The Token Gift…

We were nearing our third anniversary and the year was 1972. We were living in Hinton, Iowa, population-not much. Renting a small 2 bedroom with an oil burner stove which kept the dining room 105 degrees, but the rest of the house a cool 50 something. But no heat worries because it was summer.

Shannon, 9 months…

We had some great neighbors, an older couple with a spitfire, ornery chihuahua named Ginger (who smoked), a newlywed couple with a long-haired dachshund named Kippen, and Keith and Patty behind us. Keith and Patty were a few years older than us. Keith worked nights like John. Patty and I became friends passing the evenings together after the kids went to bed. By kids, I mean her 2 hell raisers and our little angel. Curt was about 6, Glenda was 4, and our 18 month old, Shannon (the angel).

Shannon and Tina, Hinton, Iowa 1972…

Our lot went as far back as the next street so Keith & Patty actually lived kitty-corner from us. We plowed up a big section of back yard and shared a garden with them one summer. Emphasis on the ONE. Patty pulled/ate everything before the veggies matured. You know how vegetable producers just take big carrots, clean and cut them to look like baby carrots and sell them that way in the store? Well Patty picked all of our carrots when they were babies, about 2-3 inches long. Never shared or explained her motives. We got some tomatoes that summer because the crop was too much for her. But besides hoarding our summer crop or their bratty kids, we liked them a lot.

John and Keith…

Keith brought this hair-brained idea to John. Keith been approached/invited to attend a sales pitch/seminar to buy lake property (minus the lake, which was but a sparkle in their eyes so far), before any groundbreaking took place. Get in on the ground floor while the prices were cheap. If Keith brought along another prospective customer (sucker) as an incentive he would receive a cash gift. The extra guest (sucker) would also receive a very nice gift, but no money. John was skeptical, I was totally against the whole idea. We didn’t have 2 nickels to rub together and we knew it, K & P weren’t in much better shape-ok they might have been rubbing quarters. In simple terms, neither of us had an extra dime to be spending on speculative ‘Lake’ property. But Keith was motivated by those dollar signs.

Our rental in Hinton, so no we couldn’t buy lake-less property…

Being gone an entire Saturday was appealing but what to do with Shannon was an issue. Driving her 60 miles to my parents would cost about as much as hiring a babysitter for the day. Plus we’d have to drive back to Rock Valley to get her on Sunday. Our local babysitter was a divorced school teacher who was in her 40’s. She was a great kid watcher but harped on us constantly about the dumbest things. She was obsessed with our few piddly antiques, trying to buy them from us for a pittance. (We started collecting antiques because we couldn’t afford the new white, particle board dresser for $49.99 from Sears when we were furnishing Shannon’s room. We found an old oak dresser at a yard sale for 5 bucks-more in tune with our budget of zilch). She could not be in our house for 5 minutes without offering to buy the little bit of furniture (antiques) we had accumulated.

The babysitter’s coveted dresser we wouldn’t part with…

This-soon-to-be-lake-property was near Des Moines, about 4 hours away. Since we were their guests, tagging along for a free lunch and gift to be revealed later, there was no way we were driving. We had a 1968 2-door Mustang which had a collapsible front passenger seat (unintentionally-a flaw which had not been recalled) and only started when the temperature was above 45 degrees. Keith was driving a big Chevy Impala which was much roomier. Not too long afterwards Keith would accidentally fire his 243 high powered rifle right next to the Hubs (trying to hand the gun to John in that car, through an open window, with his finger still on the trigger, rendering Hubs deaf for a week. Took out the car floor, bell housing, clutch plate and buried the bullet in the cement. Dumb ass).

With the lure of a free meal, (and Keith’s cash gift already burning a hole in his pocket) we got on the road early. No GPS or Siri steering us in the right direction, just an old, creased Iowa map. The itinerary stated the sales pitch would be the first part of business (so you couldn’t sneak out), lunch, then driving out to the housing addition site to see our future vacation home, visualizing where the lake would be. If we couldn’t afford to build right away, simply hang onto the lot until it’s worth a ton-o-money. Yeah right.

