I’ve been reminiscing about growing up during the 1950’s. Seems like I was always busy (playing was hard work). The going’s on in the life of Neese. My world expanded once we moved to 15th Street. More kids, more houses, close to downtown with lots of stores (soon I could walk and shop with my nickel, all by myself). There’s not much I regret about my childhood.
My playhouse was the bomb. Dad built it on the west side of town and moved it to our new (old) house. That playhouse provided me with endless hours of fun using my imagination. It had a real house feel and looked authentic with a front door, 2 windows, chimney and furniture. There was quite an age difference between me, Mona and Larry, so after we moved, I considered the playhouse mine. All mine.
I was doll crazy for years. My favorite was my baby doll, Lori Jean. I had a combination plastic pink bathtub/changing table where Lori was bathed, swaddled and slathered with baby lotion. I fed her bottles and changed her diaper. Mom had several undershirts and diapers made out of flannel with snap closures by our phenomenal seamstress, so my motherhood days were more realistic. The changing table had small compartments on the top to hold all my real baby products needed to keep Lori smelling great and free from diaper rash. My kindergarten sized walking doll Cindy, topped out about as tall as me. Mom wasn’t happy when I gave Cindy a haircut but she needed her bangs trimmed really short like mine. Yikes! A couple years later I got a lady doll with a fancy dress and black seams down the back of her nylons. During the summer I hauled them all outside to the playhouse, including the bathtub which I filled with the hose. Lori never complained about taking a cold bath like I would have.
Dad made a contribution to my early motherhood days. He had been “taking down a building,” for extra money. Inside this building he found an old wicker doll buggy which he brought home. The buggy held no interest for Mona or Larry, but since I was too young mom ‘saved’ it for me. Had I been allowed to play with it I’m sure I would have climbed inside or pushed it down the stairs. By the time she gave it to me I was halfway responsible and ‘played mommy,’ pushing it down the sidewalk with Lori inside. I still have the buggy.
Summer days mom would sit outside with me when our errant hollyhock’s were blooming. She taught me how to transform a blooming flower into a beautiful doll. It was during these crafting sessions with mom (neither of us were ever really crafty) when I discovered our huge rhubarb patch by the hollyhocks. I don’t remember how I got addicted to eating peeled, raw rhubarb with SALT, but that summer tradition continues to this day. Mom rarely salted anything, so salting my rhubarb and fresh tomatoes remains a mystery. When the drive inn became popular in Rock Valley, I ran my own drive inn from the window of my playhouse. No matter what the carhop wrote on her order, the chief cook and bottle washer (me) supplied my guests with a bowl full of fresh cut rhubarb with salt water broth. Made you pucker, yet still makes my mouth water. Yum!
After I learned to ride a 2-wheel bike when I was 6, my world doubled. Soon I was allowed to go several blocks from our house although I usually rode on the sidewalks around town. Some of that ‘freedom riding’ was rescinded after my 12 year-old brother Larry was killed while riding his bike. I didn’t understand mom & dad’s logic but on this one subject I gave them very little grief.
Black walnut trees. Our driveway was long and straight consisting of a combination of gravel with weeds/few blades of grass in the middle of the tire’s natural path-all the way to the alley where our garage sat. In between our driveway and Kooima’s was a half dozen, huge walnut trees. Mom and dad never parked in the garage so our car sat by the side of the house. Each fall when the walnuts matured, these green discolored tennis sized balls fell on the driveway, staining the car and leaving tiny dents. Mom paid me to pick up walnuts and throw them in a bucket. She’d peel off the outside yucky green part, leaving the dark shell until it dried out, then she’d shell them. Their aroma and taste was much stronger than the mild walnuts mom bought at Koster’s. Still she used her freebies in baked goods and candies, although you could tell the difference by their distinctive taste. We weren’t there very long before dad had the trees removed. Because black walnut trees were sought after to use in making furniture, dad sold the trees and I lost my good paying job.
I played with dolls until I was 10. After my bed was made in the morning (topped with my pink ballerina chenille bedspread) it was literally covered with my stuffed animals. I had a black & white Panda that was heavier than me and took more room on my bed at night than I did. I kept them around for protection from the apparition who lived in the attic and sought to do me harm. (Nightmare when I was 8)…
This stems from something I read not long ago. In my case it happened decades ago but not many questions were asked or third degree. Just to be sure I asked Hubs what he remembered about the months in question and he explicitly said no one talked to him about it besides me. First, some background.
