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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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!
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.
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).
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…