I haven’t specifically talked about my long, long, long time spouse since I started blogging. He’s actually an integral part of my life. A huge part of my story. Maybe I’ve been remiss. Often the idea of my next blog post of this never ending story just kinda writes itself (I just tap out a few keys). Still, most of my life has been intertwined in the life of Johnny Wayne. (He’s been ‘John’ ever since he left Rock Valley in 1966). So here’s a snippet of the Hubs’ childhood.
The youngest of 5, his birth was not planned. When he was born, his 4 older sibs ranged in age from 4 to 18. (When I think of how Shannon would have reacted had I told her I was pregnant when she was a senior in high school, I still get a dry mouth and a twitch in my eyelid). But birth control was quite limited when John was conceived in 1947.
John was born handy. He’s just always known how to do stuff. (Although I don’t think he was taught a lot by his dad, who was 40 when he was born). John’s able to change the engine in a car. Run a natural gas line so I can have a gas stove instead of electric. Wire electricity through a new garage. Plop a sump pump in the basement. Dig a sand point well for an in ground sprinkling system. Design and build special machines and transfer lines. (Truthfully, I don’t know what half this stuff is, but have heard about and witnessed such miracles my entire married life). Lay a ceramic tile floor. Install a sink, toilet, water heater, new brake pads, rotors on a car, a muffler when we were too broke to take the car to a shop. Utilize 20 cartons of dirt cheap old 1936 Chevy car parts, and voila.’ Hubs rebuilt a cool antique car before he was 30. I don’t know how he acquired this vast array of how-to-knowledge, he’s just always had ‘it’. (However, he was born with a built in dislike for any particular-color-pattern of wallpaper he’s ever seen. He might not know how to hang a double roll of wallpaper).
When Hubs was ready for kindergarten, Mag was working full time, so he learned at a very young age to be self-sufficient. He was making eggs on the cook stove by the time he was 6. He still bears a nasty scar where he dropped the lid (where you stuff the wood) on his hand because it was too heavy for the little squirt. His daily whereabouts were not closely monitored. We lived in a small, somewhat isolated town. There wasn’t much to be scared of in Rock Valley. No one seemed very worried about how much mischief he could get into. He had the “run of the town” (like most of us kids) but wasn’t too much of a hell-raiser.
Still there were some special family moments he remembers quite clearly. One summer the whole Van Berkum clan (his only sister, Elly had been married for several years by then and had 2 or 3 kids of her own) were going to Newton Hills (about 15 miles away) for the day. Little Johnny drove his mom nuts with giddy anticipation on when exactly they were leaving. Zhanicked (Dutch word for whining) until she banished him outside while she prepared a feast for the picnic (and Mag could cook up a storm). So the caravan finally arrives and everyone’s busy unpacking at this beautiful woodsy park. Kids are running around, acting crazy and no one notices that Johnny Wayne is not among them. Finally when it’s time to sit down and eat, someone asks, “where’s Johnny?” No one knows. Each driver is asked if Hubs was in their car? No one knows or remembers. (This was the original installment of Home Alone). Finally they come to the conclusion Johnny’s really not there and send someone back to Rock Valley to fetch him. Even worse, he was now locked out of the house after he saw everyone drive away and eventually climbed back down from the tree. He was 8.
By the time John was a teen, he was hunting pheasants (often bringing his shotgun to school and keeping in his locker so he could walk nearby corn fields after the last bell rang). Or go fishing at the Rock River, swim in Rock Valley’s new fangled cement pond on days when he wasn’t baling hay for one of the local farmers for a buck an hour in the sweltering 95 degree Iowa summer. After a spending the day throwing bales of hay in the hot sun, his hands and arms would be full of small, pus filled slivers of hay. He would invariably fall asleep on our date that night from sheer exhaustion (which never did much for my whole sex appeal image I was going for back then).
