When one lives in Michigan (long winters-gobs of snow) and the holidays have just peaked for another year, any thoughts of winter travel usually includes heading south or several hundred miles west. This year after Christmas however, we found ourselves packing our warmest winter duds, checking The Weather Channel frequently, and praying for travel mercies in preparation for a seldom winter trip destination to-northwest Iowa!
|One of my favorite pictures of Elly…|
The yearly pilgrimage to Iowa just as winter begins-ended decades ago when our kids were still young. The Hubs and I felt it was time to start our own Christmas family tradition. Instead, we traveled to Iowa during spring break or summer vacation to get together with family. Although I’ve lived in Michigan almost half my life-Iowa will always be my home. You might think just because they’re only a couple states apart the weather/seasons are similar. Heck no. Not even close. Iowa’s summer’s are hotter and more humid. Winter’s in Iowa are colder with more wind. Michigan usually wins the snowfall total. Spare me-please.
|Jim, Arlyn, John, Elly & Les, 2002…|
Spending much time during late December/early January in Iowa reminds me of a difficult birth/delivery. After your beautiful newborn makes their debut, you forget how miserable and painful labor was. Iowa’s just like that. While chugging our way west from Michigan, I didn’t have to check mile markers. It was easier to watch the outside temperature drop a degree every few miles. Started above freezing in Jackson, around 35. By the time we hit Spencer it was 7 and that wasn’t the low for the night. We would soon learn 7 above wasn’t that bad-as a couple of the days dipped several degrees below zero.
|Elly showing Adam 7, her special Christmas tree, 1986…|
I had forgotten how hard and crunchy snow sounds under my shoes when the temps really plunge, or how long it takes my windshield to defrost when not in a garage. I failed to fully appreciate most Michigan snow falls straight down from above, not out of the west at 20 mph with wind gusts often higher. I wasn’t even remotely surprised when I started my Jeep and was awarded a yellow warning light and beep telling me all 4 of my tires were low. On two different mornings. While I do most of the driving, Hubs is the gas and tire filler upper. One morning it was so freaking frigid it took him a long time to get the air in the tires back up to 36 psi. Finally done, he plopped into the Jeep with a groan. After a minute he said, “did you put my seat warmer on? Turn it off please. My butt’s so cold, I’m afraid it’ll crack.” We’re hopeless, that gave us the giggles-which felt really good. Probably better than it should have considering the reason and timing of why we were actually in Northwest Iowa during January.
|John & Elly early 2000’s…|
The way it began. Mid morning, 2 days after Christmas. I just started taking decorations off the tree. Love the tree, love the lights, but after Christmas is over I’m so done with decorations. I long/need/require (for sanity’s sake) my house back to normal. It would literally require me experiencing an epiphany to leave my house decorated until epiphany. I max out on the house being ‘out of whack’ after 3 weeks. Twitchy. Order needs to be restored. Posthaste.
|The Christmas tree skirt Elly made for me, 1981…|
Every year I go through the same ritual. Make an oath to myself before I set the tree up and get the ornaments out. I’m going to take my time and make some-hard-some-not-so-hard decisions about which ornaments perch on my tree, and the ones that no longer hold a tight grip on my heart strings. Every. Single. Year. Yet I never follow through. Never. I know which containers hold my favorite ornaments and start there. By the time I slip the lid off container # 4, I’m spent. Nope, I’ll have more time after Christmas to pick & choose what stays, what’s offered to the kids and what gets donated to the local religious thrift store after the family has celebrated the birth of Jesus for the year of our Lord, 2018.
|Elly made me this Nativity set in 1979…|
Now there’s a couple hundred decorations laying around in separated piles all over the living room. Waiting patiently to be snuggled for the following 11 months in bubble wrap. Hubs phone rings. It’s our nephew Ken from Langdon, Iowa (near Spencer) with devastating news. His mom, John’s only sister passed away during the night. Although she was 88, the news is a shock and unexpected. We had just received a Christmas card from Elly. Hubs called her a couple weeks ago and they talked at length. Elly assured her baby brother she was feeling good, and still planning on trying to make it to her 90th birthday. She was getting along fabulously with her new cochlear implant (an updated replacement of her first version) and life was good.
|The front of the card read, To my brother and sister-in-law…|
Ken would call back after the kids decided when Elly’s memorial service would be held. John sat in his chair, numb, reminiscing about the sister he adored. They really had nothing in common, she was 18 years old when he was born. By the time John was 2, Elly had married Dewey. But the 5 years we lived in Spencer during the late 70’s changed all that. True, Elly & Dewey were my parents age, yet they became our best friends with a bond that would last the remainder of our lives, though we never lived close to them again. They became a third set of grandparents to our kids. Josh, then 7, reprimanded Adam (a toddler) constantly because Adam insisted on calling Elly and Dewey grandma and grandpa.
|Christmas 1973, Elly, Eleanor w/ Matt, Kerrie & Mag on the organ…|
So early on December 29th, John and I head west for a long day of travel. Had some dicey weather as we dipped south to get around Lake Michigan by Chicago. An hour of sleet/rain mix slowing traffic down but the rest of the trip was uneventful. We arrived in Spencer unscathed but pooped 13 hours later, only to learn the hotel has no elevator. Up a long flight of stairs, lugging our suitcases with 2 bum legs, 2 tired backs and lacking enough ambition to waddle downstairs again to fill the ice bucket. On the upside, I slept really well the first night, which is rare.
|Oh boy. Highway 18 on New Year’s Eve, 2018…|
It’s difficult to look forward/anticipate/dread going to the actual service. No one’s ready to say goodbye to Elly. Mom to 4, gram to 10, great-grandma to 19, only sister to the 3 remaining brothers, (1 brother, Arlyn passed away 7 years ago). Plus friends-too numerous to count. The little Methodist Church of Langdon was packed like a can of sardines which is a testament of how much Elly was loved and admired. Though much of the circumstances were sad, it was great to hug and visit relatives I’ve not seen (or ever met other than Facebook posts & comments) for years. How come it’s always a funeral that binds/brings us together?
|Elly, me & Kerrie at our house in Spencer, 1979…|
Lots of Elly anecdotes, goofy recollections and stories, accompanied by laughter and tears. The way she would have liked. I think Elly would have been blown away with the number of people, squeezing in shoulder to shoulder to pay tribute to HER. Amazed and humbled.
|Christmas in Spencer. Elly & Joshua 1980…|
Elly had sold her big 2 story house after Dewey passed away in 2013. She moved to Langdon which is about 3 miles from Spencer, next door to Ken & Jeannie. Right across the street from 2 of her grandchildren, Ben and daughter Destiny in one house, Brandy and her family next door to Ben. Elly’s daughter Val lived right behind her. (Langdon or Lawrence-ville-it’s truly a family affair). Whenever we visited, we stayed with Ken & Jeannie, an easy way to spend time with Elly. John would head next door when he saw Elly drinking her morning coffee on the porch. We’d always have supper together and visit until Elly got tired and someone walked her home. After the memorial service it was hard to see Elly’s empty house or realize she wouldn’t be walking over to eat supper and spend the evening with us.
|Love this pic at Les’ house. Elly, Kristin, Ken & Kerrie around 2015…|
Our dearest Elly, you were special, you were loved and you will be missed. I imagine she’s been singing regularly in heaven’s choir since she arrived. No longer bothered by her profound and annoying hearing loss, but belting out solos or duets with Dewey again. Preach…
|Dewey and Elly, now singing duets with the angels…|