transmission were sufficient to meet the needs of their travels. Period. Once Mom became chairman on these important committees, she was reluctant to give them up. Ever.

Practiced driving on many gravel roads with corn fields on both sides…

By the mid-70’s Mom stopped buying cars that were considered mid-sized. She bought a new Chevette, manual tranny of course, paid cash, drove it for a couple years, then gave it to Dad. And bought another one, different color, for herself. When GM stopped making Chevettes, she was unsure what to do to meet her new car goals. Hubs suggested a Ford Escort, which were relatively new. My parents and John had long been GM consumers, but for the first and only time in her life, she took Hubs advice. (Yes, believe it, there are still miracles). Bought an Escort, loved it, but had to order it because she refused to have or pay for a RADIO. Oh my goodness. Although she would sweat bullets during some brutal Iowa summers, she wouldn’t order a car with air conditioning for several years.

Dad’s sign, trying to get his message to the masses…

Always felt bad for Dad’s sake. After Larry died, Dad became very involved with several different ministries. One was visiting and preaching to inmates in prison, which he would continue to do until a few months before his death at 91. The other was his special sign ministry. Large wooden, hand painted signs he designed (no offense Dad but I’m using the term ‘designed’ loosely). He used old boards he saved from buildings he took down and nail them together. Give the whole thing a coat or 2 of paint. Decide on a catchy or clever saying, like um, “7 Days without Jesus makes one weak,” and just start painting. No lines drawn, he’d just wing it. His apostrophe’s always make me smile when I see pictures of his signs. They looked like where the commas should be, but still in the general apostrophe vicinity. Dad’s signs were meant to catch your eye from highway 18 or 75, so they stood pretty tall in the corn fields. How did he get his signs to their appointed spots? He drove the smallest, cheapest car in America. Dad sure would have loved driving a pickup. But it was not to be.

Looks like this one could have been worded better, but it was definitely Dad…

I think one of Dad’s coworkers helped him with his signs because he had a pickup. After a few years of Iowa’s wicked winters and scorching summers, Dad’s signs would start taking a toll from the weather. He’d fetch the sign, bring it back to the garage, plop it on 2 sawhorses, make any repairs, add a fresh base coat of paint and give it a makeover. He had a small notebook filled with potential sign sayings and was just itching to use a new religious catchphrase that would surely draw the eye of those zipping along the highway. Perhaps forever changing the life (and afterlife) of one weary traveler…