Shannon’s 2nd birthday party in Hinton. Clockwise, Shannon, Kelli, Kristin, Glenda, Helen & Chad, Eleanor, Matt & Wendy…

The sales pitch was a hard sell, frenzied speaker, high on everything but life. The pressure was enormous, but for these 2 broke kids-a walk in the park. We knew pressure. We had bill collectors calling. Lunch was a turkey or ham sandwich, a handful of potato chips, cookie and a glass of punch. As his sermon wound down, small boxes were handed to us. Oh goodness, what could it be?

Orange ‘ya glad they didn’t come in another color?

Well, it was a chintzy set of dishes. Orange. Melmac. A set for 4. Kinda like plastic, kinda like rubber. Bendable, like undone bacon. The dinner plates were the size of saucers, the cups held 6 ounces. As poor as we were, we threw them away after we got home and bought our first set of Corelle Old Town Blue dishes.

Our first Corelle set of dishes…

I don’t remember the exact location outside of Des Moines-proper, where the future lake homes neighborhood would be. I had trouble visualizing the ‘big picture’ with nary a drop of water in sight. But there were some eager prospects looking to sign up for payments in hopes this would be a successful venture or their new home shortly. Hubs and I had no such vision that day, but I think Keith was sorely tempted. Patty was the practical half (and the hardworking half) in that marriage and after a couple of sharp elbows to his rib cage, he thought better of signing on the dotted line…

The Tonsil Train…

It was a fairly common practice back in the late 1940’s, 50’s and ‘60’s. Mothers hauling their young-uns, en masse to the doctor to “get your kid’s tonsils out. Adenoids included at no extra charge!” (The adenoids part may or may not be true. It sounds snarky though). Our family physician, Dr Hegg performed these tonsillectomies routinely right in his small, downtown office. Many kids in our elementary or junior high had their tonsils removed. The medical community felt it stopped a lot of infections. My Mom set up such an appointment one day in the early 50’s for my brother and sister. Mona was about 8, Larry about 5. The reason I was not included in that day’s festivities was because I was 1.

Larry, me and Mona around the time they got their tonsils removed, 1951…

I don’t know how many sore throats my sibs had before Doc suggested getting rid of those unruly balls in the back of their throats. Penicillin shots were doled out to combat serious throat infections but I think many of these constant infections stopped once the problem tonsils were removed. Mom brought Mona and Larry home after a few hours and nursed them through their recovery. In a few days they were feeling great.

Larry and Mona 1950 before I arrived. They look healthy here…

Doc Hegg’s office was about 2 blocks away. I walked to it many times by myself. I was never afraid to go to Doc’s office. Once again I had woken up that morning with a fever and terrible sore throat. Mom would take my temperature, give me an aspirin before she went to work. Doc Hegg’s office didn’t offer set appointments. You stepped into his outer office and sat down on one of the U-shaped bench seats and waited your turn. As Doc called “next,” the person closest to the inner office door went through it. Then the rest of us ‘wait-ers’ would shuffle forward, moving ever closer to said inner door, leaving room by the outside door for the next sicko to start the waiting process. I can only remember a couple instances when someone went-in-out-of-turn (a lot of dripping blood or a broken bone accompanied this particular person. The rest of us were uneasy/queasy with this poor dude’s mishap and just wanted him taken care of and out of sight). Mom would call me at home from work and tell me it was time to walk to his office and get a shot. I dreaded the shot but hated being sick worse.

Dr. Hegg’s office about 2 blocks from my house…

After the age of 8, I routinely ended up parking my butt in Doc’s office’s last seat, especially during our long winters. People who knew Mom and Dad would talk to me sometimes, trying to make me feel better or offering comfort because I was alone. The only part I was nervous about was the actual shot-which hurt, but I knew by tomorrow I would feel a lot better. Doc was a bit gruff, mumbling and chain smoking as he cared for Rock Valley’s patients. I never had money when I went to see Doc but Mom would stop by in a few days and pay for the shot and office visit.

Dr. & Mrs. Hegg…

After a couple years of penicillin shots every couple months, Doc thought it was time to have my tonsils removed, but he no longer did tonsillectomies in his office. (His namesake, Hegg Memorial Hospital’s groundbreaking would not happen for another 5 years). Doc did surgery at the Le Mars hospital about 40 miles away. He called Mom and offered several dates to choose from for my tonsillectomy. I would stay in the hospital overnight. Probably the biggest concern was their use of ether for anesthesia. It was well known for causing nausea and vomiting, not the best solution after just having your tonsils removed.

