It was the fall of 1970, and we just celebrated our first anniversary. We were broke, deep in debt, and expecting our first child. Sigh. We’ve all been there, right? Some of us just dumber & broker than others.
The nomad clan of 2 (plus 1 expected soon) were on the move. Just a few miles outside of Sioux City. A small burg called Hinton. The little rental house was about 20 feet from Highway 75. Rent was half the cost of our adorable duplex but about the same size when we were needing more room. Remember the dumber part here folks. And when I say ‘little’ rental, I really mean it. This house might have been the original blueprint for tiny homes. Three rooms. 3. Maybe 600 square feet. A small kitchen with a tiny bathroom off of it. A good sized living room, thank goodness, it had to be. It was part living room with our early American couch, chair and gigantic 13 inch color TV. Part dining room with our early American 48” round maple table and 4 chairs. Plus part nursery with our garage sale bargain, 5 dollar, lemon yellow, lead based painted crib with 6 slats per side. Awaiting the birth of our yet to be determined baby boy or girl. The only bedroom barely held our early American queen size maple bed and one dresser. The bed was shoved tight against the wall so we could walk sideways to our tiny closet. The double dresser wouldn’t fit, thus it also resided in the living, family, dining, nursery room multiplex.
One would assume living within 20 feet of Highway 75 might be bothersome. Au contraire. The rumbling tires beneath fully loaded semi’s weighed down with cattle, hogs, or sheep headed to the Sioux City Stockyards had a natural numbing hum. Highway 75 traffic was a nice distraction that could lull you to sleep. The local cops were diligent about handing out tickets for those who chose to drive through our sleepy burg above the 35 mph speed limit. Heck, it was the way Hinton was financed.
It was just a titch east of Highway 75 that drove us to drink. Railroad tracks. Such a picturesque setting looking out our front door. Constantly moving railroad cars. The trains literally shook our house. The glass in the windows rattled. The floors vibrated. Day and night. Located directly behind the train tracks were (still are) massive silos. Sometimes the trains unloaded grain into the silos, other times the silos were emptied into rail cars.
That tiny house would forever remain a special place in our hearts because we brought Shannon Marie home from the hospital. She was born in early December. I remember this more clearly than I can recall yesterday. She was reclining in a cheap plastic seat on the hardwood floor looking cross-eyed at the lights on our crooked, nearly ornament-free tree.
Something relatively new on TV, geared towards young children was all the rage. A program called Sesame Street. Maybe not as as young as 2 months but Shannon was incredibly bright and I couldn’t risk her missing out. ‘Bob’ from Sesame Street was teaching a lesson on opposites. Shannon was paying close attention. Bob ran towards the camera filming him and when he was very close said, “near.” Then he ran 20 feet away from the camera, tuned around and said, “far.” Shannon got it.
Our landlord’s name was Louie, but dick would have been more appropriate. He was not nice but greedy and mean. The only decent thing he ever did was waltz over one day to announce he had another rental in town with 2 bedrooms if we were interested. Same rent per month. This was very good news. About 2 blocks off Highway 75 in more of a neighborhood setting. Huge yard with a garage. Little bit run down but Louie was willing to knock off some rent, buy materials to fix a couple things if John was willing to do the labor. Always handy, Hubs happily agreed to make the house a better place.
Wow, a 5 room house. Kitchen, dining, living room and 2 bedrooms. John laid cheap harvest gold linoleum squares in the kitchen and bath. Painted the cupboards white which helped a lot. Only downside of the house-no furnace. An oil stove/heater sat in the corner of the dining room. Even though the house was small, 900 square feet-tops, the farther away you were from the oil burner, the colder you felt. Fuel oil was expensive and we lacked the money to buy it sometimes. The oil company insisted on cash for fuel oil which was almost impossible for this destitute family of 3. When the oil tank was bordering empty, Shannon and I would go stay with Mom & Dad in Rock Valley until payday. Poor John spent much of the winter, alone, hunkered under every blanket because we had no heat.
We had some great neighbors when we lived in our furnace-less house. An older couple, Clarence & Ida (probably in their late 50’s, both were still working) were as friendly and devoted to us as their scary-ass-mean-smart-manipulative-demonic-barking-biting-bastard-Chihuahua dog allowed. Ginger, all whopping 10 pounds (although that’s what the real scale read, Ginger knew in her heart she tipped the scales well over 125 pounds and wasn’t afraid to throw her weight around when and where needed). And lest I forget to mention, Ginger sported some nasty habits.
