Forty years is a long time to reflect on your dating years but this is a memory I just had to share. Geren loved driving fast until he became afflicted with Alzheimer’s. One day we were headed to an Illini football game and we were running late, a common characteristic for both of us, so he was speeding along Rt. 49 when a police officer decided to pull us over. Much to my surprise, Geren decided he would outrun him! He had a hot car that goes fast, so why not, right? Yikes! I thought for sure we would be going to jail. I tried to tell him to pull over, but he didn’t listen. We got onto I-74 when the police officer had radioed ahead and had another police officer ready for him when he hit the highway. He saw the lights and pulled over. Did he get a ticket? He should have but he jumped out of his car like he always did, and started chatting with this man about knowing Everette Gibbs. Just like that they were best friends, he didn’t get a ticket at all which was one of his many talents. He just had a knack for it. Ashley previously shared about an episode on vacation when he was pulled over. On that occasion, an emergency came up and the police officer had to leave quickly so no ticket that time. Another time he and another person were both pulled over on Rt. 45. The first driver received a ticket, and when the female police officer got to Geren, she apologized that she had run out of tickets. He got out of that one, too. I never was that lucky until just recently when I went to Owensboro, KY. Maybe Geren was looking down on me. But then again, probably not. He was probably saying, “Give her a ticket!”
Geren wrecked more cars than most. One year in the late 70’s or early 80’s, we had a snowstorm that came about very quickly, so quickly, in fact, that the administration didn’t call school off soon enough and the country children had to stay at school or be sent home with townsfolks for the night. On his way to work that day, he wrecked the blue Chevelle. I missed out on all the fun that day because I had to go rescue him. My last story of Geren and his cars was when Heather and Dustin were probably in third and fourth grade. Now we owned another blue car, a Buick Skylark. It was a winter night and Geren, Grandma Roberts, Heather and Dustin, and myself had been to Champaign and were headed home on I-57. The three adults were sitting in the front and the kids were in the back. We were just cruising right along not realizing that there was black ice on the road. I remember we were singing songs and having the best time. Before we could stop, we came upon a semi-trailer that had jackknifed across the road and it blocked both lanes. Thank goodness God had ahold of the steering wheel because we were going to hit that trailer no matter what. The outcome could have been fatal. Geren guided that car so that we hit the rear rubber tires of the trailer straight on. We hit and bounced off right to the shoulder of the road facing the wrong way. I thought we were going to go right under it and be decapitated. When we came to a stop, we all were unhurt, but poor little Heather turned about white as a sheet and had to get out of the car to vomit. It had scared her so badly, as well it should, because down in the ditch was a car who also hit the trailer but lost their life in the accident. As I have said throughout this Story of Us, God has always been our Savior and guide. I can’t imagine going through life without Him in my life. As this journey progressed, God held my hand all the way and continues to guide me today.
Tip#1—Become a Christian because eternity is forever, and with God in your life, He is always there for you. Feel free to ask me how to become one.
Part of his schooling at Reid College involved doing a project to get his Master’s degree. Looking back, this was just plain crazy. The Howard Johnsons in Urbana was kind enough to let Geren use a conference room where he would test people who were on probation. So, he paid these people $10 to come and take a polygraph test. Many came with the hopes of beating the test. Geren was very good at his job and he could tell a liar without even being hooked up to the machine. Trust me, he could just look you in the eye and know. So, several criminals came to be tested and often I sat outside the room to make sure he wouldn’t get hurt. Not sure how I thought I would be helpful but regardless, there I sat. When all the testing was done, nearly all, if not all, of them were breaking their probation but of course, Geren couldn’t break their confidence.
Geren continued this job until 1988 when the government passed a law saying it was illegal to test people for employment. It would only be permissible for police work which he did one time on a person convicted for murder. This wasn’t where most of his work was coming from, so this ended his career as a polygraph examiner. It was a low blow to him and his self-esteem. What was he to do now?
Over the course of doing polygraph, we had two wonderful children who started school, both having me as their Kindergarten teacher, Dustin only for a short time before they split the class. Geren LOVED taking videos of the kids going to school that first day. He would video me driving out of the driveway on my way to school, and then they would walk to school and Geren would video them outside with their friends, and then proceed to walk into the school videoing their teachers and their friends. I know as they grew older they didn’t really want Geren doing that so much, but he always did, and now I think they are grateful for it.