About the time my tonsils were removed in 1960. Can you believe the “spit-curls!

But I did great. Wasn’t sick afterwards and got pampered and treated to cool foods that went down easy. When I was awake and alert a volunteer came to my room pushing a decorated cart. I think she was surprised that I was 10 years old instead of 5. She explained every “kid” who’s a patient at the hospital is offered a small gift to pick out from the cart for being so brave. Problem was these ‘gifts’ were geared towards someone younger than 7. Hokey little stuffed animals that bordered on embarrassing for this big 4th grader. But I couldn’t let this opportunity slip away either. If they were offering me a present, I was taking something off that cart. I chose a little blue and white stuffed doll with an elastic strap sewn on the top of her head. A small plastic O-ring was stitched on top so it could be hung somewhere for babies to grab and tug, developing their dexterity. That little doll hung on a nail in my bedroom until I left home. Now she sits with most of Larry’s toys in an antique cabinet. I just love my little baby toy because of my bravery.

My ‘gift’ for bravery after my tonsillectomy is the little blue and yellow doll. Larry gave me the little plaid dog before he died…

When Mom came to the hospital late the next morning, she asked if I felt well enough to stop somewhere for lunch on the way home? “Sure do. This sore throat’s nothing compared to the ones I’ve had. Let’s go.” So we drove to Sioux Center and stopped at a restaurant in town. Mom looked the menu over carefully, searching for soups, jello, puddings and other soft foods. She said I could have a malt if I ate it with a spoon instead of a straw (no sucking for a few days). I ordered a hamburger and French fries, best food I ever ate. Slid right down the hatch-no problem. I hadn’t felt that good in a couple years.

Joshua about the time he started getting throat infections, 1982…

What a change when I had my kids during the 70’s, just 15 years later! Tonsillectomy’s were no longer encouraged but were frowned upon. I’d never really thought about that common childhood surgery until Joshua, our middle kid was school age. That poor boy was sick all the time. He’d just get over a throat infection and finally finish a round of antibiotics when I’d walk in to check him late at night and his room smelled like he was baking 4 loaves of bread. All yeasty and sour. He’d be running another fever, his tonsils swollen, inflamed and coated grey, covered with a moldy gunk. He suffered through mononucleosis, an enlarged spleen which kept him bedridden for a couple weeks, all because of his enormous tonsils. But Dr. Miller was required to document Joshua’s infections to ‘prove’ his tonsils needed to be removed before he could recommend surgery. I’m pretty sure he had to have 6 throat infections within a 12 month period before they took out those loathsome things. Our other 2 kids had sore throats on occasion but nothing like the miserable years Josh had with them from age 4 to when we finally got the go-ahead to get them taken out.

Josh and Adam in 1985. Tonsils were gone and he grew and grew…

Think Josh was 8 when his tonsils were taken out and felt about the same way I did afterwards. So happy not to be sick all the time. In the months following, he grew several inches and gained 10 pounds. Surprised at how hard he could play and how much food he could eat. So Hubs, Shannon and Adam still have their tonsils but for Josh and his mom that tonsil train was a trip worth taking…

When you buy 2 (or more)…

We moved to Michigan during late winter of 1987. This was a big change. We were 750 miles from our Iowa hometown. Hubs and I morphed from newlywed rookies to seasoned veterans in the marriage department (18 years and counting then) and had 3 kids, 16, 11 and 7. Although the two states were similar weather wise (more snow in Michigan, Iowa totaled more blizzards), there were many differences.

A lot of snow but it rarely comes with wind in Michigan…

In the natural resource department Michigan took the prize in water (the mighty Great Lakes plus thousands of smaller ones) and trees (billions and billions). Iowa has better farmland, crops and the meat industry is up to the task of feeding the world. Iowa had a couple of great grocery store chains like Fareway and Hy-Vee, but neither could compare to what became my favorite shopping mecca after we moved to Jackson. A chain called Meijer (Thrifty Acres).