We were nearing our 9th anniversary in 1978. Parents of two, Shannon was 7-1/2 and Joshua was 3-1/2. I no longer had to pack diapers and extra outfits every time we left the house. Although I asked him a thousand times a day, Josh had to go potty as often as a parched camel needed a drink.
I hadn’t been feeling very well. Nothing specific, just a tender belly. I trudged to my OB/GYN who ran some tests. When I returned for the results he said frankly, “you’ve been taking this birth control pill too long (about 7 years total). You need to stop immediately.” I frowned, “but there’s this issue of not getting pregnant. It’s been a great form of birth control.” He hammered his argument home. “This pill is much stronger than we’re prescribing now. It’s causing complicated issues with your normal cycle. Honestly, I doubt you’ll ever ovulate again.”
Well this was a conundrum. Hubs and I hadn’t really discussed adding another child to the mix or doing anything permanent to prevent it. John knew since our dating days I didn’t want a baby after I turned 30 but I was only 27. He hadn’t offered to have a vasectomy which would have been ideal. After all I’d taken care of the birth control during this marriage for 8 years and counting.
I was concerned and uncomfortable enough to stop taking the pill, accepting doc’s theory regarding another pregnancy as highly improbable or impossible. And I did feel much better within a couple months. I thought we’d take a few months before deciding on what to do to prevent another pregnancy or maybe add to our family. You know where this is going, right?
Yup, a couple months later I was feeling mislick (Dutch slang for lousy) and headed back to the doctor. I was light headed and queasy with black spots before my eyes, so not really shocked when the pregnancy test came back positive. Doc acted embarrassed like it was his fault. Ewww. I wasn’t very happy but that was just me being selfish for a nano second, seeing my short lived freedom heading south for a few more years. Hubs was ecstatic.
Soon I was shopping for some new fangled one-piece T-shirts (onesies) in pastel colors and realized I was excited about becoming a mom again. Started seeing the doctor every month for my prenatal checkups and brought up the subject of a permanent solution for birth control. I hesitated bringing up the idea of a vasectomy again to John, but short of forcing him thought that idea wasn’t gonna fly.
“Doc, this is my third baby and I’m done having kids. What do you suggest?” “Well, at 28 you’re awfully young to do something permanent. Why not try a lower dose birth control pill?” Giving him my tried and true patented stink eye, “Because it’s not a permanent fix. How can I word this? I DO NOT want to go through another pregnancy and have 4 children. After this baby, I’m done having kids, no matter the outcome.”
The doc suggested choosing something less permanent a couple times before the end of my pregnancy, but he lacked enthusiasm on the subject as did I. When he realized he could not persuade me to try another birth control pill he suggested a tubal ligation the day after the baby was born, which would require one extra day in the hospital. Now this was an idea I could endorse. A couple of times he tried to change my mind because of my young age or me changing my mind later but he never once broached the subject of talking about it to Hubs.
One of my (way younger) Facebook friends recently posted this: “let women get their tubes tied-no questions asked,” which is the reason I started thinking about that summer of 1979 when I was last pregnant. Ugh, I’m old.
I was shocked and saddened by some of the comments on the ‘tubes tied-no questions asked’ issue. A couple women said their doctor required them to ‘get’ written permission from their husbands before scheduling a permanent birth control solution. One gal said she went to six (yes, 6) doctors before one agreed to tie her tubes because of a serious health concern. Another married gal had 3 children, didn’t want anymore children but the doc was reluctant because she was under 25 when she requested to have her tubes tied.
Three young woman wrote, “my doctor risked her license to give me a hysterectomy when I was 20. I had to get my husband’s signature too. This was medically necessary since I had gone through puberty.” Second gal, “I wanted my tubes tied after having my son and I knew I was having a C-section, but my insurance company said no and my doctor said she could lose her license because I wanted permanent birth control.” And lastly, “this should be as easy as a vasectomy. If a woman doesn’t want children it’s a good solution vs birth control which is known to fail.”
I’ve never been the gal who’s happy discussing controversial issues. I believe in something wholeheartedly and you believe in the exact opposite, but just as fervently, which is each of our rights. But this struck a chord with me since I willingly and (forcefully) went through it decades ago. But it was my decision alone to make, not anybody else’s…
I grew up in a small, northwest Iowa town, a few miles from the South Dakota and Minnesota borders. We knew snow, ice, sleet, blizzards (snow storms with 20-40 mile an hour winds) and below zero temps for a couple months a year, plus enough hot, humid, rainy and gloriously sunny days the rest of the year so our farmers (not me, I was a townie and didn’t know what a stalk of corn looked like) could grow beef, hogs and the best crops (corn, wheat, oats, soybeans) to feed the world. We didn’t know any other way of life. This was Iowa. Weather was part of the deal. Just happened to be where we lived.