It was the summer of ’63 (catchy phrase, someone should use it in a song or something) John was 15 and had found a new passion (no, not me-yet). This was a 4 legged variety, not 2. Horses. The kid was obsessed with horses. He was working for a dude named John Blom, just east of Rock Valley. Mrs. John Blom (why on earth would any woman in their right mind call themselves Mrs. husband’s first name plus his last name? I can’t believe my Mom actually signed checks, Mrs. Richard Gerritson for years before she was hit hard with a case of women’s lib. After that she signed her checks “Florence Elaine Wanningen Gerritson.” Her signature took 2 lines- hilarious-go Mom! End of rant).
Anyway, Mrs. Blom kept her homemade root beer down a root cellar in glass jars. It was a rare treat when she’d offer John a quart while he was taking his break. He still talks about how good that root beer tasted. But you had to stop drinking it before the jar was empty. The bottom half inch was solid, dark brown yeasty stuff that was far too strong to consume. Mr. Blom had a special needs brother living with them who’d grab the jars after everyone was done, then finish every single drop of dark brown goo that was left.
Back to Hubs new fascination. He bought this horse from Mr. John (not Mrs.) Blom and named her Comet (the horse, not Mrs.). Spent weeks breaking Comet, getting her used to a bridle, saddle, his voice and gentle leg commands. John had to ride Comet into Rock Valley for a distemper shot from either veterinarian, Simonsen or Mouw. But Comet was still a little skittish. When 2 kids on bikes zoomed around the corner towards Hubs, Comet reared back, throwing John off-then landing on his foot. The bone from the ball of John’s foot was exposed-busting right through his shoe. Yikes. Our miracle working town physician, Doc Hegg rushed to the scene but knew immediately this was beyond his field of expertise (and that field was vast indeed). An ambulance ride to Sioux Falls (45 miles west) was warranted but expensive, and they had no medical insurance. Hubs instinctively knew and asked mom if his oldest brother Jimmy would take him to the hospital? Jimmy had an F-85 maroon Olds.
(This story really encapsulates the true meaning of Murphy’s Law. Anything that could possibly go wrong after John started riding Comet into town-did indeed go wrong). With Johnny writhing in pain in the back seat, Mom fretting in the passenger’s seat and Jimmy driving like a bat out of hell, they were off. Zipping to Sioux Falls, about halfway they had a flat tire. Jimmy gets out and jack’s the car up. The jack broke. (You think I’m kidding? Nope) He’s frantic, John’s in shock, losing blood and delirious and they can’t change the dang tire. Mama Bear (Mag) explodes out of the front seat, literally picks up the car by the bumper and Jimmy slaps the spare on. I. Kid. You. Not.
They finally arrive in Sioux Falls-and neither of them knows where the hospital is. (Why Lord, why)? They race over to Elly’s house, she jumps in the car and gives directions. Hubs is rushed into surgery to fix his foot. Mag and Jimmy go back home (they gotta both work tomorrow. Jim and Mag visited when they can. Elly visits everyday, but Dewey (Elly’s husband) needed their only car to go out of town for work, Elly had no way to get to the hospital. John is crestfallen when she can’t visit, so she walked 20 blocks to visit her baby brother. Awww.
Long about day 5 of hospitalization, there’s a sudden change. John woke up and there’s a basin of acid next to his bed. The nurse’s were covered from head to toe before they walked into his room. The doctor came in and explained that gangrene had set in. They need to take his foot off at the ankle or he’s gonna die. John went nuts. Mag came in to try and convince John. “No, I’d rather be dead than to lose my foot. Can’t you try something else first? Find another doctor. Please?” A different surgeon came in and said there was a slim chance of opening up his foot, cut out the infected part, wash everything else with disinfectant, close it up and pray they got the infection stopped. If not, he’d have to take his leg off at the knee. John finally agreed. But the wash bath worked! Doc said he’d be in a cast, use a wheelchair for months and never walk without a limp. Dude was playing football and wrestling in less than a year! One tough little shit…