Beautiful Lake Michigan…

I’ve lavished praise about Meijer on my blog before. A colossal shopping experience with a mixture of (remember this is 1987) K-Mart, Walmart, popular grocery store, lumber yard, drug store combination. Jackson did not yet have Menard’s, Lowe’s or Home Depot. Established in the 1930’s and headquartered in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the Meijer family had their finger on the pulse on how families wanted to shop. With approximately 250 stores in 6 Midwest states, Meijer’s goal was really one-stop-shopping. No need to drive another 4 miles down the road to the lumberyard or bank.

All stores are regularly remodeled…

One of the kids need a haircut? Meijer’s store had a barber/beauty shop. Hubs spilled a glop of ketchup on his suit jacket? Just haul it along when you’re at Meijer and drop it off to be picked up, dry cleaned and retuned to our favorite store. Want to rent a VCR tape of Adventures in Babysitting? Stop in while you’re at Meijer. They carried several copies of all the latest releases.

One of our favorite movies…

Right after we moved, the boys were playing basketball in the driveway and broke a small pane of glass in our garage door. Hubs gave me the measurements and while I was shopping, the Meijer lumber department cut the glass for me. (We replaced panes twice, after that John removed all the glass and replaced them with wood panels, cut to size at Meijer of course). We had several doors leading outside of our rambling ranch. We bought 4 Forever Storm doors-at Meijer.

Joshua and Adam, spring of 1987 in Jackson…

One small Meijer section was a restaurant where you could get an omelette, toast and coffee for a couple bucks. If hubby was tired and cranky (much like hauling the kids along) he could sit and enjoy a fresh donut or bagel while people watching or visiting someone at the next table. But he often roamed the store while I shopped because he was as fascinated with it as I was. Don’t bother with a trip to the liquor store, there’s plenty of booze, mixes, wine and beer at Meijer.

Unbelievable produce department at Meijer…

Have a package to mail, need a money order, pay your Consumer’s bill, or buy stamps? No need to go to the post office, Meijer had its own postal department. Need a fancy bonsai shrub, some mulch, tray of annuals, a fresh flower bouquet or bird bath? Right, it was all in the Meijer nursery. Prescriptions got filled, Shannon needed a new pair of tights, Josh outgrew his boots again, or a new Bugle Boy shirt for Adam, some marked half off-at Meijer’s. Need a couple of porterhouse steaks but want them cut thicker? Meijer meat department. You can see how I became so smitten with this chain.

Had to take out the glass from the garage doors to play hoops…

With the demise of K-Mart, Montgomery Wards, Sears and others you realize businesses that remain stagnant or refuse to update, remodel or change don’t have a long future ahead of them. And Meijer did change with the times. More stores were staying open 24/7 and only closing a couple days a year. Some people wanted/needed to shop at 10 pm while daddy was watching Sports Center and the kiddos were sound asleep. A couple years after the aforementioned big box stores opened, Meijer got rid of lumber, doors, glass and downsized several other departments that were lagging behind, because there was stiff competition from these new businesses.

Sales ad before I was forced to buy 3 quarts of strawberries for 5 bucks. One would cost me $1.67…

But Meijer never scrimped in the grocery/produce/meat/bakery/frozen foods department. It’s awesome and extensive. Why supply 8 varieties of potato chip when you can offer 20? Hubs grew perturbed when he was along because the plumbing or nuts/bolts and screws had dwindled down to a couple of packages of picture hangers when he expected the department to look the same as 1990 before Lowe’s and Menards arrived.

Yeah, I have to buy 10 to get them at the sale price…

It’s because I’ve been a loyal Meijer customer for over 30 years, (often shocked when I return from a 2 week vacation to find my store is still open-without my shopping or money) an unpaid champion/cheerleader/advocate that I feel entitled/compelled to (gasp) criticize Meijer. I am so ticked off with my favorite store! Because they have incorporated a new sales gimmick that discriminates against every senior citizen or any shopper on a fixed income. I’m not allowed the savings unless I’m willing to buy the number of products the store insists on. It’s a racket and a bad business move. Why should I be penalized into purchasing 3 enormous boxes of cereal so I can get them for 3 bucks a piece instead of $4.50? If I only need one, I have to pay 4.50. Is this really good business? Is it fair? Not hardly.

