Dad’s Garden…

After 8 years of marriage, which had produced 2 children and another one on the way (me-unplanned), Mom and Dad began talking seriously about a job change. (Mom would not start working outside the home until the ‘unplanned’ was in school). Dad had been working on the railroad (all the live-long day) which included periodic layoffs. In November of 1950, a couple weeks before I was born, Dad took a job with the Iowa State Highway Commission where he would remain until he retired on the last day of 1981.

Dad, Denise & Larry, summer of 1951…

Working for the road commission in Iowa was not an easy job. Iowa’s extreme weather conditions often dictated what type of work was done on that particular day. During their blistering summers, the highway’s pavement actually buckled from the heat and humidity which is very dangerous for cars and drivers. A state work crew would be notified from a passing motorist or farmer, alerting them another ‘blowup’ occurred so many miles east or west of Rock Valley. The guys would remove the buckled portion (usually concrete) and replace it with nice flat blacktop (a quick fix).

A nice little ‘wall’ of snow in Iowa, probably ‘59-‘60. Never knew our license plate was our phone number!!

During the spring, Iowa’s ditches along the roads needed constant upkeep. Culverts needed cleaning out and weeds, wildflowers even errant asparagus patches needed to be mowed. Dad had this task often. I always knew when he was topping off the shoulders or riding a tractor through the ditch because he had awful allergies and his sneezing fits would start about 5 a.m. when the birds started singing. I was just down the hall sleeping, often finding myself wide awake by sneeze # 20 or so. Poor dad, I don’t ever remember him taking anything or doctoring for his allergies. He refused to use Kleenex and went through several hankies a day (blue and red paisley ones for work, white ironed one’s for church or elder duties). Red watery eyes with those long bouts of petite allergy/hay fever sneezes.

Dad driving the snowplow after a blizzard…

Iowa’s hardest season of work (and the longest) for Dad was winter. Often starting in November, the state seemed to be in a perpetual state of sleet, snow, ice, wind or blizzards. Boy howdy. We moved to Michigan almost 35 years ago and people like to compare the 2 states winter’s, but there’s no comparison. While Michigan might get more snow (especially lake effect near Lake Michigan’s shoreline) the big lake also keeps the temperatures warmer. Iowa has more days of below freezing and below zero. Way below. The other biggie is how the snow falls. In Michigan many times you’ll see several inches on snow on top of a tiny fence post. Aww, so cute. Most of Iowa’s snow comes to us in wretched fashion from Nebraska-accompanied by a 40 mph gentle breeze from the west-with nothing stopping its progression (Iowa does not have an over abundance of trees like Michigan). A portion of your yard might still boast a few blades of visible grass while the other side will have a ten foot drift trying to compete with your roofline.

See how high it piles up in Michigan without wind! Ugh, I hate every flake…

During these whiteouts, blizzards, ice storms, and tsunami winds Dad’s job was keeping highways 75 and 18 as safe and clear as humanly possible, and their work day never stopped at regular quitting time. He often got called into work during the middle of the night and would end up working 16-20 hours before coming home. Mom would have his supper in the fridge on a pie plate, covered with aluminum foil which he’d pop into the oven for a few minutes if we were already in bed.

Dad retiring after 31 years of sneezing, mowing and plowing snow on the roads of northwest Iowa. His ‘gift clock’ looks like the state of Michigan and now hangs in our family room…

It’s easy to understand dad’s lack of bubbling enthusiasm for most chores around our hovel. He literally updated our house on the inside for 50 years but never really cared for all the work involved on the outside. By the time he got home from work, he’d either been mowing for 8 hours or plowing snow for 8-or more. He mowed because he wanted the yard to look nice like the neighbors, shoveled because our sidewalk was used by students trudging their way to school 2 blocks away. He had no interest in landscaping, buying or planting shrubbery. That task belonged to Mom. However when she brought home a new Blue Spruce he’d plant it without complaint, exactly where she deemed appropriate.

One of Dad’s many signs over the years on Highway 18 or 75…

He loved to ‘tinker’ in our huge garage, hand painting large, religious signs he posted (along those same highways, 18 & 75 where he worked everyday) to encourage unbelievers to find their way to Christ with catchy, thought provoking statements.

One of Dad’s messages…

As much as Dad disliked mowing, raking and shoveling (I don’t think he ever used weed & feed) he enjoyed growing a garden. Mom might have had something to do with this. She loved green beans, peultjes (peas in the pod) soft garden lettuce, radishes but most of all-fresh tomatoes (my favorite food in the world). Lucky for us, Dad could grow tomatoes like nobody’s business (although he was growing veggies in the best soil on earth)! If there was a dry spell for a few days and Mom and I were in the midst of an uncomfortable tomato withdrawal, we’d drive to the west edge of town where Luke & Tilly Van Berkum (no relation) had a small acreage-green house cause they grew enough tomatoes to feed the town.

