Awhile back I asked my Mom to share her and Dad’s “story.” Just like this blog is supposed to be therapeutic for me, I thought maybe it would be for her, too. It must have been because she gave me a LOT of material. So much so that I’m breaking it up and making it into a series of posts. I wanted to hear about their journey. The stories of memories they made becoming a family of five. The ups, the downs, and everything in-between. She delivered.
I saw a post on Facebook last week that said, “Not a day goes by that I don’t look at your picture and smile. Or cry. Or both.”
How true that is… I just miss him.
But I’m thankful I have a sweet momma who even though this writing must have been heart breaking and incredibly tough, did it for me. I’m so blessed. I love you. I love you. I love you.
THIS IS US
How do you tell our story of 40+ years in just a few paragraphs?
I met Geren, my husband of 40 years, in 1969 at Armstrong High School. I was a freshman and he was a sophomore. His sister, Linda, and I quickly became friends and how could you not help but notice her cute brother, Geren. The next year along came his sister, Susan, whom I also became friends with, so it was inevitable. All of us were in many activities at Armstrong and we were all friends. I remember one year early on in our friendship, I went to a musical with the Roberts family at Rantoul High School to see Oklahoma. It’s funny the things you remember, but after the musical Geren held my hand back to the car and sat in the back seat with me holding my hand, and I’m pretty sure I just melted in that back seat. The unfortunate thing though was that I went as Linda’s friend. (Sorry, Linda!) But, we didn’t start dating until the second semester of my senior year. By that time Geren’s little brother, Steven, had also started high school, so I quickly fell in love with the whole Roberts family. Steve was just too cute and always so witty. I think it must have been the whole Roberts clan who pushed Geren to ask me out and I was so impressed with him from the beginning. He was such a gentleman and I loved that about him. The following fall I was off to Danville JR. College and Geren was a sophomore at the University of Illinois. We spent our weekends going to the movies, bowling, or our favorite thing of all, playing pinball in the basement of the Illini Union. This was an activity we continued to enjoy even when Geren became so severely affected by Alzheimer’s.
Geren really enjoyed cars, especially his own, but he was an extraordinaire when it came to wrecking them. His first car was a blue Chevy Malibu which he wrecked in high school before we started dating. I think the second one was a Chevy Caprice, and one night going back to Gifford after one of our dates, he fell asleep and rolled the car. Luckily his arm got caught in the steering wheel or he may have been thrown from the car. He was lucky walking away with only a broken nose. Do you see a pattern here? He then had another Chevy car and one night coming home from our date, I fell asleep in the front seat and apparently, he did, too. We were both going to school and working, so we were just tired. We were just a little over a mile from my house when he missed the 90 degree turn and drove straight into the bank of the ditch! I woke up quickly when I was thrown onto the floorboard of the car with the wind being knocked out of me. When we both woke up and realized what had happened, it wasn’t good. I felt the immediate pain in my feet and ankles, and Geren hurt his wrist/arm, later to find out he had broken his arm. It was a cold night in December, 1974, and Geren got out of the car and carried me to the house not too far from the accident, but no one was home. As luck would have it, shortly there after a man drove by, saw us, and drove us to my house. How do you tell your parents calmly that we had an accident, while by this time my left foot looked like a basketball? Turns out I crushed my left foot and broke both of my ankles and Geren broke his arm. This led to me being in the hospital for some time and leaving me in a wheelchair for a few months with casts on both feet.
Geren was struggling some at the U of I, taking Spanish taught by a Japanese teacher who spoke very little English was one of his problems, and so he decided to transfer to David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee for the following quarter to bring his grades up. So, he left me in a wheelchair while he trotted off to Nashville. I hated that time being apart from January to August. I finished at Danville Jr. College and followed him to Nashville for the summer quarter. It was great to be together again, but we didn’t have much time for fun. He was doing great bringing his grades up, and I decided to take 21 hours! Not sure what I was thinking but things always work out for a reason. At the end of the summer quarter, Geren decided he wanted to go back and graduate from the University of Illinois. This guy! What I didn’t do to hang onto him! I had to scramble to get admitted to Illinois State University and ended up living with my cousin, Fred and his wife, Betty, because there wasn’t any housing available. So now I am commuting home every weekend so that we can be together. Oh, the things we do for love! We knew we wanted to get married and we even mapped out a calendar showing how many days until we would get married. So, on my 21st birthday, my parents and Geren came to Bloomington/Normal in January 1976. There wasn’t any fancy proposal. He had on winter gloves and made me put them on and that is when I realized my engagement ring was inside the glove! What a goof! We continued the semester, while planning a June wedding.