Yeah, that’s what seniors need, 3 humongous boxes of cereal or pay full price. Sad…

I realize it’s been a tough year. For all of us. The pandemic, first time ever I experienced empty shelves in the grocery store and shortened shopping hours. For months Meijer didn’t offer their weekly sales flyer that normally comes with the Sunday paper. They still have not recovered because this week’s ad is one newspaper sized sheet, so 4 half pages when they used to have 10 or 12 half sheets. Of the skimpy sale items listed on 4 half sheets this week, 40 of them require a certain quantity if I want to get the savings. Forty. Requiring me to buy anywhere from (2 or more) to 10. So if I buy 9 yogurt containers I have to pay regular price unless I ante up for that 10th one.

This is the way shelves looked most of 2020. It’s better now, but the sales sure suck…

Each time I walk into Meijer (we have 2 stores in Jackson) I stop a manager and voice my concerns about their crazy strict sales requirements, hoping they will pass my dissatisfaction on to the powers that be at headquarters. I hate to think my love affair with shopping at Meijer has come to end. But they need to change this discriminatory sales practice to get back in my good graces…

And the eyes have it…

I am a composite of many things. I’m not gonna bore you with an adjective that might fit, but there’s a slim-to-none chance of a new acquaintance harboring these lingering thoughts, “oh I can’t wait to get to know her better.” In a nutshell, I’m a nondescript person living in a descriptive world. Fair warning though, this post lacks some finesse, so if your bothered by minor gory details, maybe you should skip this one.

My mid 20’s, eyebrows and eyelids are where they’re supposed to be…

I’ve never considered myself vain. I’m not fashion conscious and wear minimal makeup on rare occasions. I carry some negative baggage on how I look. Meaning I wish there was less of me to see. I just feel so much better about life when I look decent in clothes. My yo-yo weight issues have kept me company for most of my adult life. I gain a few pounds then spot ‘Will Power’ close enough to become my bosom buddy, only to have the little shit disappear a couple years later, just as I’m relishing his long term commitment plan on maintaining for granted. He obviously doesn’t view our relationship in the same high regard as I do his. (Or he presumes I’m gonna stop shoving food in constantly). A couple years later I grow weary of lugging the extra 25 pounds around when suddenly I see ‘Will’ on the front steps again, willing to renew our friendship. He’s fickle.

Mid 40’s, most everything is still in its appropriate spot…

I recently passed a milestone birthday. A biggie. As this momentous occasion loomed on the horizon last winter, there was a niggling in my brain suggesting I have a thorough maintenance checkup on some of my parts since my extended warranty had finally run out. (The dude from India just stopped calling). Went to my primary care for my physical and Dr. Arntz suggested:

1. Make an appointment with my orthopedic doctor who specializes in hands. Dr. Aubin diagnosed Dupuytren’s contracture (a thick cord of tissue that pulls a finger into a bent position, aka, trigger finger). I had a twofer. Yay Neese. A quick and easy fix though. A shot of cortisone in 2 spots of the fleshy part of my palm. Ouch. A sore hand for a week but it’s better.

Ariana 20, me 60. Starting to notice the southerly eyebrow descent and puffiness…

2. Make another appointment with my orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Carpenter who replaced my right knee in 2019. Now my left leg was bothering me. X-rays showed my knee is not good but the pain is in the back of my leg, from my upper thigh to mid calf. He sent me to a neurologist who ordered a round of physical therapy after an MRI showed my back/spine is in pretty good shape. The physical therapy is for Piriformis Syndrome. Laymen’s term please. My big butt muscle is compressing on nerve causing tingling, numbness, pain and a limp. It’s fixable. PT is helping.

3. Have a thorough eye exam. When the eye doc asked about any noticeable changes I told him my peripheral vision was way off. Hubs strung a clothesline in the laundry room downstairs 5 years ago. When our shirts are partially dry I hang them up (no clothespins, just plastic hangers). As I turn from the dryer, the clothesline is literally 15 inches away and a foot above my head. I miss the damn clothesline 75% of the time on the first try. I don’t know why but that’s definitely different than a couple of years ago.