Ok, the biggest one’s mine. “Mom make some tuna salad please.”

There weren’t many meals from mid-August through September that didn’t include tomatoes. Mom and I always liked something cold with our meal like pickled beets, applesauce or cranberry sauce-unless there were fresh tomatoes. She’d slice (not thin, skimpy slices either) a cereal bowl full to go along with whatever she’d made for supper, meatloaf, ham, pork chops. Although we were not really a ‘sandwich’ family, BLT’s were on the menu every few days when tomatoes were at their peak.

A version of the garden salad Mom made with eggs, bacon, garden lettuce, potatoes and bacon dressing….

But my favorite way Mom served fresh tomatoes was with tuna salad (which Dad refused to eat so this was our lunch most days when he was at work). Don’t get in a snit about the way Mom made our tuna salad. Water based Starkist, drained with a couple diced sweet pickles, celery and just enough Miracle Whip to hold it together. (I add green onion). She would carefully look through Dad’s stash of fresh tomatoes sitting on the counter and pick out the 2 best, biggest ones available. She’d take a steak knife and cut/carve out a pretty big section surrounding the stem, then pack that gaping hole with tuna salad. (Not gonna lie, it makes my mouth water, it was so good).

The way I eat tomatoes and tuna salad these days…

Guess I’ve not changed much in the amount of fresh tomatoes I eat or how I eat them. If we’re having a ‘good’ supper I’ll eat at least one tomato sliced with my meal topped with salt. For lunch it’s a BLT or simply sliced tomato on buttered bread topped with sugar. I’ll make tuna salad every 10 days (it lasts me 3 meals) although I no longer dig out the tomato middle. I slice it thick and chunk the slices in a bowl topped with salt. Dip my fork into tuna then stab a big chunk of tomato. A fond memory of Dad’s gardens during the 50’s and 60’s, how many times and ways Mom and I managed to eat tomatoes for 2 months a year…

My favorite picture of Dad. He was embarrassed he was wearing ‘work clothes’ when he was interviewed for the newspaper, but this is how I remember him, overall, 2 or 3 layers of shirts because he was always cold like me…

‘A’ is for annoying…

The first car I ever drove didn’t belong to my parents. The year was 1964, I was 13 and Mom’s car was in the shop. Santema’s Chevy garage gave her a loaner for the day. I remember whining/zhanicking/begging her to take me out for my first driving lesson. The reason I was so adamant (and she so agreeable) was because the ‘55 Bel Air was an automatic. My parents only drove cars with a manual transmission and a clutch. No radio, no air and shifting from 1st, 2nd to 3rd was part of the package.

It wasn’t fancy and I don’t remember the color, but my love for driving started in a 1955…

I wouldn’t take driver’s training for another year. It would take lots of practice easing the clutch out while giving it some gas before I got my hand/feet/coordination while driving with no power steering. However, I have never tried harder about anything than learning to drive, passing the written test and driving our 1963 Chevy with an Iowa Highway Patrolman sitting next to me on our bench seat while I parallel parked the beast with ease.

Mom taught me to drive that day and I was in heaven! I drove for about 10 minutes, just 14th, 15th and 16th street. We never attempted crossing Main Street. Not many things in my life has been as exciting as the day barely-teen-Neese learned how to drive and I’ve loved driving ever since. But it would literally be 2 decades (1987 Astro Van) before I had dependable transportation.

Wish we still had a 1965 Impala…

When John and I eloped in 1969 we both had decent wheels. Hubs was driving a very cool 1965 2-door hardtop Impala. I was tooling around in a Cubby blue 1968 Ford Mustang, but there were red flags everywhere. Hubs (barely out of his teens) had gotten several tickets for drag racing his ‘65 on Douglas street in Sioux City, and had driven it, unintentionally over a cliff (cool as that car was, it couldn’t fly). So for the first couple years of wedded-frickin-bliss he was not allowed to drive anything as requested politely by the state.

One & done with this Ford lemon…

We could scarcely make one car payment let alone 2. Since there was only one driver who was street legal, we sold the ‘65. Making matters worse, the Mustang was proving to be a lemon. The passenger seat broke routinely, shooting half of you into the back seat while inflicting spine/neck injuries. When the temperature hovered between freezing & 45, the Mustang refused to leave the corral for the day (or week).

