They grew up about a mile apart. Had the girl not moved in 1955 (at age 4-1/2) to the center of town, by 1958 they would have been neighbors when his folks built a new home around the corner from where she was born. (And yes she was literally born at home. On the kitchen table. Blech. Her Mom had changed doctors late during the pregnancy to avoid going to a hospital 15 miles away for her world changing birth. She jests. About her world changing birth-not about the kitchen table).
She knew nothing of him or his family until 1963 when he was involved in a terrible accident a couple blocks from her house, although she did not witness the accident. His pinto mare reared up and the bulk of the horse’s substantial weight landed on his 15 year old foot. But she does remember hearing about it through our own small town social media grapevine outlet. Back in prehistoric times it was called-Word of mouth.
In many ways their families were a lot alike. Middle class, 2 parent households, no divorces, or illegitimate children in their pasts. His mom joined the workforce sooner than hers (his parents were roughly 10-15 years older than hers). Both sets of parents had Dutch ancestors, all born in Sioux County, Iowa. The unlikely duo (us) were born and raised in the same small, fairly isolated, Dutch community. Both mom’s cooked supper every night, both dad’s were used to hard physical labor. Both families worshipped EVERY Sunday without fail. Different denominations but she likes to think they could agree, they all worshipped the same God. Maybe. Maybe not.
Any major family differences mushroomed during the fall in 1958. One family (hers) would suffer a tragedy from which they would never recover. Much worse than the boy’s terrible horse accident (still a few years away in the future).
Her family total numbered 5, his was 7. Her total fell to 4 one Saturday in 1958 when her older brother was struck by a car and killed instantly. His name was Larry and he was 12. She was 7. Until that day, the differences in the two families, their way of life might have been interchangeable. But grief does so much undetected damage to those who suffered the loss. She’s often wondered who’s the idiot who coined the phrase, ‘good grief?’ Through almost 7 decades of life she’s suffered grief from the loss of her brother, mother, dad, sister, grandparents, countless fringe relatives, friends and those she lost when working as a Parish Visitor. Not one minute of wading through her miserable grief could ever be construed as good. Devastating, heartbreaking, life changing yes, but ‘good grief,’ never.
The differences/changes in the girl’s family after the death of Larry were not all bad, just dramatic. But many of them were hard to accept, at least for the young girl. Her Mom turned inward, preferring her own company to that of others. Her Dad turned outward, accepting the Lord Jesus Christ as his personal savior. His mission in life thereafter was to bring others to know the same joy he had found. He was rarely home after that. Saving souls was time consuming.
Thus began the subtle dynamic shift of the two once similar families. His family remained outgoing. Card playing, beer drinking, boisterous, seeking out other couples/families with similar interests and tastes. Her family folded up tight. The hurt and pain were just too much.
A couple years after the horse/foot accident, the boy who swore to the orthopedic surgeon he absolutely would not maneuver through life with a limp, and the girl from the tragic, unhappy family started dating. The girl never realized just how different their 2 families were. His parents enjoyed sitting on their front lawn after supper. Honest, right out in front. Weird. Townsfolk going for a ride would stop, letting their car idle (gas was a quarter a gallon or less) while they talked/gossiped for a few minutes. With her Dad gone every night after supper, her Mom would pull down the front window shades and lock the door. Closing off the outside world. Trying to cope. Accepting life on the new terms of unimaginable pain and loneliness. By herself.
In his family, holidays meant one thing-celebrating. Potlucks, cookouts, fireworks, Pinochle marathons, 25 people gnawing on turkey/duck/goose, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and a half dozen homemade pies to choose from. (if there was room for another bite). After her sister married in 1960 ￼(she too joined a HUGE-ER family) the 3 remainers went to The Normandy Restaurant in Sioux Falls for turkey dinner at Thanksgiving.
Although the laws were never explicitly written down, there was a code, a set of rules that his family adhered to if you were interested in joining their merry band of misfits.
1. You had to have an above average working knowledge of the game of Pinochle. Card games were sacred in their family. You’d better be capable of remembering what suit had been called trump during every hand and never renege. Ever. Seriously.
2. It might not be written down on paper but the message was clear, at least part of all major holidays were spent together. They might fuss, fight and yell occasionally but through thick & thin holidays were celebrated as one a big family unit. Together. With lots of food. And cards before and after. Using the lame excuse of turkey tryptophan which made you sleepy/dulled your senses, even for a minute was null and void in their abode. Bid your hand and no table talk.
3. You’d better be an above average cook/baker. (The girl’s downfall right here folks. How they ever let/welcomed her in, lacking every basic cooking concept known to womankind was a miracle. She did not know how to boil water. Honest). His mom saw/felt she had potential, his dad thought she was hopeless. Had she not been able to avoid ‘going set nearly 100%’ of the time in the game of Pinochle by the time the boy and girl were seriously contemplating marriage, she certainly would have been blackballed. During their first decade, every trip to her in-laws included some type of cooking/baking lesson. His mom was patient with her 3rd daughter-in-law. And like remembering what suit was trump and never reneging, the young woman/new mom absorbed what her mother-in-law was trying to teach, otherwise she might have been ousted. (The mother-in-law was a great cook and terrific baker).
Though there was a considerable amount of disapproval/discouragement/denial from one set of parents (hers-duh) the boy and the girl simply took the plunge without their blessing (or knowledge on either side) and eloped when they were still of a tender age. No one and I mean NO ONE thought it would last. They were too young, too dumb and too different to establish a long-lasting relationship. Oh ye (all) of little faith.
Through the years the man and woman embraced some of their family’s traditions but forged ahead, determining their own trail too. Mistakes were frequent, spats less often (still they kept moving forward-together). Their strong, idealistic bond, uttered during a hasty 5 minute, unromantic ceremony in a judge’s chamber in Elk Point, South Dakota during the fall of 1969 never wavered much. And the journey continues…