June, 2014…

Sometimes significant dates are anticipated with fanfare, others sneak into your head with “how did that happen? Can’t be that long, seems like yesterday.” (Like a kid or grandchild suddenly older than you think they should be). With a slight head adjustment you celebrate accordingly or acknowledge, guess it has been that long.

First picture of Larry I used in a blog. He jumped off a haukee (small shed) and had a bruise on his face. This was his ‘good side’ in kindergarten…

A seed had been planted, unintentionally, but sown nonetheless. I was fairly new to a group on Facebook when a childhood friend mentioned my comments (on anything) ran long and wordy. Hmm, maybe I should be more productive with all those words/events/stories bouncing around my head.

Neese, Larry & Spitzy, summer of 1954…

Eight years ago I started blogging, assuming it was a passing fad I’d grow tired of in a few months. It was a means to preserve the stories of my youth. The most memorable event from my childhood was the death of my 12 year old brother when I was almost 8. It left gaping wounds in all of us (mom, dad, big sister & grandparents). No matter how many times that cut was stitched and covered up with a clean bandage, it routinely popped back open and began to fester. Year after year, decade after decade. A tragedy of this magnitude is not something you heal from. It simmers beneath the surface for the rest of your life. Sometimes clinging painfully for weeks, other times sinking to greater depths, but always lurking, making sure there would never be a day in my life since October 11, 1958 when this fissure of grief would disappear.

The only family picture of ‘The 5.’ Dad 40, Larry 11, Mona 14, Mom 31, me (Denise) 6, 1957…

A few of my early ‘Larry’ stories were excruciating hard to write and landed me in a funk for a spell. Surprisingly though, most of my big brother tales have had the opposite effect. They have been inspirational and gratifying which does my heart a lot of good. It’s been uplifting to recall what filled his 8-12 year-old days, playing baseball (he was a southpaw), shooting marbles in our driveway, using his BB gun at the dump, riding his Schwinn, catching pigeons in barn rafters late at night with dad, his lisp, his white blonde hair. He was kind, well liked and had a lot of friends.

Larry 12, his last school picture…

From the beginning friends from our hometown where Larry and I grew up offered morsels of information about him I never knew before. Since Larry was 4-1/2 years older than me, we traveled in different social circles (I really didn’t have a social circle) during our short life span together. Those fragment peeks into Larry’s life (without his little sister) has been the most positive aspect of blogging.

Larry & his little sister in 1955…

When I’d get stumped trying to capture another day in the life of Larry I’d write about growing up in our small, northwest Iowa town, church, school days, dating, eloping, home life and more church. The 3 M’s in my life, marriage, motherhood and menopause has always been a fruitful source of mundane material. When I posted story number 100, 200, 300 and recently 400, I celebrated, kinda pleased with my longevity of commitment and growing totals.

Larry by our playhouse (before I was born) 1949…

Writing this ordinary blog about my life has been the most therapeutic, frustrating, immensely rewarding, soul-searching, candid, tear filled endeavor. The pictures included in my posts bring me contentment and joy, plus the comments after I publish are better than what I write! I’m trying to preserve the memories of my life-with Larry and life without.

Larry’s BB gun…

Don’t know how much longer I’ll continue to write. It seems prudent now to go back to the beginning and proofread, edit and delete (a few which were written without much forethought or kindness). If I come across any that are particularly interesting I’ll repost it occasionally for those not with me since the beginning. For every one of your encouraging comments, this Storyteller from a One-Stoplight Town remains in your debt. Profoundly, sincerely, enormously, thoroughly, eternally and sincerely grateful for every kind word you’ve written…

Yarn, tape & pins…

My mom was an accomplished knitter. When I was in school she knit stunning one-of-a-kind sweaters. Complicated, intricate, beautiful patterns. I loved the sweaters because no one else had one like it. She’d go shopping in Sioux Falls, searching for material and a pattern to coordinate with the sweater like a pleated skirt or lined wool Bermuda shorts (which I wore all winter-with knee socks and saddle shoes). Mom had a seamstress who was a magician with her sewing machine. I thought I was pretty close to cool.