During our frigid winters it was commonplace to see multiple cars parked diagonally in our downtown (2 or 3 blocks long) area or the grocery store parking lot, completely void of humans, but every car was running while a few necessities were being bought or charged (no, not with a credit card, some families had a small line of credit for groceries and paid their bill every month). It took several minutes to warm up your car when it was 25 below zero and not worth turning the car off for a ten minute shopping spree. I don’t ever remember one car being stolen during this strange winter phenomenon.
When the Hubs and I started dating he had his driver’s license (I did not) but he wasn’t allowed to drive often. His oldest brother Jimmy (13 years older than John) GAVE him a 1958 4-door, green & black Ford Fairlane in 1964 but their dad made John give it back. He just didn’t want Johnny driving for some reason. It had nothing to do with extra expense like gas and insurance because John would have had to pay for all that.
When I was at his house for the evening and we were experiencing inclement weather, if it wasn’t too late (say 10ish) John’s dad would give me a ride home otherwise Johnny walked me home (about a mile), then walked back. When we weren’t with another couple those first couple years, we walked everywhere. There were definite advantages to knowing our way around town-on foot.
My parents were not big John supporters. They felt I could do better. He wasn’t part of the holy reformation in town. The First Reformed, Netherlands Reformed, Calvin Christian Reformed and Christian Reformed. I mean he could have picked any one of them and probably got their blessing. But no. Worse, he was a Methodist and they only went to church (gasp) once on Sunday. Our off and on again high school dating years was met with open hostility and mom and dad’s express disapproval. They tried grounding me which didn’t work. The more they fought me on something, the harder I fought back. True, I was a brat, but they weren’t being fair either.
Mom and dad were strict and I was not the best follower of rules in general. Many nights I ‘got out of the house’ under false pretenses, something I excelled at. Said I was going to Char’s, or a group of us were doing something together-completely innocent at someone’s house, but mom and dad always seemed to know when I was up to no-good. So I’d sneak to meet John at the Bowling Alley but we couldn’t stay there-right out in the open, we might be seen and my folks would find out where I was before the hour was up. I swear they had a whole network of ‘confidential informants’ tracking my whereabouts. Dang, they were good, but so were we. Still hope that cost them some coin.
Johnny Wayne and Neese had the means of hiding in plain sight around our little town, and nobody was the wiser. When darkness blanketed Rock Valley we moved about freely, you just had to know the right places. Certain blocks had more trees, darker coverage, families too busy to pay attention to a young couple copping ‘feels’ while freezing their watusi’s off walking past.
When mom and dad got ‘this feeling’ I was out & about, one of them would get in the car and start cruising the streets, fervently hoping to catch us walking along, holding hands (or worse). Fat chance! Often we would watch them back out of the driveway and snicker. “They’re at it again. How long before they come back to 15th street?” John would say, “Well, they have to go past The Cue, then the bowling alley at least twice to see if they can spot you through the windows. Then past my house before they come back this way. We got some time.”
We had an ingenious hiding spot half block from my house. This block was home to 3 buildings. A very large Catholic Church, a smaller building which had been a parochial school but now was a teen hangout called, Cloud 9. The only other building was the parsonage for the priest. Although there weren’t a lot of trees, this whole city block was quite dark. The back of the church faced north and had an indented ‘notch.’ The perfect fit for 2 sinfully, hormonal teens.
Most of these ‘hot dates’ took place when the weather was not. I knew what I was in for and dressed appropriately. Johnny invariably ‘forgot’ his gloves and begged to warm up his hands elsewhere on my anatomy. Hahaha. When we were lucky enough to beg, borrow or steal a set of wheels for the night we utilized other hiding places (parking spots) around town, namely fields out in the country. It’s where I finally familiarized myself on the difference between corn and boybeans, I mean soybeans that Iowa was famous for…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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…
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…
During the winter of 2021, we spent 2 months in Alabama. Our rented condo offered a stripped down package for cable TV. Didn’t take us long to realize how little we enjoyed the service. Although our package at home offered more choices, we were spending a fortune and using it very little. The week Josh (the middle kid) came to visit, we talked about getting rid of our cable provider when we got back home. At the time T-Mobile (our cell phone provider) was offering a special to join their newly formed TV package.
