June 19, 2011 was Father’s Day and would have been my parent’s 40th wedding anniversary.
My mom, Pat Van Essen, is my guest blogger today.
It is nearly 2:00pm and I think I should get started on this story. Valerie, with her techno-saavy ability, has said she will get it somewhere so that others can read it. She has always been a delightful little girl and I am thankful that she joined our family, even if she was the last. From here, I must back up.
This story began 40 years ago now with the wedding ceremony of John and me. Geneva Collins, playing the organ on the patio in my folk’s backyard in Des Moines, Iowa gives the signal. Most of the guests are seated. The chairs closer to the “front” were the hot seats. Normally, the metal folding chairs would have been much preferred over the wooden ones at the back, but after sitting 4 or so hours in the sun, they were tried by the guests who would then move back. In 1971, mini-skirts were in style, so from my vantage point behind sheers of the dining room window, I observed some younger ladies sitting down and rising very quickly from the hot seats. Mind you, this was not a practical joke. About the only comment on the weather at this point was that it was 98 degrees hot! If you were there, thank you for coming.
I walked out my on my Dad’s arm. The picture in my album shows me with a big smile and him more somber. I must tell you that a couple of years previous to this, he jokingly would say that he should put a ladder up to my window. He may have been afraid that I would live under his roof indefinitely. At 22 years of age, I had never dated. But I digress a bit. The Lord brought John into my life when I was 22. It was a very bittersweet story. He had “lost” his Dad in 1970 and we had met his mom through her months of coming to see her husband at the VA Hospital in Des Moines. John and I actually met at the Tulip Festival that spring. We were engaged in November. “Uncle Sam” laid claim to him a few days later. He left a month later, and our courtship was through letters, phone calls (he would have to stand in line hours at a pay phone on Sunday afternoons to get a chance to call me) and 2 visits that his mother Rose and I made by driving down to Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. One time he was very ill and ended up in the hospital with pneumonia for 2 weeks. I was doing my first year of teaching in Altoona, IA. I was teaching 6th grade. Between the testy-sixth graders who were “out of there” so to speak, and a teacher anxiously awaiting a wedding, it made for an interesting spring semester.
We chose to get married at the end of his first week on leave, so we could have a honeymoon the last week. There wasn’t too much wiggle room as far as choosing a date. The players on this hot day were John (22 years), Pat (23 years), Mark–the best man (not counting John :), Jean Zimmermann–my “bestest” sister and matron of honor. My Mom and Dad of course, and Rose, John’s mom.
My brothers Jim and John did some important things!?! Jim gave me some encouragement and advice the night before. Preachers: John Elliott, from Springfield, MO married us, and Milo Vande Krol and Joe Balsan both prayed. (long prayers). Harris Van Essen, a cousin of John’s sang. We had a congregational hymn as well. Other aunts, cousins, friends helped us too.
After a long message, we pledged our vows. Now as soon-to-be newly weds we took these very seriously. When we vowed to love, cherish, honor… for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, ’til death do us part, there was no question in either of our minds that we meant exactly that. Our times together before that day were not spent on lots of entertainment, though we had done some of that, but mostly taking long walks and having long talks. We had very similar backgrounds, loved the Lord, and had similar dreams. We did have quite different personalities. Those made for an interesting marriage.
Getting on with the story. There were about 120 people who suffered through the long, hot ceremony. “Love suffers long and is kind.” Our refreshments were typical of that era. Our cake was significantly unique. We had petit fours arranged on glass layers with a small cake on top. It was topped with small yellow roses. My colors were yellow and white. John discovered that many years later while browsing through our wedding album. Jean so thoughtfully made “dainties” to go along with the cake, ice cream, nuts and mints. Guests went in my Dad’s office door, through the dining room and out the kitchen door–both to the patio.
The gifts had been opened by someone who put them all out on display on the ping-pong table in the yard. Such displays were most common. The wind picked up a card and blew it into the neighbor’s yard. Poor Rose spent most of the reception time hunting for that while the rest of us were eating and chatting. We didn’t know about that until later. After awhile, we got ready and left in my (our) 1970 Cutlass that was “hidden” in the neighbor’s garage. John would not tolerate any foolishness concerning the decorating of the car. I had purchased the car new the summer before. I wasn’t engaged at that time, and my Dad had thought that as a teacher and perchance to be “an old maid” I should get something new instead of used. Now, forty years later, I think it would be safe and interesting to say that I paid $3,000 for the car. I was making $7,000 as a first year teacher and paying Dad off $100. /month. You can do the figuring, but John was a man of integrity and he paid my Dad off for the rest of the debt so we could go into our marriage debt free. That was the way he liked to live life.
The drama splits here. John and I drove to Albia, IA for the first 2 nights, and then we went to Lake of the Ozarks to a cabin which had been rented out to some newlywed Van Essen’s from MN, the week before. We continued to add to our wedding day sunburn that week.
