Once in a while, out of the blue, a post on Facebook from an acquaintance (the topic which really holds no interest for me) mentions something about their life. At that precise moment it feels like the wind’s been knocked out of me. Not painful but the memory hit me so hard. Bam, it feels like yesterday when in reality I was going through this almost 50 years ago. Maybe some of you (not so young ones) were too.
A young mom posted she was looking for a specific, gently used piece of toddler equipment (toy) for her kids to play with outdoors this summer. Another mom piped up she had one in perfect condition and was looking to get rid of it. A deal was struck. Sort of. This is the part that happened to us all too frequently during our life in the 1970’s. After the seller mom quoted her price-the buyer mom said, “sounds good, but would it be ok to wait until Friday to pay and pick it up then?” How many times during those first few years of marriage did Hubs and I have to wait for something, (whether it was a new shoes, hunting license, fuel oil, haircut, groceries, gas for the car, maybe even a prescription) because we had absolutely no cash to our name? Too many times to count. Part of this was our fault yet we stood by our decision for years. Hubs and I decided we didn’t want our kids in daycare, so we were a one income family. I don’t think I’ll ever forget how broke we were most of the time during our first few years. (Now having worked in the world of daycare with infants my mind has been forever changed. I’d have to say it’s been a wonderful experience for all the babies I’ve nurtured).
One of my favorite old cartoon shows called Popeye had a character named Wimpy (before political correctness ruled the world). Wimpy was always short on cash and used the line again and again in his favorite restaurant, “I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today,” he’d say. That was our life throughout most of the first decade of marriage. There was never enough money to go around. Robbing Peter to pay Paul. As much as I love, love my native state of Iowa, money wise, the best thing we ever did was move to Michigan. Actually hurts my heart a bit to write that, but it’s the gospel truth. Salary, job opportunities, housing was better in Michigan. Education, insurance, cost of living, better in Iowa. Now 30 years later, our grown kids and grands have made Michigan their home, (thus even in retirement, we continue to live here where it snows. And snows). None have any loyalty whatsoever to my Hawkeyes or the Cubs. Ok, they all were pretty young when we moved here, but still Iowa’s embedded in their DNA.
When looking back to those painful first few years, there was a lot of happiness too. We realized what a pickle we were in by the phone calls from the bill collectors. There was no screening calls, caller ID, not even an answering machine. When the phone rang, you answered it. Could be someone calling long distance (which was cost prohibitive and didn’t happen very often). I needed those calls from Mom, Mary Jane, Jeanene, Helen and Char. Didn’t want to miss out on those important conversations. But when the dude on the line was from Beneficial Finance, you’d better have an exact date when they could expect a payment, no ifs, ands or buts about it.
Life could be downright negative if we focused on how little we had at the time. A rental house that was frigid and used fuel oil, a car we couldn’t afford and didn’t start when the temperature was between 28 and 40 degrees, which is frequent in Iowa. A freezer which periodically thawed our meat we could ill afford to waste. But running around the tiny living room was the brightest, cutest, most precocious toddler in the world. What could really be wrong? We were young, in love, healthy and new to the world of parenthood. The best, scariest journey of our lives, shared with a thirty pounder who brought joy to everyone she encountered.
Ok, maybe not every single person in the entire world-but most everyone. We were at a Sioux City truck stop off highway 75, right before you made a right curve into Leeds. Probably 1973, Shannon was 2-1/2. Her vocabulary already rivaled mine. Dang she was a smartie. The 3 which made up our cute little family were waiting patiently for our food. Shannon was peeking over the top of our booth, flirting outrageously with 2 older women in the booth behind us. She’d stand up on her tippy toes, (in her white high top corrective shoes) lavishly handing out her mega watt smile, looking for a response in kind, then turn around to keep tabs on what mommy and daddy might be talking about. But she just couldn’t leave those ladies alone. (Duh, they were truly smitten by her charms. Talking about how adorable she was. And where in the world did someone 2-1/2 get such a head of hair already)? They just didn’t know how honest she could be. Brutal. She gave them a coy smile, then addressed John in a very loud voice, “daddy, why are those ladies so fat?” (Please Jesus, now would be a good time to take me home). Needless to say, it would be months before we dared venture into that restaurant again. Kids say the darnedest things whether it’s appropriate or not. If only we could have afforded to pick up their check. We slunk out of that place like someone had spotted cooties on us.
In the long run, the good has always far outweighed the bad. The formative years of being married, raising our growing family, finding our strengths, realizing we were in this thing for the long haul. Finally learning to cook, discovering the pride in watching Joshua scoot in for a touchdown in flag football or Shannon’s first dance recital which felt like it lasted 2 months when her routine was 90 seconds-tops. Wringing my hands watching Adam, the smallest player on his team walk up with a good stance at the plate and take a nice swing at his first T-ball game.
No, it wasn’t all fun and games. All three had to get through their teens (yikes) with us as parents (double yikes). Not always easy. But they eventually reached adulthood, mostly unscathed. No arrests, no rehab, no hard drugs that I know about and all got college degrees (and then some, then some more). Their successes, maturity and happiness probably have nothing to do with the lean years John and I survived through during the beginning. But when I reflect back on those first years, so painfully broke at times we ate a can of Starkist night after night I realize life back then was still pretty good. The simple truth being, if you wanted your marriage to not only survive but thrive it definitely was not for the weak or wimpy…