One of my favorite sweater’s mom knit for me, 1966…

I’ve never worn a lot of jewelry. Part of the reason was an allergy to nickel, one of the main metals in costume jewelry and parts of watches. If the metal from a watch or earring touched my skin, I’d immediately break out with red bumps and itch, so wearing a watch wasn’t part of accessorizing. I never knew the time which was annoying until John bought a darling pin/watch I could wear on my sweater. If I looked down to check the time the watch faced the right way for me, not the person in front of me.

My well trained 4-legged friend…

As a high school girl, steadily dating Johnny Wayne, (now the Hubs) there was a centuries old, ritualistic custom of exclusivity to demonstrate your undying love and loyalty to your significant other. This involved wearing each other’s class rings. Very prominently. He shoved mine on his pinkie, making it about half way, aware at all times to keep his finger bent or it would slip off unnoticed. His steady girlfriend went through more elaborate measures to wear his huge ring. Hubs had a sapphire stone in his ring (my favorite color), mine had an onyx stone.

I’m in front. See where my hand is so John’s ring is visible. Looks like a wad of tape stuck on the underside…

Since my mom had every type/texture of yarn known to mankind, I’d change the yarn on his ring to match my outfits. Winding colorful angora, wool or mohair on the bottom half of his ring several times until his size 12 fit my 5-1/2. I never wore his ring on a chain around my neck because it would have stood out farther than my non-existent cleavage.

Char, me, Shirlee & Pam. Look at his class ring-hahaha…

For a change of pace I’d take a long strip of white bandage tape and fold it several times, resembling the shape of Chiclets or Luden’s Cough drop and tape it to the underside of his ring. This meant his ring stuck up very high (and got in the way of everything). Sometimes I’d loop a length of tape around the bottom of his ring like the yarn but that left significant gaps on each side which might accidentally hook something else and rip off a finger. Dang the pressure of going steady was a constant struggle. In a lot of ways.

My paperboy pin…

Since my unique sweater days I’ve been hooked on pins. First the designs were animals like a puppy. Mom bought several pins to dress up my patterned, solid color sweaters. Adding a cute pin near my shoulder accented my outfit. Hubs bought Shannon and I matching bee pins when she was little. But my favorite pin was also my smallest. A minuscule gold tone mouse with tiny black eyes and a very long tail. That little guy (who moved the cheese?) switched outfits almost everyday during high school (and got better grades).

My favorite pin for over a half century…

I stopped wearing pins for a decade after I became a mom. You don’t realize both shoulders are constantly occupied until you have a baby. There’s nothing as fulfilling as having the sweet smell of your newborn making little grunts and squeaks next to your ear and falling to sleep upright on your chest. But not very convenient if they’re getting gouged or scratched because a piece of jewelry is in the way of their comfort. By the time babies morphed into toddlers, they constantly yank on your necklace chain, tug your earrings until you lose a lobe and chew any fingers sporting rings. When they were finally past the baby/toddler stage, I started wearing pins on sweaters and jackets again until I went rogue and stopped wearing anything fancier than t-shirts, sweatshirts and blue jeans.

Cock-a-doodle-do…

Life is constantly changing, something I’m not always fond of. A few years ago if I left the house, I’d be sporting a couple rings, a necklace, bracelet, and I went out almost everyday. Not so much anymore. A couple trips to the grocery store every week, church on Sunday, otherwise I’m usually home-without jewelry, but I’m ok with that schedule…

Shannon’s bee pin…

My White Tennies…

It was late fall, 1962 and I was 11. My sister got married in 1960 and my 12 year-old brother Larry died 1958. Guess this was the new normal for our shrunken family of 3. The room that was Larry’s (downstairs, off the living room) had been recently revamped into a family room. We didn’t watch much TV because mom thought it was rude to arrange a formal living room around a TV, so there wasn’t one in ours.

Dad, Larry, Mona, mom & me in the middle. Still a family of 5 in 1957…

Mom bought a new couch for the living room, then moved the old brown one to our ‘den,’ complete with a small, spiffy black and white TV. The room was quite small, maybe 8 X 10 (she later transformed this into a huge walk-in closet after dad added a master bedroom on the back so they didn’t have to climb our steep, ladder-like staircase). The couch resided on the west wall, a small bookcase/cabinet on the north wall (which would forever change that night), our black & white in the northeast corner and a chair in front of the only off-set window (almost blocking the doorway to the living room).