In 1987, along came baby number three, but I was sure it was the flu! By now, Heather and Dustin are ages 8 ½ and 7 ½. Dr. Lane decided to induce this baby also, so all of us headed to the hospital one early morning in May. The kids were so excited to be there hoping to get in on the birth of this baby. This baby just didn’t want to be born yet. I wasn’t even feeling bad, so we all played cards and had the best time. Since nothing was happening, Geren took the kids back home. By the next day, things progressed and it truly was a three-ring circus. Long story short, the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s shoulder causing much stress to the baby. Then three internal monitors were placed in me because the first one came loose, the second one was faulty, then the third time was the charm! Again, God was watching over me as we could have lost this baby. Thankful for this little old nurse who knew what she was doing, the next thing I know we are headed to delivery for a C-section! And I just remember praying, “Hurry, hurry, hurry and get that baby out of there!” Next thing I know I am waking up from anesthetic and the nurse is kneading my stomach like it is bread dough! Oh boy, I just wanted to slap her! While I was out of it, they brought out this sweet little baby wrapped in a blue blanket and everyone was so excited to have another boy! But . . . the nursery ran out of pink blankets that day because wrapped up inside that blue blanket was a beautiful baby girl! I didn’t get to see her for a while but when I did, she was perfect just like her sister and brother! We named this sweet baby Ashley Denise! Unfortunately, Geren missed out on Ashley’s birth as he wasn’t allowed in the delivery room, and the kids missed out on her birth but they were so excited to have a little sister!
Shortly before Ashley was born, we decided to remodel our house, knocking out a dining room wall, and adding a large addition to the north. Drywall dust was everywhere, and you can imagine the mess. Sweet baby Ashley was brought home to this mess. We tried to live in it as long as we could, but soon realized this wasn’t going to work so we moved in with Geren’s Grandma, Lavona. My favorite story while living there was Heather being such a sweet big sister. Ashley was sleeping in an antique bassinet, bigger than most you see today. Heather thought it would be great to read her little sister a story, IN the bassinet!!! That didn’t work out too well and soon Ashley needed new sleeping quarters! It was the thought that counted, Heather! It was several months before the construction was done, but it was worth it.
Geren had a kind heart and he loved God. And God provided so that he could help others. He anonymously provided for those in need and in the church. He didn’t want the glory here on earth. When Gifford was hit by the tornado in 2013, after we got our own mess cleaned up, he went around town helping others, some I wasn’t even aware of. One day I got a letter in the mail from the YMCA thanking us for our monetary contribution. I thought, what contribution? We paid our dues every month, what were they talking about? Then it occurred to me that Geren had done something. When I asked him about it, he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I called the Y and asked them about it. The lady at the desk didn’t know either, but later she called me back and said that Geren had given money to the gentleman who sat up front watching people check in. I asked how much and she said $5. He told the man that he was doing a great job and gave him money. The man turned the money into the front desk and that is how the letter came about. Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” And that is how Geren lived his life.
One thing the Roberts family liked to do was take trips. When Ashley was only a tiny tot, we, along with Geren’s parents and little sister, all hopped into our new Astro van and headed to Colorado. His mom told me how to pack but it was so hot here that I couldn’t imagine it being cold there so I packed a FAN! So, while everyone else was staying warm in their sleeping bags in the tent, I slept in the van and nearly froze to death! But it was a great trip with family. Geren was always about family. For his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, we all headed up in the mountains of North Carolina and spent a week in a beautiful lodge with his brother and sisters and their families. We all had a meal we were responsible for fixing for the group. Our meal was fresh ham on the grill. The fresh ham will be following this story because it is memorable. We brought it with us frozen and apparently, it wasn’t completely thawed. When Geren put that big hunk of meat on the grill, it was a blaze to be reckoned with! It was quite a memory, but not in the nicest way! After we sliced off all the crispy outside, we were lucky to still be able to eat it.
Now, about that ham—let me tell you about the ham. Geren grew up on a farm. I was the city girl—lived most of my life in Collison-population 50. We bought the farmhouse he grew up in from his parents. He loved going out there, me not so much. Geren decided it would be fun to buy a pig and feed him and later butcher him with the help from church friend, Joe Mizell. I wanted no part of it and tried my best not to get involved. But, when I saw that pig out in the shed, I just couldn’t think about him killing poor Wilbur. He fed him and then came the day to kill him. Geren was behind him and Joe shot him and Wilbur’s last reflex was a kick to Geren’s crown jewels! Wilbur got the last laugh and me, too! But they did butcher him and Steven’s son, Andy, and his friend, Matt, came down from Chicago to get in on the action. Geren’s parents came to help, also, and Ashley and I stayed out of sight. That explains the ham we took to North Carolina.