He wanted to run another test so I went back couple weeks later. He had me look through a view master like device. Simple enough. I pressed a button every time I saw a yellow dot. One eye at a time, the other eye was covered. Out of a possible 64 dots that flashed, I saw 6 with my right eye and 16 with my left. Never thought from my 3 minor health issues, my eyes would take the trophy.

Another referral to a specialist named Dr. Ambani. (The snowball effect with doctors. Still, would rather get a referral from my PC rather than have him try 6 different things before sending me to a specialist). She sat me down and explained my eyelids are so ‘hooded’ they’re covering part of my eyeballs, limiting my vision. One of the reasons I lift my eyebrows/forehead when I read-that movement simply lets me see better. Right eye is worse (I sleep on my right side so it’s puffier). She got out her iPhone and took 20 closeups of my face. It was embarrassing and quite unflattering. Said I should have surgery to remove some eyelid skin/fat (gross) so my eyes will open further. To make matters worse, my eyebrows were drooping and would sag even further south after removing eyelid tissue unless they were boosted north. Oh the ‘gravity’ of the situation.

These pictures and her diagnosis went to Medicare for approval, emphasizing this was for medical reasons not cosmetically. After a few weeks the surgery request came back with a thumbs up, so I was put on the surgery schedule a month in advance. I’m not gonna gross you out by trying to explain what’s entailed in the 2-1/2 hour procedure. Same day, in and out in a few hours, (which turned out to be my only criticism). I wasn’t coherent or ready to go home. The post op staff kept murmuring in my ear because they couldn’t get my hearing aid back in. “Wake up Denise, it’s time to go home. We can’t give you any more medication, let’s wake up now.” I don’t remember getting in the car, the ride home or walking to the house. I slept in my recliner for 36 hours. My head had to be higher than my heart to curb swelling. I was still pretty nauseous, so only a few sips of water and a couple bites of toast during that time.

We were twins for a week…

What I looked like is hard to describe. Part Herman Munster, (but without the gaudy scar because my surgeon’s meticulous) part Bart Simpson, part walking wounded Civil war soldier. My entire head was wrapped in a foam ace bandage, beige colored, mummy headgear, cupping my chin. Tufts of my silver/white/gray hair stuck out everywhere. (My iPad Pro has facial recognition and it didn’t know me for 4 days-hahaha). My eyebrows were visible and my right ear (at least they remembered the appropriate ear for my hearing aid). If I hadn’t been mostly unconscious-even I would have found this hysterical.

The design for my head bandage…

Dr. Ambani warned me to leave the Civil War headgear on for 48 hours before my first shower. I stewed about this before surgery but since I was so miserable it wasn’t as bad as I thought. I could shower after Hubs unwrapped my head. Stitches and staples (really the thought of seeing staples in my head sort of freaked me out, but they were very small) dotted my hairline. Gulp. If you took a horseshoe and lined it up behind both ears, that was the section I could scrub without pain or feeling faint. I dribbled water over the front third, gently touched a couple drops of shampoo and rinsed. Pat, pat, pat with a towel. But I felt human!

I needed to keep Vaseline on my hairline and Bacitracin on my eyelids, so I looked like a grungy greaser an hour later. But both salves stopped the pinching and tightness. Only bruising was about 2 inches below each eye, kinda swollen too. I’m astounded at how little pain I had. Hubs cut a pain pill (mild opioid) in half for me 3 times during the first 3 days. That was it. I had 2 ‘spots’ on my head that bothered me a lot but we’ll get to that during my post op visit.

Day 8 after surgery for post op visit to have stitches removed (hopefully staples too). Nurse led me to an exam room and asked permission if a resident tagged along with Dr. Ambani to see patients today? Sure. Sigh. They walk in and Doc stops in her tracks. “Oh Denise, I love your eyebrows!” Me: “I know, me too! Noticed them a couple days ago and thought, well that’s where you guys were 10 years ago!” Doc wants more pictures (if she ever loses that work phone or gets ticked at me, she’s got a lot of ammunition). “We gotta have before and after pictures.” To make her point, she shows me (and the resident) a couple before’s. “Look at your eyelids. They were starting to cover your IRISES! Now look.” Sure enough, there’s a lot more of my eye showing, even with the swelling and stitches intact. The next before picture’s even worse. She had gently pulled the mass-of-too-much-pouchy-skin out towards my ears. Not sure if I looked more like a flying squirrel or a bat. This was a humbling experience. And embarrassing. There’s a strong possibility I’ve never looked worse.