Dad, sleeping (with my dolly-haha) in the den, 1961…

Mom had other uses for the den besides TV, like ironing. She’d lay a bath towel in the middle of the couch, then fill an empty, emerald green glass 7-Up bottle with tap water (Rock Valley had the best water) and shove a cork with a metal top full of tiny holes into the bottle opening. Sitting on the end of the couch, she’d grab a dress shirt of dad’s or one of her pristine white uniforms and lay it on the bath towel. Tip the pop bottle upside down and shake, causing droplets of water to fall on the massively wrinkled clothing (which had been hung on a clothesline outside to dry after going through our wringer-washer)! She folded the shirt and wrapped it up tight like an egg roll. Set it on the towel and ‘sprinkled’ the next piece of clothing. She covered the sprinkled clothes with another towel until she was ready to iron the whole batch. She was fine doing other chores before she ironed but she didn’t leave them for hours or days because they’d mildew if left unattended very long. Ugh. She did this every week-without fail.

Does this little angel look like she could ever get in trouble-for anything?

Although I wasn’t quite 11, most kids my age were allowed (and encouraged) to play outside after supper even when it was getting dark. I couldn’t go near highway 18 (several blocks away) where a car had hit Larry. For the most part though Rock Valley was like the ‘free space’ on your bingo card, and we did our share of roaming around. But this night I was only going a couple blocks away, to the school’s gymnasium. It was basketball season and I was going to the game-right after I finished watching a new program called ‘Combat’ which started at 6:30.

Before hitting my teens I was actually a pretty good kid. Oh I was spoiled and manipulative (aggawaase and zhanicky in Dutch slang but didn’t cause my folks much grief. They had more than their share of grief over Larry’s untimely, horrible death). However, I really, really wanted to go to that game and made a terrible-spur-of-the-moment decision after I caused an accident and snuck out of the house before mom noticed what I had done.

Innocent Neese with my teddy…

I was watching Combat when mom fell asleep on that old brown couch. She woke up early, worked very hard, made supper, did the dishes and laid down for a few minutes before doing other chores. Dad came home after work, washed up, ate supper and changed from his work overall into a suit. He had something to do at church or for the church so he was already gone.

I was multitasking and in too much of a hurry. Watching ‘Sergeant Chip Saunders’ and getting ready for the game so I could be out the door by the closing credits. (Remember when TV series offered 30 episodes a year and were 50 minutes long with 10 minutes of commercials instead of 18-20? Good times) I wanted to wear my white canvas tennis shoes but they were scuffed up so I got out mom’s shoe polish she used on her nurse’s shoes. The bottle was maybe 4 inches tall and when you screwed off the top, the lid was connected to a sturdy wire with fuzzy/foam on the end, so it sat mired in the ocean of shoe polish all the time.

What a disaster…

I sat on the floor by the bookcase with the polish bottle sitting on a section of the Sioux City Journal. I slathered bright white polish on both shoes. They looked brand new! Set my shoes on the newspaper to dry and accidentally tipped the polish bottle over before the lid was screwed back on. White polish splashed and spread from the paper onto the carpet.

Neese, the angelic one, reading the gospel…

The righteous side of Neese said I should alert mom and she might be able to salvage the carpet. The mature thing was to own up to my mistake right away, but I knew she’d be furious and never let me leave the house after this costly accident. However, I was neither righteous or mature. So I quiet-as-a-mouse picked up the paper, threw it in the garbage, got another clean section of the Journal to cover the big white stain and escaped the house like a hardened criminal before she woke up.

I knew it’d be bad when she woke up, picked up the newspaper and discovered what happened, but my only concern wasn’t looking ahead a couple hours to the ramifications of the mess I’d made, only that I’d be in trouble AFTER I got home-from the game. Clearly not looking very far into my dubious future.

Mom didn’t get mad at me very often but she was was mighty ticked by the time I walked through that door. Insisted if I had just woken her up at the time she could have fixed it. Now the polish had dried and there was no way to get the stain out. She’d have to buy new carpeting. No spanking or slaps, just a stern reprimand. And for the first time during my first decade of life I was grounded to the house! It wouldn’t be the last nor the most grievous, but those are stories for another day…