Geren graduated in May 1976 from the University of Illinois. After he graduated, we both searched for jobs for the summer. Geren got employed at Collegiate, Cap, and Gown, and I applied, but they didn’t hire me. I was so disappointed. A few days later they offered me a job, too. Geren, myself, and his brother, Steven, all drove to work together as we all got jobs there. The first day on the line made me so sick, motion gets me every time. So, the next day they put me doing inventory with the boss’s daughter and life was great! My best memory of working there would be our rides to and from work with Steven. On our way home, he would take his shoes off and we would all just about die!!! That year he got Odor Eaters for Christmas!
On June 19, 1976, we said “I do!” We had a beautiful wedding with my best friend, Susie Bird, as my maid of honor, followed by Geren’s sisters, Linda and Susan. We took off on our honeymoon to Cherokee Village, AR. That’s where you go when you are broke, basically a time share where they pay you to come there. Everything was going well, until we stopped to go to church Sunday morning somewhere in Arkansas. Geren reached into his pocket to put some money in the collection plate only to discover he had left his wallet on top of the bookcase at his home in Gifford! Luckily, we brought along with us all the wedding cards that people had given us and used the money in them to get by. Fortunately, I had a great aunt and uncle that lived in Cherokee Village and we had to go ask them to help us out! It was a most memorable honeymoon!
In the fall, Geren decided he wanted to learn to operate a polygraph machine and because I had taken so many credits at David Lipscomb, I finished college in three years except for 6 weeks of student teaching. So, we parted ways again after only being married a few months. He stayed in Wheaton with a friend of his Mom’s and rode the train into the city to go to Reid College, and I did my student teaching in Lincoln, IL where I stayed with some family friends who lived in New Holland. And again, we commuted back to our little house trailer in Collison every weekend, except for one weekend. Geren thought he could do anything; including beating a snowstorm. He left Chicago and back in those days we had some horrible blizzards! He got almost to Peotone before he was forced to leave his car on I-57, along with several other stranded folks. He was taken to a school in Peotone for the weekend along with all the other stranded travelers. I think he had a great time despite the bad weather as they played basketball in the gymnasium and made the best of a bad situation. By Sunday or Monday, they took them back to their cars and he returned to Wheaton. I was just thankful he was safe! So, we spent the first six months of our marriage like this! Because of those extra hours I took at Lipscomb, I was able to finish college in the fall of 1976. God always has a plan. His plan was for me to get a job at Gifford Grade School. Gifford had a teacher leaving to get married midyear and I started teaching at Gifford Grade School in January 1977 where I spent my entire career. Looking back, you can see God’s hand in all that happens. Had I not followed Geren to Nashville, I wouldn’t have had a career teaching at Gifford Grade School for the next 34 and a half years!
January 1977 started off with us being a real married couple together, not just on weekends. I was learning a new job, and Geren had learned to use the polygraph. Not immediately, but sometime later he began training under Everette Gibbs, a longtime church friend, who had his own polygraph business. Geren learned so much from Everette and one day Geren took over the business so Everette could retire.
In 1978 I became pregnant with our first child! We were so excited to become parents! Our baby was due in November so we had all summer to get ready for our new arrival. Geren and I decided to take a vacation to Key West that summer! What were we thinking!? I was six months pregnant and if you didn’t know this about Geren, he HATED to stop when he got behind the wheel to take a trip. I distinctly remember taking a big bucket along so I could use the bathroom just in case he wouldn’t stop! We stayed with the Danfords, longtime family church friends, for a few days. We decided to go for a sailboat ride and Betty was not in favor of me going. What could go wrong? Plenty! We got out on the water, saw some dolphins, and were really having a great time when a storm came up. It was then that I realized we might just die out here! The sails were quickly being moved from one side to the other and God was with us as we were able to stay upright and get back to shore!