Very similar to what docs pic of me looked like as she stretched it out there. Ugh…

She leans me back and starts removing the stitches and staples. Every tug stings because she catches a hair or 2 at the same time. She and the resident are having a teaching moment which is distracting but ok. “What kind of thread is that?” “Some of it has dissolved already. I use that type on kids more often so there’s less stitch removal.” “Why did you use that type of stitch there?” “Are you married? Do you have kids? Where ‘ya from?”

Finished that small ordeal and she asked about any issues I have. “Well there’s a spot on my right forehead that’s mighty painful.” “Yes, there’s a clip under your skin (oh I can’t even). It’s gonna be very sensitive but will dissolve in about a year.” (I vaguely remember her explaining that). After I find I can still speak, I move on, “there’s a baseball size tender spot on the top of my head, upper left. Hurts even when I yawn.” “Hmm, remember when I told you had a receding hairline on one side?” “Oh bloody hell, I do not.” “Well, I wanted to match both sides, so I hitched your left side up a bit. Probably why that spot’s a little tender.” (Ok, there’s nothing more I want to be inquisitive about. So done).

I’m still scary to look at, so no pic yet. Enjoy great granddaughter Jovi instead…

I’m amazed at how well I see, especially when I’m concentrating on an object, then see how much my peripheral vision can take in at the same time without moving my eyes. Eyes are still sensitive to light but getting better. If I were wearing ear muffs, everything in front of the muffs is numb to my forehead. Think that’s going to take awhile to get feeling back. Never realized until now how appropriate it was when someone says, “Neese, you’re such a numb skull.”…

Tales of Larry…

The month of June has some significance for this lowly, unimaginative storyteller. The name of my blog was relatively easy. Storyteller from a One-Stoplight Town is the way I remember my home town of Rock Valley, Iowa when I was a kid. With one lone stoplight (giving it a ‘big’ town feel for all 1,600 of us). A couple weeks after my 16th birthday, (late December, 1966), I came within one snide, sarcastic remark, a covert eye roll or a smirk of getting a moving violation (ok, ticket) when I was pulled over by our Chief of Police (after finally reaching my first big life goal of getting my driver’s license on the 1st try).

I loved my blog background when I started. Thanks Marlys…

This, the very same stoplight that still makes me feel all warm and fuzzy. (I hadn’t come to a COMPLETE STOP after the traffic light went into blinking mode, flashing red one way, yellow the other. I was heading east, after 10 pm. In my defense, not only a rookie driver after completing 3 months of intensive driver’s education training, (the ONE TIME I raised my hand during the classroom segment, I offered the answer that car gears were sanforized instead of saying synchronized to the guffaws of every boy in the class) but still learning the nuances of a clutch and a 3-speed on the column of a gigantic 1963 maroon Chevy Biscayne, plus looking cool at the same time. Not an easy task for me. I failed, but didn’t get the ticket. A win, really.

Make and model of what I was trying to drive when I got stopped. The first time…

Fast forward to eight years ago, June, 2014. I had been invited to a childhood friend’s house in Holland, Michigan. Our families had been close during the late 1950’s when we all lived in the same small Dutch community in northwest Iowa. My tribe of 5 (I was 7 at the time) had been shattered by a horrible accident which claimed the life of my 12 year old brother Larry. My friend Marlys and her family went to the same church as we did and her parents offered friendship and comfort during our loss. Not long after Larry’s death, the Kempema’s moved to Michigan and the Gerritson brood of 4 stayed in Rock Valley. We lost touch.

Larry and Mona in 1949 (before I arrived)…

Marlys and I reconnected over 50 years later through a nostalgic site called, If you grew up in Rock Valley, Iowa. Comments on posts back and forth made us realize a lifetime ago we had been friends as kids. She was kind about my comments and said, “I hope you’re blogging Denise. You have a lot of words to get out there.” (I had never heard of a blog. I was pretty inept in the technical departments of cell phones, computers and iPads). Although I was slow to catch up with all the technology I was the proud owner of my first iPad and determined to realize its potential.

