We’ve moved around a lot since I started sharing my life with the Hubs. A couple years here, 3 years there, but managed to stay in Iowa through our first 2 decades. A dozen moves-minimum. Considerably better since we settled in Michigan 32 years ago. We’re on our third house and hope to live here until the good Lord calls me home. Throughout 15 moves it’s safe to say, we’ve had some good/bad/fantastic/strange/easygoing/different/helpful/unstable/friendly/psychotic/wonderful/whacko/deeply troubled/extremely helpful/memorable–bunch of neighbors. (We were always the nice, sane couple).
John found an engineering job at French & Hecht (a wheel company) in Davenport, Iowa after getting laid off the day before Thanksgiving in 1980. (Who even does that? Callous asshats, that’s who). About 350 miles east/south of Spencer and 10 times larger. A huge change for this family of 5. Our adventure was about to begin. We had never lived so far away from our families or in such a big city. Shannon was 10, Joshua was 5-1/2, Adam was just over a year.
The housing market in eastern Iowa sucked. We desperately wanted to stay in Iowa, (schools) yet just across the Mississippi River, Illinois might have been easier finding suitable housing in Moline or Rock Island. Iowa finally won the coin toss. John rented a small house in Davenport. Although our stay there would only be a year before we bought a house. This neighborhood was a nice mix of retirees downsizing or young families just starting out. Several blocks clustered together between a couple of heavily traveled streets, yet our neighborhood didn’t seem busy at all.
We had a one-stall detached garage, small fenced-in yard, tiny house, causing claustrophobia with 5 inhabitants, but we made due. Young guy on one side of us, single mom with 2 kids on the other. Through an alleyway one block west, towards Kimberly Road (very busy with a mixture of businesses and nice homes) is where I found one my of my dearest friends. I met Mary Ellen when I traipsed into a nearby bowling alley, (lugging Adam and my bowling bag) looking to sub on a league for the remainder of the season. The fourth bowler on Mary Ellen’s team had broken her leg (Thanks God for introducing me to this lifelong group of dear friends-apologies broken leg girl-but I knew not a soul and really needed some friends). I’m still in touch with some of these gals 35 years later, though sadly my bestie Mary Ellen, passed away in 2013.
Life is different when you have young kids. I notice this the older I get and with each additional move we make. School activities and neighborhood kids are a great ice breaker whether you’re new in town or just moving in on the block. I wasn’t up to meeting people yet because I was frantically trying to cram 7 rooms of furniture to into 5 room house. (We never did get to use the garage for our car-it was packed to the roof with overflow furniture that didn’t fit). But all it took was Joshua and Adam playing in the back yard. Soon Joshua had friends over or he was playing a few doors away.
Some of Shannon’s new friends lived several blocks away. Reflecting back I’m kinda surprised I allowed her venture that far in a big city. Spencer’s population of 10,000 had a small town vibe. She rode her bike everywhere before we moved. To get to her friends Kelly’s house, Shannon had to cross Division, which was wall to wall cars 16 hours a day. But there were traffic lights on every corner. She embraced that city like she’d been born there.
Not long after we moved in I met a gal who lived a few houses away. She was a couple years younger than me and ran a cake decorating business out of her home. She was wildly talented, sarcastic, loud, outspoken, hilarious and genuinely funny. Her husband was the polar opposite of her. Brooding, quiet, unhappy, ornery with a wicked quick temper. We invited them over for a barbecue, but he wasn’t impressed with any of us. He made it clear he didn’t want to engage with us socially, so while the mommy’s bonded, couple’s outings were not gonna fly.
They had 2 kids, Craig, almost 5 and a 3 year old girl. Josh and Craig were instant buds. Two peas in a pod. What comes to mind when you think of 5 & 6 year old boys playing together? Match Box cars, Big Wheels, Nerf football, water guns. Au contraire. These two daredevils were virtual clones of Evel Knievel when he was 12. The alleys in Davenport were a marvel in our neighborhood. Most were poured concrete, about as wide as a regular street. Some homes had their garage off the alley, ours did not. It was like having an extra street (safe and seldom used). These 2 rascals used both alleys as their personal domain. They’d take blocks of wood and bricks to build ramps for jumping their bikes. Though Craig was a year younger, he ruled in this division. He was the proud owner of a brand new blue BMX bike. Josh’s bike was a Sears, at least 2 years old, baby blue, with a banana seat. How embarrassing! No match for the BMX. When they got sick of racing bikes and seeing how high and far they could jump them, they hopped on our Radio flyer wagon, zooming down the steep alley.
Our dining room was about a foot bigger than our table. Craig was eating supper with us, making the room seem even smaller. Hotdogs and chips were on the menu. We were around the table, packed in like sardines. (except Adam in his high chair, which didn’t fit by the table because Craig was in his spot, so he was halfway in the living room). We’re busy passing chips and condiments when Craig picks up the ketchup bottle (probably a glass bottle at that time) flips it upside down to pour some on his plate, and knocks over his glass of Kool-aid, spilling it everywhere. As soon as Craig saw John jump up (to help), he dropped the ketchup bottle on the table, ducked and covered his head with his arms. For a couple of seconds time stood still. Hubs looked at me, I shrugged, not knowing what to say or think. Josh’s eyes got big as saucers. He looked at his friend and said, “it’s ok Craig, dad’s not mad, just let him clean it up.”
Clearly a red flag. Though we didn’t know what was going on in their house, we were suspicious. (I just learned when Josh was staying overnight at Craig’s, the guys were watching WWF on TV. Josh innocently piped up, “my dad says this stuff is all fake.” Craig’s dad jumped up, started screaming, swearing, livid, pacing the room. Josh was terrified he was going to get hit). He never spent another night there. I never knew. I should have talked to Craig’s mom or called someone after we saw him duck and witnessed some questionable interaction between him and his dad. When our lease was up, we moved about 5 miles away. Our kids were attending different schools. We invited Craig over occasionally to play, but it wasn’t the same as playing together everyday.
It was about a year later, at the end of summer. We were driving back to eastern Iowa. It was late afternoon. We had spent a week in Rock Valley, visiting our folks (and the rest of the relatives). We were getting close to Davenport, listening to the radio as we tacked on the miles, anxious to get the kids out of the car, unpack and sleep in our own beds. The disc jockey came on. “A six year old boy was killed near his home in Davenport this morning. He was riding his bike from his driveway into the alley when the city garbage truck started backing up, pinning the youngster under a wheel. Details and his name have not been released.”
We knew immediately. Just knew in our hearts it was Craig. The little towhead boy with an impish smile. Used to riding fast and furious. Craig’s death was hard for all of us to process. The eerie similarities between Craig’s fatal bike accident and my brother Larry’s tragic death riding his bike years before. It was the first time Shannon and Joshua lost someone close to them who was young. Craig was Joshua’s first best friend.
Davenport was one of our favorite places we have ever lived. None of us wanted to move away. Oddly enough, in the short time we called Davenport home, we lost Craig in a horrible accident and 2 people I was acquainted with were murdered in those 6 short years. (I wrote about those 2 grisly crimes of passion in October, 2015 called, Murder, she wrote, if you want to catch up).
Four months after Craig’s death, his parents reached an agreement on a monetary settlement with the city. They bought two new cars, some beautiful jewelry and did some remodeling. Six months after the settlement, the money was gone-along with their oldest child-in less than a year. We never spoke again. I just couldn’t. Could not…