Seven Decades in America – Part 3

Continuing the Journey – Seven Decades in America

Of all seven decades of my life, the 70’s and 80’s brought the greatest hope and joy to my heart. Those were the years my sons were born and grew up. There is nothing in the world to compare to the love of a mother for her children.

After Roger and I married, my stomach began to expand. When I met the other women on Main Street in Keota, they’d look at my belly and congratulate me on my marriage. Everyone thought I was pregnant.

Back to the specialists in Iowa City, I discovered I had a cyst on an ovary that had grown to nearly basketball size. Their diagnosis was devastating: I would have to have a complete hysterectomy and my dreams of having children would never come true.

I tried to explain to them that I hadn’t had a period, and I believed I was pregnant. The doctor gave me a pill and said it would start my cycle. Nothing happened.

They sent me home and scheduled the surgery the following month.

Grandpa Chimes In

Although gone now, I remembered the visit Roger and I made to see Grandma and Grandpa before he died. Grandpa had called me over to his chair. Very quietly, as was his way, he told me that I would have a child one day and he said it would be a boy. Grandpa asked if I could name my son Thomas after himself and Roger after my husband. He told me we would call the little boy T.R. That’s what everyone called my grandpa, T.R. Burton.

That visit happened only a week and a half before my grandfather’s fatal heart attack.

I called the doctors and told them the pill hadn’t started anything. Again, the docs asked me to return to Iowa City. A new blood test confirmed I was pregnant. The cyst shrunk as the baby grew.

I can’t say the pregnancy was easy. The only thing I could keep down was coffee and Campbell’s vegetable soup. Nine months of vegetable soup!

The Third of My Seven Decades

In 1970, a new house cost $23,400. We found a house on Main Street owned by a former banker. It was huge. We didn’t have much money, but Mom helped us by purchasing a brand-new refrigerator and stove.

She taught me how to use Grandma’s old treadle sewing machine, and I made curtains for the wrap-around front porch. I would use it for a daytime nursery for the baby we were expecting.

The organ I played in the Miss Iowa Pageant had a home in a little room off the kitchen. I began giving organ lessons to the local children.

It wasn’t enough. We couldn’t make the payments on the house and buy groceries on Roger’s salary alone. I begged him to let me go back to work.

A New Job

I started working at Kaiser Ag Chemicals in 1969. By the time we found out I was pregnant, I had advanced to the position of Credit Manager.

I learned from the experts at the National Association of Credit Management in Des Moines. They always had my back when something came up I didn’t know how to handle.

Now, I was collecting money from the same farmers who didn’t come forward to pay their bills after our fire. The thing was, these were honest people who sometimes broke under the stress of changing weather patterns, beetles, etc. I told them I’d accept $1 per week on their bill, but that they had to pay something or I’d have to turn them over to collections. Everyone could find one dollar! When things turned around, Kaiser was always the first to be paid.

Our First Son

Seven Decades, but it was the 3rd & 4th that expanded my heart!

I was only fifteen weeks pregnant when Roger headed to Camp McCoy for summer camp again.

Sadly, I was dead tired from work and went upstairs to get ready for bed. That’s when I began hemorrhaging.

I called Rachel Powell. She was Mom’s best friend and a nurse. Her husband was the local mortician and ran the only ambulance in town.

They came immediately and transported me to Iowa City. It took hours, and the doctors didn’t have any answers. Rachel assured them there was no fetus expelled. (She’d gone upstairs and checked everything.)

The doctors decided to try a new medical device on me the next day.

The nurse later told me that it was the earliest they’d ever been able to detect a fetal heartbeat using the new ultrasound device.

Roger borrowed a car at camp and was at the hospital before the sun rose.

The pregnancy was difficult, but at 9 1/2 months, I had little T.R. in the middle of a blizzard.

Roger cried on the way to the hospital because he thought he’d have to deliver the baby. Every fifty feet or so, he’d have to stop the car and get out to make sure he knew where the highway was.

The Early 70’s

I wasn’t much of a Beatles fan, but I was sad to see them disband in 1970. It was the year we didn’t think Apollo 13 would ever return safely to the Earth.

We believed the threat of a nuclear war ended with the ratification of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty for forty-three countries. 1970 was the year when Boeing debuted the first jumbo jet, the Boeing 707.

