“Don’t worry; be happy.”
Dad loved that song by Bobby McFarrin. It is kind of catchy, and a good reminder all at the same time; everything will be okay. Kind of how Dad lived his life.
The photo on the right is a page from my Grandma Meis’ high school year book. I’m not 100% sure but I think she lived in the Marengo most of her life until she met Herman. I wished I would have known more about their life just starting out. But when you’re a kid, you don’t really know enough to ask those questions, and you don’t really see your grandparents or parents as people, until you’re older and have some life experience under your belt.
Reading my Dad’s story, I can just see my Grandma sitting in the back seat of the car, telling anyone who would listen her stories about her friends and life in Marengo. She had a unique kind of raspy, loud voice that rose in pitch when she was really excited.
“Oh, Let me see her!” she nearly screamed, years ago when I walked in her house holding her new great-granddaughter, Holly (seen peeking around her leg in the above photo on the right).
Holly immediate woke up and burst into tears. But that didn’t bother grandma one bit, as she swept Holly in her arms and swayed her back and forth. It wasn’t long before Holly was asleep again. I think there’s something to that theory that babies and kids kind of gravitate toward mothers, even if when it’s not their own.
David Darling married Rex Conn’s daughter. Rex was the Farm Editor for the Gazette and his column was “In the Woven Wire.” Or maybe it was “Out on the Acres.” The couple lived in Florida when David died.
Rex Conn was from around Marengo, and driving to the Iowa County seat with Mom never failed to fill the back seat with the drama of a travelogue, for Mother tended to play the same tapes, the way she caressed a memory, conjured vicarious images that never failed to take us with her.
“That’s the Rex Conn place,” she’d point out as we passed. “They’ve kept it up pretty well. We went to a lot of the same dances. Rex was a good dancer.”
Later on, she saw another familiar house, treating it as though we were seeing it for the first time: “Oh my! That’s where Bernice (as in furnace …) Feller lived. Run down, isn’t it? Sad. We spent many happy times there when I was a girl. Such grand parties.”
I knew Miss Feller. She was on my Gazette route on Fourth Avenue, and lived in the Brown Apartments across from Bernie Hoy. Brown Apartments was a diamond-in-the-rough, a red brick apartment building, set smack-dab in the middle of frame houses.
Living there gave residents a touch of class. Jack Hines and his family lived in the coach house, “the annex,” for a spell. Bernice Feller worked at the Light Company when IE was Ambro Advertising’s bread-and-butter account, and where Betty and I fell in love.
I edited the utility’s employee publication, “The Front Line,” and it occurs to me that Bernice wrote the column for Cedar Rapids, the main office. At least she had bi-lines. And I think she even went to our church, but perhaps not.
Bernice was a maiden lady.
And I mention that only because the only other maiden lady on my paper route, on the same long 1200 block, was Germ Crazy. ‘Course, now a lot of us are laughing out of the other side of our face masks.
This particularly small dried up old-fashioned lady-Thomas Wolfe described her as a little bird-came to the door defensive, like she’d caught me doing something I shouldn’t.
“Collect for the Gazette?”
She fluttered (like birds do) soundlessly into the half-light of the second-floor apartment. It reminded me of those pale wraiths that inhabited so many mossy old English castles.
After such an ungodly time, I strained for any sign of life behind the closed door. The door finally swung open and she handed me a waded dollar bill, keeping her hand held out for the change. No tip for me, I guess. I thought about keeping back a dime, just to see if she’d notice, and decided not to; I had other customers to collect from.
With a slight nod, she closed the door, but slowly, maybe to see if I was really going to leave.
I’m sitting here, trying to think of things you’re not aware of about me. Or even things I think you don’t’ know about me, but do. Did you know I used to walk into the Iowa Theater backwards? Don’t ask me why, but if you’re wanting my opinion, it’s prenatal.
Mom and Dad must have seen a horror movie before I came to term, and I just hadn’t been ready for that brand of off-wall Dracu-drama.
Or, like Little Hermie demonstrated genuine hysterics when we ventured near the entrance of an alley. “Are we going in the alleyway?” Screaming, “Please, don’t go near the alleyway!”
We don’t’ know the basis for unfounded fears, of course, or we would call them something else. I’d like to make a suggestion, if I may. Why not re-name those fears in language the layman can understand.
In other words, fear of birdwatching could be called Phoebe-phobia.
Another of H.A.’s favorite sayings was, “Son, did anyone ever drop you on your head?”
My stock answer was, “Not that I remember.” Better safe than sorry.
But, looking back, there are subtle little sign posts suggesting brain damage while still in the comparative protection of Mother’s womb. (Did Dad kick in his sleep?)
The womb is something we all have in common. Plus a certain strain of silliness. Of course, I can’t be specific about the cause of the Kadiddlehopper syndrome; I just sense-no, I’m certain- it was responsible for me to be my own worst enemy in several (dozen) iffy situations.
Oh, sure; poor judgment, too. (Give the devil his due, huh? Done!)
But let me itemize. I flunked First Grade. Blame the teacher for being on sick leave. Blame Phonics, learning to read by sounding syllables. Blame the sultry Rozella Fleming; a distraction, but not a factor in my failure.
Face it. Blame Tommie Meis. Whatever was needed to absorb knowledge, store it in a reasonable orderly system to be recognized and recovered on demand, wasn’t anywhere to be found.
Do you know those little capillaries that do such a great job in our blood distribution? I believe that somewhere in my figure-it-out network, some tiny important wires got crossed up.
F’rinstance; why in Heaven’s name would I ever, by the wildest stretch of imagination, have to wrack my brain for the simplest, best word to convey a meaning? And then have the stuffiest, stoggiest, most pompous, blown-up, top-heavy set of syllables on record, pop to the surface instead?
Ok, people have been telling me my whole life that I’m too deliberate, too determined for my own good. Why not throw in procrastinator? Indecisive. Bold. How ‘bout disrespectful? Moody. A mind like a sewer. A lazy waster of time.
It’s Thursday, July 26, 1991. It’s expected to reach a sweltering 96 degrees today. I was outside putting water in the bird bath and watering the roses. The Blue Rose is budding. I looked up at the beautiful blue sky through a filigree of Maple leaves. I thought of the poet watching a condemned prisoner, alone in the walled-in exercise yard:
“I never saw a man who looked
With such a wistful eye
Upon that little tent of blue
Which prisoners call the sky…”
It’s from the Ballad of Reading Gaol (Jail).
That line about contemplating Paradise, or freedom, whatever the poet intended, has a lot of meaning for me. When I think of being 65 and still holding grudges, well, I think I have a lot of housekeeping to do.