I give thanks on the day he was born every year. July 24, 1946 is worth mentioning. Taking into consideration I wouldn’t be born for another 4-1/2 years, Larry was not part of my life very long, but what an impact he made. I used to dream what life would have been like had he lived longer, but the decades flew by and it’s hard to imagine my life with Larry still in it, so I tend to focus on short section of my life when he was a part of it. A big part. After discounting the years I was a baby and adding up the total however, not very long. Five years-thereabouts.
I wasn’t planned. Oops. Mom and Dad had the all-American family, a girl and a boy. Money was tight, the house was small, pay on the railroad was not great and I think an occasional lay-off from work was involved every year. Mom stayed home with my sibs but was determined to find a job as soon as Mona and Larry were in school full time. (Kindergarten was half days back then). Just as Mom was seeing light at the end of tunnel after 8 years of marriage and 2 school age kids, I was getting ready to make my entrance at the end of 1950.
I never felt unwanted though. The four of them doted on their new baby sister, especially Larry. He could have been resentful, assuming he was the baby of the family but he loved me. When I was a toddler he let me tag along in our big back yard or empty lots across the street. He stopped me once after a neighbor kid told me we were growing raisins in our yard. They were actually bunny turds on the ground below the rabbit hutches. Larry always had my back. Even when it was a pain or embarrassing.
When we moved a mile away and a mere block and a half from Main Street, we didn’t play together as much as living on the west edge of town. There were more kids scrunched together in the middle of town. The school playground was 2 blocks east, and a shopping mecca to meet the simple needs of consumers-young and old, a block away in the other direction. Where you could buy multiple sweet treats when you had one thin dime in your pocket.
It was 1955 and there were limitations to where this 4-1/2 year-old could venture, but Larry was 9 and had the run of the town. He had tons of friends, was crazy about baseball and shooting marbles in our driveway. He had a BB gun, a Schwinn bike, baseball cards up the wazoo (early to late 1950’s, what some of those cards must be worth today!) and always had a baseball card of a less popular player/team clicking in the spoke of his bike. Dad was a big Yankee fan so Larry probably followed suit. The difference in our ages really started to dictate how much we saw of each other. I was busy making friends. Girls my own age who wanted to play dolls or drive-inn using my cool play house in the backyard.
Being born after him means I missed much of Larry’s already too short life. It still makes me part envious and a little bitter. So many everyday occurrences happened in his life I wasn’t privy to, him just being a daredevil boy. The 3 years we lived on 15th street before he died, he was this big kid who could be gone for hours without my parents worrying about him or getting in trouble. He was zipping around town with Dickie, Norm and Ken. These kids saw the goofy Larry, the baseball crazy friend who shot marbles left-handed. The fair haired, super blonde with a funny lisp. They had endless days with him hanging out at the dump and Van Zee’s sand pit with a small enticing island. Or catching pigeons in the rafters of barns after it was dark. I never got to go pigeon hunting with him and dad. Not that I wanted to but causes me pain to realize how much of his life I missed.
But we always had family time too. Mom cooked supper every night which was on the table by 5:30. Pretty standard procedure, no one was late or missed supper. We didn’t take long vacations, (I’m sure they were too expensive) but I remember several day-trips to Lake Okoboji, the Spencer County fair, visiting the Grotto in West Bend, Iowa, and the dam at Yankton, South Dakota on a miserably cold, wet day.
Larry mowed yards, shoveled snow, helped our grandpa Gerritson and sold pigeons for spending money. One Christmas he bought mom a new fry pan. A little bit on the small side, maybe an 8” for our family of 5 but she was thrilled. Many years after he was gone she continued to use his last gift. The black Bakelite handle had long since crumbled into pieces so she always had a potholder handy when she grabbed the naked metal. That was the year he bought me a small, stuffed brown bear, which I still have.
No matter how hard I rack my brain, I’ve only got so many memories of Larry and nothing I can do to change that. Five year’s worth-not much. The Saturday morning he was riding (my bike, because he needed the basket) bike and got hit by a car remains vivid but horrific. Mom screaming, running in the street after a phone call. An hour later there was no place to park for 2 blocks on 15th street-waiting for dad to get home from Hawarden-30 miles away. Members from our church-wanting to help mom break the news to dad their only son had been killed.
Still, it feels good to write another story about life with my big brother (repetitious, sorry about that). Larry would be 75 today so it’s been 63 years since I saw his beaming smile, blonde head or heard him speak. Each year brings me a bit closer to my reunion not only with Larry, but mom, dad, Mona and the grandmother I never met who died when mom was 2 weeks old. What a day that will be! Happy heavenly birthday Larry Wayne, July 24, 1946 to October 11, 1958…