By the time we got back to Michigan, T-Mobile had partnered with YouTube and had a special for 50 bucks a month for streaming service. We were paying $140. Although we had been customers of Directv since 2003 it was time to try something different and get rid of that huge bill every month, considering we watched TV about 3 hours a day.
We decided to add Paramount Plus for 10 bucks a month because Seal Team and Evil had moved over from CBS. We were anticipating Taylor Sheridan’s 2 series, 1883 and Mayor of Kingstown, and Star Trek Discovery (which didn’t last for me. The female lead whispers her lines. Although I use headphones I still can’t understand her-ugh), Why Women Kill, The Stand (new version), Coyote, Star Trek-Strange New Worlds (which I like because of the captain, starring Anson Mount) plus coming soon, Bass Reeves, 1932, and Tulsa King which are only available on PP. As an added bonus, most programming from CBS is shown WITHOUT COMMERCIALS. Win-win.
After I bought a new iPad Pro in 2020, Apple offered their fairly new network/streaming service free for a year, which stretched out to 18 months during the worst of the pandemic. In essence we cut our monthly cable bill in half and still had more than enough options to choose from. We’ve never been sorry we gave up cable. Not as enamored with Apple but there are a few shows we’ve enjoyed. Ted Lasso (their freshman season was hysterical, second year not as good but I remain hopeful for season 3), Tehran, Mosquito Coast, Home Before Dark and Hub’s favorite, For all Mankind. Thought we’d love The Morning Show but the characters are so self-centered and mean spirited, I can’t root for anyone on the show.
So a month ago Paramount Plus promos a mini-series about producing a movie way back in 1971-72. I had zero interest but Hub’s curiosity was piqued so we gave the first episode a chance. I WAS HOOKED. There was more drama/action/bribes/crime before Francis Ford Coppola filmed one minute of the movie. The acting has been superb. Al Ruddy (Miles Teller) had the tough job trying to produce a movie with obstacles in his way at every turn. His assistant, Bettye, played by Juno Temple is top notch (and so much easier to understand when she’s not using her British accent). While this was going on about 1 Mafia movie, (they couldn’t say ‘mafia’ in the movie-because of the mafia-oh the irony) were ordinary people paying attention and engaged by the drama surrounding? I never heard a word about this fiasco during the ‘70’s. But we were just getting started in the marriage and parenthood department, which was time consuming for this young couple.
Which brings us to the summer of 1973. What exactly were Johnny and Denise doing? Well, we were closing the door on anniversary number 4 and driving a baby poop green Chevy Vega Hatchback. Shannon, our exquisite first-born was just over 2. Our big weekend plan was to head for the Gordon Twin Drive Inn in Sioux City and watch a popular movie everyone was buzzing about called The Godfather.
Let’s start with Shannon. She was a beautiful, precocious, intelligent toddler who could be reasoned with (most of the time). We had discussions every day that week about going to a late night movie (no way could we afford a babysitter). She had agreed to the rules and signed the contract. We (mommy & daddy) would supply blankets, pillows, stuffed animals (her choice) and snacks (also her choice). We started our evening out at the kid’s playground (right in the drive inn movie’s parking lot). She could play until dark when the movie started. While the previews were on, eat her snacks, then she would lay down in her ‘bed’ and go to sleep because it was way past her bedtime. “I promise mommy.” As if.
Darkness settled but there were so many distractions and nowhere to go. We listened to her chatter about everything, the kids that were allowed to stay at the playground after it was dark, the humongous screen in front of her face because she’d never laid her head down. The “bad words” she repeated with glee. She was enthralled-about everything that night. Kept her adorable face in the gap between our seats. “But I’s not sweepy. What hers doing? They fighting. Num-num. What’s dat?”
We hoped eventually she’d get sleepy and clonk out. Whatever we spent on tickets we really couldn’t afford. She never did. Her eyes were wide open and taking it ALL in. The movie had been out for a year by this time and Hub’s had heard all about the horse/bed scene. As the movie minutes ticked by we grew increasingly uneasy about Shannon seeing something at age 2 she could never un-see, but we desperately wanted to stay until the end. Could. Not. Do. It.
We packed everything, let her roll around the back (no car seat) while we drove home, wondering how the movie ended, but not worried that Shannon’s 2 year old moral compass had been compromised. The Godfather’s ending would remain a mystery until we bought our first VCR years later and rented the movie. By then we’d added 2 boys to our family and all 3 were safely tucked in their beds so there were no distractions during that horsey scene…
We lived in Michigan a decade before I realized we were 6 hours from one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. How could I not know this from day one? Oh I knew of its existence, just not the proximity of it to me. Hubs knew and might have kept this knowledge to himself, assuming once I experienced this breathtaking adventure I’d nag and beg him to take me every other week. Unfair. I’ve never asked to go more than once a year.