We had a great trip, but then it was time for school to start again. Geren was working nights at the grain elevator in Collison, keeping an eye on the dryers. On Halloween night, I started having contractions and away we went to Mercy hospital. We got there around 11 PM and I was dilated 2 cm. It felt more like 8 cm! But they kept us and at the time and we had our own birthing room, a bed for me and a comfy couch for Geren. I proceeded to have contractions throughout the night, begging for some relief, while Geren slept on the couch!!! At one point, I remembered saying to him to come help me, after all, we had practiced the Lamaze method with our breathing techniques together! His response was, “Can’t you sleep through those contractions?” No, but he sure was doing a great job sleeping through them! By 7:30 in the morning they examined me. I’m thinking surely the baby will be here soon. I was now dilated to 2 and a QUARTER! You had to be kidding me! So, for the next several hours, we did our Lamaze breathing through the contractions and Geren absolutely did not want me to take any kind of medication for the pain. This was back in the days of natural child birth. Just a few minutes before our baby was born, I asked for some medication against Geren’s will and then she was born! If I had just waited a few more minutes! Our firstborn baby was born; a chubby little girl who immediately started sucking her thumb! She was beautiful and stole our hearts! We named her Heather Dawn and she was perfect!
Now we were a little family of three. Heather was an adorable little baby! I guess we loved having her so much that unbeknownst to us, I became pregnant with another baby! I say that like that because I was sure I must have had a tumor as there was no way I was pregnant! My mom told me, “A little tumor with two arms and two legs.” And sure enough, she was right!
By this time, we could see that our trailer in Collison wasn’t going to be big enough for two adults and two babies so we started looking for a house. We found one in Gifford and it was almost in Grandma Roberts’ back yard. She was excited about having us as neighbors! So, in the fall we started moving to Gifford where we continued to live for the next 40 years!
Because Heather had been a big baby and had done some damage to my body, the doctor kept a close eye on this baby as we didn’t want to have another chubby one. A week before Christmas Geren and I went to my doctor’s appointment. Dr. Lane said to get on over to the hospital and he would induce me. Heather was with us because Geren took me to the hospital and left me so he could take Heather to his parents to watch her. Not knowing that I would be headed to the hospital, it had been a long time since lunch and I was hungry but no food allowed once he induced me. I can remember this like it was yesterday. When Geren came back, bless his heart, he brought a dozen glazed donuts back so we could eat them. He knew how much I loved donuts and I couldn’t even eat one! This baby proceeded to be born much quicker than Heather. While Heather was born in the birthing room, this baby was going to start in the birthing room, but when delivery time got closer, they would take me to the delivery room. It was a Monday. You ask, how can I remember that? I can remember because in this birthing room was a television and it was Monday night football, and I thought for a minute that Geren was going to miss the delivery because he was glued to the football game on TV. They were wheeling me out the door and I was yelling for Geren to come on! Can you believe it? That evening we welcomed into our lives a chubby little boy, perfect in every way and we named him Dustin Geren. I can remember taking him home and thinking how big Heather looked! Yet she was only 13 months old! Now we had two babies! Yikes! But they were adorable!
Because I had only been working at GGS since 1977, I hadn’t built up many sick days so fortunately I had Dustin over Christmas break, and they were calling me wondering when I was coming back to work. I think I only took 3 weeks off for maternity leave and then back to work I went. Crazy when I think about it now! Not sure how I handled two babies, getting them to a sitter and to work by 8! I must have been out of my mind!
It’s hard to remember the timeline of Geren’s work, but by now I think he was working fulltime doing polygraph work. He loved this job, but it was very demanding on him. When you look back, you wonder how many things impacted him getting Alzheimer’s so early. First, genetics wasn’t in his favor with his Dad and Granddad both getting it in their later years. Secondly, Geren was never a breakfast person, and I’m sure he worked through his lunch. And this job was very stressful. Most of his work involved testing people for employment. He tested for all the K’s Merchandise stores in the state. This job was a one man show. He traveled far sometimes, leaving early and getting home late, and then having to type up the test results in a report form. I can remember one time driving him to Decatur so that he could test some employees. He was so tired and slept the whole way there. I spent the rest of the day waiting for him to finish his job so I could drive him back home. I offered to help with his reports but it was something only he could do so he worked very hard for many years at this job. As I am sure our kids would attest, every trip we made at Christmas involved hauling numerous boxes of polygraph tests so that he could work on them while away from home for a few days. Lack of sleep, stress, not eating right, and no exercise I think only escalated his chances for getting Alzheimer’s early on.
This is just my theory.