I sometimes forget how smart Mom was. She had an unbelievable thirst for knowledge. A voracious reader, she always preferred non-fiction. She loved biographies, exact opposite of my reading preferences. I’ve always felt I have enough reality in my life. I read novels to escape.
Mom bought the finest, most expensive set of World Book Encyclopedias when I was in junior high to help with my homework assignments. As if. But her interest (and constant use) far outweighed the times I was forced to look something up for school in one of our many green and cream leather volumes. Every year thereafter she’d send for the new yearbook. World Book’s way of updating us on everything important from the previous year. She just couldn’t get enough of what those pages had to offer. She wanted to know everything.
She was a great bookkeeper. Mom kept track how of much interest each CD was paying, how Dad’s IPERS account (Iowa Public Employee Retirement System) was doing from year to year. She was frugal in many ways, yet extravagant with her money in others. They never financed a car that I know of but wanted nothing more on a car besides tires and a steering wheel. (Neither of them ever drove an automatic). Yet she thought nothing of buying Shannon a wool plaid winter coat which she would only wear to church when she was 3 years old and wouldn’t fit her the following winter. I bought Mom a new paring knife after the one she’d used for 40 years had lost its edge. She just couldn’t part with the $2.99 for something she deemed unnecessary.
Mom kept a small tattered box in the cupboard above her spotless refrigerator. That box was filled with several standard sized plain white envelopes. Each envelope was marked, IPS, Bell telephone, First Reformed Church (tithing), spending money for both of them, groceries, De Boer’s (fuel oil for the furnace and gas for Mom’s car, Ver Berg Gas Station for Dad’s gas and maintenance on his car). Never did figure out why they used separate businesses (2 blocks apart) for each of their cars, she simply preferred one, Dad the other. They were funny that way. When it was payday, Mom (don’t think direct deposit was an option back then) would trudge to the bank (after forging dad’s name) to cash the check-literally. She’d leave a small portion in their checking account but for most things both of them used cash (thus all the envelopes).
When she got home from the bank, she’d reach up and snag the envelope box. Take them all out and divvy up the amount that each envelope required. Patiently wait for each bill to arrive, grab the money from the appropriate envelope, head downtown to pay the bill. She did have a credit card for Sears and Penney’s but paid each in full every month there was a charge on the card. Not to minimize her savings ability, next to tithing, savings held a high priority for both of them.
I don’t think Mom was ever stumped with a knitting or crocheting pattern. She would tackle the most complicated projects. I was amazed at her talent and ability. She tried to teach me but I could only add stitches, tackle collars, armholes, sleeves, necklines, or anything harder than the stockinette stitch (the easiest of them all) if I was sitting by her side. So I never really learned how to read patterns like she did. She’d just show me how to do something and it would magically get done, but I didn’t retain what I’d learned.
So this woman kept her house spotless, saved money even when it was in short supply, read an entire set of encyclopedias, who frequently wrote politicians scathing letters during the 70’s & 80’s on what irked her on world matters in her beautiful cursive prose. When shopping (she was a clothes horse) Mom could (and did) easily rattle off 20%, 25% or one third off to other customers frowning nearby when trying to figure out how much the jacket cost because it was on sale. (She’d mumble to me later, “how can these people not know that 25% off of 30 dollars is $7.50? Then they have trouble subtracting $7.50 from 30 bucks.” This really frustrated her). She worked hard, cooked every night but Saturday and could turn the toughest knitting patterns into works of art.
Mom did have a couple weaknesses. When forced, she could replace a button on one of Dad’s dress shirts. But had to be coerced to do it and hated every minute. (I inherited her sewing gene). And the poor woman didn’t know which way was west. Or north. Or south. Nope, not east either. She had the worst sense of direction known to womankind.
This was not much of an issue when I was a kid. She knew how to get to our shopping spots in Sheldon, Le Mars, Sioux Falls and Sioux City whenever we left the safe confines of Rock Valley. There were specific locations she was very familiar with. She knew how to get to downtown Younkers in Sioux City, Shrivers in Sioux Falls, but we never veered far off the beaten path either. Her lack of knowing where she was headed flew out the window once I got married. Things would have been so different for Mom if she’d had a cell phone with Siri to help her navigate those confusing directions.
We were living in Sioux City, 1973. Our precocious toddler, Shannon was 3. She and Mom (Mimi) were headed (by themselves-oh Lort) to Bellas Hess in Morningside. Right on highway 75 at Glenn Ave, probably 5 miles from our house on 23rd Street. Once Mimi managed to find Highway 75, (a half mile from our house), it was a straight shot. No turns. Absolutely. No. Turns. Just follow Highway 75 due south.
The good news, they found Bellas Hess. I’m sure Shannon zhanicked (begged and whined in Dutch slang) until Mimi bought her something outrageously expensive. Leaving Bellas Hess proved to be more difficult for Mom though. Out of the parking lot onto Glenn Ave., to the stop light at Highway 75, Mom however turned south instead of north. And drove. Then drove some more. Shannon finally said, “this isn’t the right way Mimi. Our house isn’t this way.” Indeed little one. Mimi and Shannon were close to Omaha-about 80 miles from Sioux City. They finally stopped at a truck stop seeking help/advice and got turned around. They were gone almost the whole day. And we had no clue what had happened to them.
As long as we lived in Iowa Mom did fairly well. Eastern Iowa got a little hairy the first time, we lived in several nearby towns around Dubuque. The second time, we moved to Davenport, we lived a couple miles off of I-80. She knew if she crossed the mighty Mississippi, she had gone too far. But Michigan was another matter. Part of the problem was Mom and Dad refused to come visit us together. Another strange quirk of theirs. They treated each visit like a competition between them. Each one would trot back to Iowa and brag how cute/darling the kids had been. Actually making each other jealous.
One of them would come for several days, a couple months later the other, so I got to worry about their long travel time (750 miles) alone twice as often. Mom had 2 close calls. A couple of years after moving to Jackson she was on her way to our house. Chicago’s not the easiest city to get around, but it’s I-80 east until you reach I-94. Mom didn’t wait to hit 94, she turned north on 294 and drove to Milwaukee. Oh my word. Since her little jog cost several hours both ways, Mom ended up spending a night in a hotel as soon as she crossed the state line into Michigan. (At least she was in the right state now).
The last disaster could have been just that-disastrous. Mom was on her way back to Iowa from our house when she realized, after several hours of driving, she didn’t have her seat belt on. She stopped on the shoulder of I-80 west, snapped herself in, signaled with her blinker (yay Mom), engaged the clutch, and shifted to first gear in her 4 cylinder Ford. Instead of getting some speed on the shoulder, she felt her blinker was sufficient and pulled into the lane of traffic, all of whom were clipping along at 70 mph or better. She got rear ended by a semi and THOUGHT IT WAS HIS FAULT. She was not hurt thankfully, and she was furious when she got a ticket. Oh Mom. She didn’t drive to Michigan often after that which was fine with me. I just went to their house more often. How I wish I could go back and visit them one more time. I should have been more attentive and written things down. I still have so many questions…