Larry, 2nd grade…

Miracles never cease. Marlys and I discovered we now lived only 45 miles from each other. She was computer savvy (like my son Joshua but he lived 180 miles away and was busy running his own company. Couldn’t really infringe on a lot of his time. However, Marlys graciously offered to show me the ropes (easy-peasy) of all things bloggy. After choosing a day, I drove over to renew our friendship in person and enjoy her hospitality, lunch and lovely home.

Larry by our playhouse, 1951…

After lunch, Marlys pulled up her recent account (blog) about a trip she and Jim had taken after they retired. My interest was piqued. But could I do this? One of her first suggestions was to use my PC for the blog. Ugh, disappointed. I had just spent a fortune on an iPad mini with the most memory available. Sadly I said, “sorry Mar, if I can’t do this on my mini, it’s not gonna happen.”

Larry, me and Spitzy, 1957…

Her fingers flew from her PC to my iPad looking at different blogging backgrounds, fonts, borders, which side I preferred for my archives to be on (what exactly was that anyway?). She encouraged me to use real names and to be truthful. I did reach out to my kids beforehand for permission, kinda promising I would do my best to not hurt their feelings or mortify them completely with my stories. Still, if my teenage angst, crushes, cliques blunders, petty crimes and misdemeanors were put out there for all to see, some of their outrageous antics would appear now and then too.

My favorite picture of Larry…

Since Marlys had made daily entries of their retirement trip (maybe a month long?) so that’s the length of commitment time I gave my blog. Logical, right? I knew I couldn’t write a story everyday though. My life is mundane, boring and often isolated. Who wants to hear about that? No one. I never imagined my blog in the long term. I had no agenda.

Mona, Larry, Mom & me, 1957…

My only real ‘blogging goal’ was Larry. I started blogging when I was 63, and he had been gone for almost 55 years. But the memories I held about him (and us) were vivid and needed to be written down before I couldn’t remember anymore. The black and white pictures of him that somehow managed to convey how snow white/blonde his hair was, (while mine was mousey brown). How could I not write about his endearing lisp and make folks smile about the way he talked? “Motha, can I have a quata?” (Small issue with his R’s) His love for baseball, (he was a lefty) shooting marbles on our pea gravel driveway, catching pigeons in the rafters of farmer’s barns with dad. Oh my gosh I had so much to say!

Mona 11, me 3-1/2, Larry 8, 1954…

I left that afternoon full of enthusiastic hope! By the time I had driven 45 miles, I was filled with misgivings. I can’t write, I’m not a writer. My 4-year-old great-granddaughter Jovi’s vocabulary is more extensive than mine. But my stories about Larry and our childhood were tumbling out of my head faster than I could type. If I proofread until there were no mistakes, typos, punctuation errors, and use better sentence/paragraph structure, I’d still be on my first story. No, these are my stories. I write for me. How my childhood, me-the-teen, marriage and motherhood has been perceived. By me. The good, the bad, the ugly and sometimes even mildly amusing. But they’re all mine. Ah-ah-ah.

A hug and a smooch from Larry…

Eight years and counting, I’m still here. Unbelievable. Whether I’ve exhumed some long-forgotten memory or a minor life event like grocery shopping last week, I’m just not done. Yet. After I whipped out the first 30 stories from mid-June through September of 2014, I called Joshua (my tech guru). “I need my stories published in a book. One book, just for me. Would if the Internet disappears? What happens when I’m in a nursing home and can’t remember shit? I need my stories next to me. They’ll be volunteers who can read me a couple stories at night, but I need them, literally, on my person. Really Josh, I’m serious.” He laughed, “Ma, you gotta write for awhile. Then I’ll get your stories in hardcover for your stint in the home.” (Maybe he thought I’d get better or get over it. Fat chance with either one buddy).

1957 a year before Larry died. Dad 40, Larry 11, Mona 14, me 6, mom 31…

It all started with stories about Larry, eight years ago. With lots of help from Marlys and Joshua. Many thanks to both of them. This is story number 361, June 2, 2021. Still missing my big brother. And waiting on my tech guru. That book’s gonna be mighty heavy for this old lady to haul around…