We didn’t exactly get off on the right foot where reliable transportation was concerned. The 1965 International pickup’s clutch went out, so we parked on inclines and popped it in gear after we were rolling downhill, plus the passenger door flew open randomly, threatening to fling all living souls out. Our 1968 Nova blew a gasket so often, Hubs carried 6 of them in the car at all times, just dangling from the gear shifter, each patiently waiting their installation turn.

Our family car in 1957…

The 1969 Toyota idled at about 4000 rpm which was nice when driving in town because you never had to step on the accelerator. It went 20 mph all by itself. One day the whole dash exploded. John was disenchanted with our first ‘foreign’ car, and paid to have it crushed. Four year old Josh was with daddy and crying as the yellow cab colored POS was being squished. “Oh Buddy, are you gonna miss that car?” “No, my bubblegum is in the glovebox.”

The 1976 Dodge Aspen Wagon was better-except when you turned left. It would stall every freaking time. We were living in Davenport, a pretty good sized city with traffic lights at most intersections. I became adept at driving and only making right turns. Took me longer, but hell hath no fury like rush hour traffic, a stalled car with a mom and kids (sitting dead in the water in the left turn lane).

Never did run right but we drove it anyway, the Sapporo….

We bought a 1978 Sapporo with a blown engine for a song. Hubs thought he could just slip in another engine without much fanfare. It was a lot of work, engine didn’t quite fit and he had to rebuild/refit the fuel system. It ran like a dilapidated POS, but looked cool.

In 1984 John bought a brand new Chevy S-10. Crowded with a family of 5 but Adam was small enough to sit among 3 sets of legs on the floor. At least it didn’t strand us anywhere. Three years later we got the Astro Van with 12,000 miles on it for me. Two dependable vehicles-finally.

The gasket guzzling Nova…

Let’s recap. These are just a few examples of the rundown, dilapidated modes of transportation I’ve been subjected to during 20 years of my life. Every single one of them left me stranded at least once while I was their embarrassed/frustrated owner. That dubious sinking feeling, my panicking racing heart, mouth void of spit when your car won’t start, or stalls at a stop sign/traffic light has a negative impact on the day. You’ve got kids with you, one of them has practice or a dentist appointment, the trunk is full of groceries and you’re stranded in a car that’s not going anywhere and no cell phone. Maddening/depressing.

I’m not fussy when it comes to cars. I want something that’s safe, drives great, keeps me warm or cool, has good brakes, tires and starts when you insert the key. (Haha, I’m becoming my folks. I’m deaf and never listen to the radio anymore) Doesn’t seem like I’m too needy or demanding.

Too dark to get a picture of my Jeep in the garage, but it’s like this one…

So why subject you to 2 miserable, morass filled decades about the junkers in my life? Because of a feature on my present means of moving me from one point to another. I drive a 2018 4-wheel drive Jeep Cherokee. It’s not fancy or expensive as cars go these days. I like my Jeep.

After I’d signed on the dotted line the salesman walked me out to show me a couple of ‘new features’ before I drove away. (I had traded in my 2014 Jeep and was familiar with the model). So there’s this capital ‘A’ button with a semi-circle around it. ‘A’ stands for Annoying. He explained when I stop at an intersection, turn lane, stop sign, or traffic light, the engine shuts off. To conserve gas of course. Feeling that engine die when you’re focused on driving is instantly disheartening. Immediately I think I gotta call Hubs to rescue his damsel in distress because the POS car has taken a dump and left me in a pickle.

The capital A circled gets punched every time I start the Jeep. How annoying is that?

Every time I start the Jeep, its default auto-stop state is activated. I am able to press this ‘Annoying’ button to temporarily disable the feature but I have to do it every time the Jeep is started or as soon as I come to a stop, the engine stops which produces a sweaty brow and heart palpitations-until I realize I forgot to hit the button. It’s not the running errands part like buying gas, groceries, bank, then picking up Klavon’s pizza because those stops require me to literally stop and get out of the Jeep. It’s the driving to all those destinations with starts, stops and lights. Let’s say those 4 destinations (maybe 15 miles of total driving) include 4 left hand turns, 4 stop signs and 8 stoplights resulting in approximately 15 automatic shutdowns. How much extra wear & tear is that doing to my starter? Battery? My patience? My nerves? My sanity? This auto-stop feature is a huge bust. Annoying isn’t my favorite’A’ word but it’s a close second. My favorite ‘A’ word I’ll save for the idiot environmental/design engineer who came up with this asinine idea (asinine-another great ‘A’ word but coming in third)…