I’ve written about this place before (with bubbling enthusiasm) because it’s something everyone living within our magnificent shores should experience. Seriously. When I backpedal to count the times I’ve been there, I’m pretty close to a dozen, (in 25 years) but that can’t be right. Every single trip feels new and fresh, and I savor every second. Even more fun when we bring ‘newbies’ along and see their eyes light up like Christmas morning when they were kids.
We issued invitations to friends and family over the years, “Come visit us, we’ll let you rest up for a day and then we’ll take a road trip.” Surprisingly, several have taken us up on that offer (which makes me happy).
I was more than ready this time. Our last trip was in December of 2019 when our grandson Landon (Drew to the rest of the world) played a college basketball game in Buffalo. I mean it’s a mere 30 miles away. A slam dunk! Who could ‘pass’ that up? That’s the first time we’d ever been there during the ‘off’ season. Cold but very little snow.
So we got a call a month ago from John’s nephew Ken and his wife Jeannie (we stay with them when we visit our native Iowa). Jeannie had just retired and they were anxious to explore their new world of retirement with some travel. Jeannie had gone once with her family right before she had Brandy 46 years ago. Ken couldn’t take vacation time and had to work.
They remember the litany I’ve repeated for everyone, “Niagara Falls gets 12-14 million visitors a year, probably 10 million during June, July and August when the kids are out of school. If you don’t mind waiting in long lines for the observation deck, souvenir shop, Maid of the Mist, Wind Cave, Aquarium, Trolley or getting up close and personal with the guard rails at The Bridal Veil, come whenever you want. If you want to have the ‘run of the place,’ it’s better to go in May, September or October.” Thus the mid-April phone call.
There have been some recent changes to the oldest state park in the United States. They seemed a little off and a bit behind this May. There was a huge construction site near the observation deck with a mesh fence surrounding the area, so we couldn’t see or walk through. Part of this cordoned off section was home to a large trellis covered in Wisteria. I sure hope that’s been replanted somewhere else but I didn’t see it during our stay.
The Top of the Falls Restaurant (where we planned to eat lunch) was closed. The sign said they hoped to be open by the end of May. (Memorial weekend with hundreds of thousands of tourists descending upon them, sure hope they’re open). The Cave of the Winds was open but not offering flip-flops or a rain poncho, (but rain gear was included with your ticket for Maid of the Mist, which had gone up significantly). Plus most of the platforms/steps allowing you to stand kinda underneath the Falls wasn’t complete. These platforms and steps are installed every spring. (Hey, it’s spring). Half the Trolleys were running/half the time. Each attraction is now a la carte so you can no longer buy a ‘booklet’ of tickets containing passes for everything.
This trip was the first time the Holiday Inn (2 blocks from the Falls on the American side) had no rooms available, but we did find a nice hotel a couple miles away on the Niagara River. The big souvenir shop in front of the observation deck was closed on Friday, but open on Saturday. We saw no Trolleys on Friday but a couple were running Saturday. My favorite gnarly tree beside the Rapids has disappeared. Luna Island now has a huge, new platform/steps/ramp leading to the Bridal Veil Falls (my favorite spot).
The Maid of the Mist has always been a big attraction and has a couple of new features. The boat is now ELECTRIC and as soon as passengers disembark, an electric plug-in (hydraulic) was attached (as big as a teen). The diesel engines always growled as it worked to keep you as close to the Falls as possible. The electric engines are pretty quiet.
As we were leaving the Mist, I decided to use the long, winding ramp instead of the stairs. (My knee needs to be replaced and I use a walking stick when a lot of steps are included in my day). The 3 Musketeers took a hard right to the stairs and I turned left behind a mom pushing a stroller. I stopped by a Mist guide because I couldn’t see the ramp (lots of people). He pointed to head left when I spotted something out of the corner of my eye. Aww, it’s the new ‘Cautionary Petting Zoo!’
“Sir, is that a rattlesnake slinking in the rocks behind you?” “Ummm, yes ma’am it appears to be. (The snake was 30-36 inches long and as thick as a 50 cent piece) Why don’t you go quietly up the ramp? We’ll leave him alone in his natural habitat and contact the appropriate workers of what’s going on so we can keep our guests safe.” I was a couple feet from the snake but he (the Mist guy) wouldn’t let me take his (the snake’s) picture. Soon he pulled a large gate blocking people from getting within 5 feet of their new animal attraction. Yikes.