The ones left at 4005 Plainview Dr. (my folks’ house) were forced to put on the speed, because a thunderstorm came up about 5:00 pm and the organ, gifts, chairs, tables, etc. had to get taken inside.
John left to go to Ft. George G. Meade at the end of our honeymoon. I stayed with my folk’s a month. He had to look for a place for us to live since Ft. Meade was the place of his new assingnment as a Chaplain’s assistant. The first two weeks, I had somewhat of a pity party. Then I realized that I wouldn’t be seeing my family in Iowa for a long time and decided to enjoy being with them. I finally got the call from John that he’d found a brand new apartment in Low cost housing near the Meade base. Does anyone remember those?. Anyway, we packed all my earthly possessions into a small U-Haul (life was simpler) and Jim drove me out to Ft. Meade. We met John at the chapel on post and we went to move into our apartment.
That was a wonderful beginning. We were there a little over a year. That was the Viet Nam War era, so things were not necessarily stable. We had the Lord. We had each other. We had wonderful Christian fellowship in Silver Spring, MD assembly. AND in May of 1972, we had David. He brought a whole new dimension to our lives. At 2 months he went with us on our first vacation. It was a 2 day trip to the Smokey Mountains.
John was discharged after 21 months, so we came back to Iowa where he found work in Ottumwa. He was a service repair person for Burrough’s Corp. and later was the boiler room operator for Hormel and Co. We lived in Ottumwa, IA from 1972 to 1982. Our other children, Matthew, Daniel and Valerie, were born there. Daniel lived 5 days and is buried in Shaul Cemetery there. We have great comfort knowing that he is with the Lord, and one day we’ll be with him too.
My Dad approached John about taking over his half of the Harry Ferris Co. business. My dad and brother Jim owned this business. They were sales representatives for several companies. All the stuff they sold was highly technical. In other words, if I had a hard time getting to sleep, I could just ask John about something like that, how it works, etc. and I would be asleep in no time. John agreed to get into the business so my dad could retire, and in 1982 the Lord led us to move to Lincoln, NE where we would be more centrally located to where John would be selling. It was very hard for me to leave Ottumwa, my friends, etc. I would say it took a full year for me to feel like I was “coming home” when I pulled into our driveway here. Now that Lincoln has been home for 29 years, it is hard to imagine it differently.
They kids grew up SO FAST!!!! All those little things, little decisions, little arguments, they just go by SO FAST!!! John and I prayed that each of the kids would find godly spouses if that was in His will. David went to college at UNL then went to TN where he found his wonderful Southern Belle. Desiree is a wonderful wife for him. They have tall-Bailey, red carpet-Ben and sing-along and rhyme with Abby. Living in TX now, they give everyone who visits them a warm welcome.
Matthew went to UNL and then to Emmaus Bible School for a year. He taught elementary school in Lincoln, then went up to Kawartha Lakes Bible (bridal) School to find his bride from half a world around. After marrying up in Canada, they came to live in NE. I can’t say enough about how blessed I am to be a grandma to Caleb, Timothy, David, Lilias, Linia, Nehemia, Miriam, and Jeremiah. They’re Gr8!! Sarah is one busy and loving wife and mother. She is my on-site (Lincoln) daughter.
Valerie informed John and me that when she grew up, she “didn’t want to live with us, but just aways down the road.” We took her the first “ways down the road”. That was to Peterborough, ON. I think she sung her way into Dennis’ heart and they were married up there, had 3 of their darling girls. and then one day last year…they went to be missionaries in the Philippines. Thank you, Lord. This spring, they had another daughter.
Well, back to the vow…”in sickness and in health”. John and I had many, many years of joys in good health. He was a very intelligent man. He was a good father and very loving husband. He loved the Lord Jesus Christ. He taught the word in our home not only by reading, but by living it. I will abbreviate the last six years we had together. After having diabetes for 20 years, things deteriorated. He first went blind, then the kidneys declined and finally the heart. He taught me a whole lot as I watched his losses. The Lord taught me even more–His sufficiency and faithfulness. We had 6 years with many visits from family, since we couldn’t go far, a couple of trips by ourselves early on, and continual support from our children and friends. My underlying comment concerning John during those 6 years is that he never complained. I don’t remember him having any pity party that I was aware of. He got to “see” (meet) 12 of our now 15 grandchildren.
John went to be with the Lord, April 6, 2008. “…’til death do us part’…”
Life goes on and I daily see God’s faithfulness to me as a widow that I never would have dreamed. There are quiet and lonely times, but there are joyful times and times of new opportunities. I want to be doing the Lord’s will as I watch and wait for His return.
Funny how “One Hot Day” just led to so many more. I just want to say how much the Lord has blessed me. First in my salvation: “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” And then in His promises: “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”