- She smoked. (I shit you not. Clarence and Ida had built her a throne which allowed Ginger to be near the top of their antique oak table. They would put a lit cigarette in the side of Ginger’s mouth. Ginger played her part to perfection. She would tilt her head up and a bit sideways and squint her eyes like Tony Soprano. She ran that mafia.
- Ginger drank coffee. A lot of coffee. From a dainty cup sitting in a matching saucer. And you best add the right amounts of cream and sugar if you valued either of your hands. Or face.
- Ginger was the Queen. To be adored, spoiled, coddled and pampered. If you think a beautiful, smart, adorable 7 month old baby girl could compete easily or knock Ginger off her throne, you were in for a world of hurt. We kept Shannon far away from Ginger. There was never any doubt who was in charge of that household. Ever. We signed the appropriate paperwork Ginger handed to us the day we moved in. Deep in her black, pinky nail sized heart, Ginger was threatened by this small, cooing, winsome creature her slaves now fawned over occasionally. That simply would not do. Ginger let us know the roles and rules we would play (or pay dearly) when in her realm. Period.
Clarence and Ida were a dear couple we thoroughly enjoyed but there never was a moment when we weren’t on guard when the Queen was among us. Her castle, her rules.
Keith and Patty lived in back and off to the side of us. They were a little older than us and had 2 kids who rivaled Ginger in their charming personalities. Geez, was it the water or the entire neighborhood just odd? Threatened by our darling, precocious infant daughter. Patty had a beauty shop in her house, plus about 4 other part time jobs. Keith worked second shift at Sioux Tools and didn’t like to work. At all. Since Hubs worked nights at Channel 4, they became pretty good friends (when Keith wasn’t trying to kill John), doing stuff at midnight when they got home.
About the night I almost lost my husband of less than 3 years. Keith wanted to go raccoon hunting after work-in the dark-using a spotlight. Hubs was game (a stab at hunting humor). Keith was driving a 1968 Chevy. After prowling around for a couple hours west of Hinton and doing some shooting they were ready to call it a night. Keith walked to the driver’s door and handed John his .243 rifle through the window. When John grabbed the gun, Keith was supposed to take his finger off the trigger-but did not. Resulting in a bullet going through the floorboard, the clutch and bell housing. But not through Hubs though he was deaf for several days. Turned out to be quite an expensive car night for the dumb ass. Keith, not deaf for a few days Hubs.
Most of the time John and Keith went fishing at the river after work. Hubs always brought a couple of beers, but Keith never drank a beer-he was a Methodist after all. One rare date night John and I were doubling with another couple, (cannot remember who was with us). After supper at Anna Mae’s Townhouse, (best lasagna and French onion soup) as a joke, I was giving Hubs a hard time about going to Joe’s Cocktail Lounge (a strip club). The guys finally relented and we stopped for a nightcap. (The gals did not take off everything, they just seemed to have a lot of layers on to slowly remove). We were waiting for our drinks and I was gawking all over when who do you think I spotted? Keith-alone in a corner booth, nursing a beer. I poke Hubs and subtlety pointed out our teetotaler, sharp shooting, beer drinking neighbor, feasting his eyes on the cast of strippers. John quietly slinks away from our table, heads to the bar, orders another Hamm’s Beer (from the land of Sky Blue Wa-ters) and slides right next to Keith, not allowing him an escape route. Gives him a HUGE ration of shit, starting with “Hi Keith, where’s Patty?” “Umm, she’s in Winnebago visiting her folks. You aren’t going to tell her are you?” Of course John never would, but their relationship was never quite the same. Keith was forever worried that Patty would learn about his unforgivable deadly sin.
One day, out of the blue, Louie (the dick) stopped by to let us know he had sold our rental and we had 30 days to vacate the premises. Well shit. Managed to find a house requiring a minimal down payment and bought our first home in Sioux City. Not very far from our little duplex in Leeds where we began married life. The house was huge, needed lots of work and paint plus the yard was a hopeless mess-but for a couple of years it was our wonderful home. Guess I have to thank Louie (the dick) for that little push…