Another memory came to me on Pii Day when Heather had pies on her show, CI Living. Geren was always trying to smoke some ribs, or cook on the grill, but one day he decided to try his hand at key lime pie. Geren loved pie and desserts of any kind. So, he went about making a key lime pie and I just let him do it. He was making quite a mess but when the pie was ready, it looked beautiful! He was so proud and I was, too. He cut me a big piece of pie and I bit into it but it wasn’t what I expected! It was so sour and nasty that I had to spit it out! I asked him how many limes he put in it. Just three was his answer. What I didn’t realize was that he had thrown three limes, peeling and all, into the food processor and used all the mixture in his pie! Oh my, it was awful! After that, we stuck mostly to my Mom’s pies or Jerry Glazik’s at the Butcher Boy in Rantoul. But I had to give it to him for trying.
So, let’s continue back to 1988 when Geren wasn’t able to continue doing polygraph work. What was he going to do? His cousin, Tom Brown, suggested he become a financial advisor. And he did! He started working at Blunt, Ellis, and Loewi. It was a job involving cold calling people to get them to invest their money. It was the part of the job that Geren hated doing. As much as he liked people, he did not want to make these random calls. He stuck it out for a year or so, not sure exactly, but decided he couldn’t provide for his family doing this. For the next few years, he stayed home and took care of Ashley while I worked at GGS. She tells of watching Perry Mason every day, but he took good care of her while I was gone. One day my mom saw an ad for a job at Old National in Danville. Hesitantly, he checked it out and soon was working there as a financial advisor. He continued to work there for several years meeting new clients, and some who would become his best friends. From there, he moved to AG Edwards. He loved the company so much. It was here that his stress level soon started escalating due to conflicts from others working there. You’ve heard the saying, “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” Geren had a kind heart and continued to have a kind and forgiving heart despite things that transpired there, but the stress couldn’t have helped him much.
Life continued with him working as a financial advisor, and I was teaching. The kids were soon getting involved with sports, and Ashley was tagging along for the ride. During the summer months, both children played summer ball in Rantoul, Dustin with Dr. Litman’s and Heather with Vogelsang Plumbing. Geren, of course, had to help coach their teams and he loved every minute of it. He loved his kids and wanted them to do well. Geren had a very competitive spirit about him! He spent countless hours on the field throwing pitches to both kids, hitting balls to them, and even built a fence that Dustin could throw balls into in the backyard. And don’t forget the three-point line on the driveway that he painted so they could practice those long shots for basketball. I can even remember Ashley making one of those amazing shots in the old Potomac High School when she got old enough to play basketball.
By the time Heather and Dustin headed off to college at Harding University in Searcy, AR, Ashley was getting involved in sports at Gifford, too. Ashley enjoyed doing all the things her big brother and sister did. They both were great role models for her. She, too, played softball in Rantoul. I think when she finally finished playing softball, we had literally spent every summer there for the last 20 years! When that was over, Geren and I were so lost! That part of our lives, being spectators to our kids’ games, was over! We had empty nest syndrome of Wabash Park!
Over the next several years, we spent occasional weekends going down to Searcy to see Heather and Dustin. Ashley continued to be involved in all activities at GGS. Life continued as usual with our jobs, and before you knew it, Heather and Dustin both had graduated from Harding and took off for Texas to become teachers. Now that was too far away for this Mom and Dad!
Before heading off to Texas, Heather started dating TJ and the next thing I know, TJ has moved to Texas to follow his love and this Mom is planning a wedding while Heather is still living in Texas. Still not sure how we pulled that off, but we did and it was beautiful! My favorite part of Heather’s wedding was when she surprised TJ by singing to him during the wedding. Even though she had to start over once, she sang so beautifully and the wedding was fantastic! While in Texas, Dustin met the love of his life, Stacy, and he moved to Baton Rouge to follow his love just like I did! Love will get you every time!
Ashley continued to do great things at Rantoul High School, much like her siblings! Upon graduation, she decided to go to Harding, also, and now our nest truly was empty! I cannot tell you how empty you really are when all your babies are gone from home, and so far away! Suddenly, it was just the two of us and what were we going to do? It was like starting all over again with your spouse. We had built our lives around the kids and their activities, and when that was over, we had nothing. It was frightening at first but it did get better.
Tip #2– Totally unrelated to Alzheimer’s but free advice from me–My suggestion for all newly married couples out there, continue to date. Allow some time for just the two of you even after you have children. We took our kids with us everywhere, all the time, and I don’t regret that, but I realized that we lost ourselves along the way when the kids were gone. One thing we really started enjoying was spending Friday and Saturday nights at my parents playing euchre. Geren loved playing euchre every chance he got. Those are memories I will always cherish.