Wouldn’t be a righteous trip to Niagara Falls unless we stopped at the Anchor Bar in Buffalo where Buffalo Wings originated in the mid-60’s. Wonderful trip with easy going family. We had a great time and hope they did too…
After I retired as Parish Visitor, one of the ladies I visited regularly called me. She was having some health issues and none of her adult children lived nearby. She wanted to hire me a few hours a day until she felt better. I was happy to help out. Took her to several doctor’s appointments to find the cause of her debilitating pain. I grocery shopped, ran errands and whatever we had for supper at home, I brought over for Lois the next day because she was unable to stand for more than a couple minutes at a time.
She was in a lot of pain and had lost her spark. I was worried when she stopped reading the daily paper. Her orthopedic specialist discovered compression fractures in her spine and recommended surgery. She spent a couple days in the hospital. When she came home there was a hospital bed in the living room because her bedroom was on the second floor. With some rehab she bounced back quickly. I was relieved when her feisty demeanor returned.
Not long after Lois decided it was time to move closer to her daughter who lived across the state. We took a road trip to inspect an independent living complex her daughter Carla suggested. Lois chose an apartment in the back of the facility, overlooking a small pond. She listed her home and sold it within a week. Carla came over to help sift through the house her mom had called home for 40 plus years.
Movers loaded up her belongings while I drove Lois to her new home in early July of 2014. We spent a couple nights in a rental apartment in the facility until her furniture was in the apartment. We had our house on the market at the same time and would be moving closer to our kids which put us a good hour away from Lois. Oh the irony. Until we moved in 2015, whenever we visited Josh & Erica I’d stop and see Lois who lived a few miles away. She made friends quickly, starting with the group who sat at the same supper table with her every night.
Once we moved to Jackson I drove over to visit Lois every few months with the exception of strict Covid restrictions during 2020. We’d go out for lunch (Red Lobster), maybe stop at Meijer or for an ice cream cone, then visit for the afternoon. I’d bring her a bowl of potato salad and some homemade cookies. We talked non-stop.
In between visits I’d send her a ‘thinking of you’ card every so often. Although I mailed numerous cards to multiple people at the same, every time I sent a card to Lois, she’d call to thank me. Every. Single. Time. Several of her oldest friends had moved or passed away. Whenever we got together it was like no time had passed since we last got together. We had history.
Other than having a couple teeth give her grief, she didn’t have many health issues since she moved. But there’s been some subtle changes. Recently she’s been in the hospital 3 times. Two piggyback hospitalizations caused by a new diverticulitis diagnosis. She called to discuss her new diet restrictions (telling me to skip the potato salad this time but knew chocolate chip cookies without nuts would be fine). She was feeling better and slowly re-introducing some foods.
About a month ago she fell doing laundry. She was okay but dreaded walking all the way to the laundry room down the hall because there are only a couple washers and dryers and not good chairs while she waits (there is a laundry service and she could afford it, but she doesn’t like the way they fold her stuff-hahaha). I told her it was time for me to visit and coordinate her laundry duties when I’d be there for the day. (We no longer eat out, I either bring lunch along for us or stop at Jimmy John’s) before I get to her place.
Close to celebrating her 92 birthday, Lois had it together. She read the paper on her iPad everyday, played cards in person and on her tablet, always had her nose in a novel and checked her email a couple times a day. We talked around Easter and the plan was to visit her on April 27th and bring lunch (and homemade cookies). If something came up we’d email before and change the date. I sent her a quick note on Monday the 25th to confirm my visit but she didn’t answer me, so I called her Tuesday.
Carla answered the phone (sinking feeling). Said her mom had fallen a few days before and had been taken to the hospital as a precaution. She seemed fine and they brought her back to the apartment. But a day later she wasn’t making sense and slurring her words. She had a brain bleed and explicitly told the doctor and family, no extraordinary measures or feeding tube to keep her alive. Hospice was brought in the next day.
Told Carla how sorry I was and that I’d planned to come the following day. She said, “Oh, I remember mom saying you were coming, but not what day. I should have called, but this happened so fast. Denise, they don’t think she’s going to make through the night.” She didn’t.
Why didn’t I go the week before? Because my week was plumb full with a doctor’s appointment and a haircut. Ugh. Too little, too late. I’m sorry Lois. You are missed my friend…