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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…