By the time T.R. was born in 1971, the government had reduced the voting age to eighteen when they had ratified the 26th Amendment.

Walt Disney expanded his empire by opening Walt Disney World in Florida. I couldn’t wait until my son was big enough to take him!

What we didn’t know, was the impact Intel would have on future generations when they released the first microprocessor.

The country elected Richard Nixon to his second term as the President of the United States. Authorities found that White House employees burglarized the Democratic Party Headquarters, and the Watergate Scandal escalated into the top news story of the day.

Another Baby On The Way

Billy was born on March 12, 1973. He wasn’t due for another two months. This pregnancy was even worse than the first. I couldn’t eat anything, and my weight continued to drop. At the time I got pregnant, I wore a size twelve. By the time the baby was born, I wore a size eight.

The doctors pulled no punches. Because of all the health issues, the doctors recommended surgery as soon as Billy was born, but I refused for six more months.

My premature baby was sick all the time. Bone marrow tests proved Billy had the ability to produce antibodies, but it wasn’t working. He was a bubble baby.

I shook as Dr. Frederixon gave him the first shot of live bacteria to help build an immune system. By the time Billy turned seven, his immune system was working normally.

One thing I think of often: I am forever grateful Grandma Burton lived long enough to hold both of my boys!

Playing in the 70’s

Of the Seven Decades I've lived in America, the 70's and 80's will hold my heart forever. They were the years my boys were born and were growing up.
The Lakeville Times featured an article about Fort Tarby, named after T.R. and Billy. These were the most remarkable of my Seven Decades in America.

Music was changing. I remembered how Mom and Grandma chided me about those silly songs in the 50’s. Does this happen to all of us? I couldn’t get into a lot of the new music, but I did love Debbie Boone’s “You Light Up My Life.” I also liked “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee Gee’s and “Silly Love Songs” by the Wings.

We had a cat problem in the new neighborhood in Minnesota. Someone’s cat was using the boy’s sandbox as their toilet. Roger solved the problem by building a replica of an old fort’s defense. He surrounded the sandbox by a Palisade.

We purchased a boat and spent late afternoons and weekends out on Lake Marion in Lakeville, MN. We moved there when inflation made it impossible for us to stay in Iowa. Roger found a new job at Gephart’s Furniture, and I took classes to become a Realtor so that I could be home with the boys before and after school. (I knew how important those hours are for a child!)


We entered the boys in the Kiddie Parade each summer during Lakeville’s Pan-O-Prog celebration. They won a lot of blue ribbons, but they weren’t necessarily happy with my choices of costumes I made for them each year.

I was the one who originated the Cow Pie Throwing Contest at Pan-O-Prog.

It was all part of my creative process back then. I enjoyed needlework and added embroidery and crocheting to my list of capabilities.

Life Was Good

I loved horses when I was a kid. In addition to celebrating the birth of our second son in 1973, we celebrated Secretariate when he won the Triple Crown that year.

Although I don’t know if I could have ever had an abortion, The Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v Wade pleased me. I can’t imagine any woman or child being forced to complete a pregnancy resulting from rape. I was one of the lucky survivors.

Women Assert Themselves

Women were beginning to demand equal rights.

When Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in their tennis match, I cheered. I played tennis for hours when I was young. We had nets and concrete tennis courts in the schoolyard right across the street from our house while I was growing up. My friends and I spent hours playing tennis.

Americans were so thankful when the Vietnam War ended in 1973. So many brave young Americans returned home in caskets during those long and painful years.


By 1974, Richard Nixon resigned, and Gerald Ford became our President.

The Vietnam War finally ended in 1975 and Saturday Night Live aired for the first time in the same year. I certainly wish someone had told me to buy stock when Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft in the same year!

I certainly wish someone had told me to buy stock when Bill Gates and Paul Allen created Microsoft in the same year!

The internet was coming alive! I purchased a little computer and began to teach the boys simple programming skills when they started school.

Computers & Presidents

It was in 1976 that Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple Computer Company.

We had a Democrat back in office when Jimmy Carter won the Presidential Election over Gerald Ford. Mom giggled in delight. She will perhaps always be Jimmy’s biggest fan. To this day, I help out Habitat for Humanity.

Disney World Here We Come

It was during the fall of 1977 when I sold my first farm. Mr. Tillges promoted me to the position of Sales Manager at Century 21, Tillges Realty in Lakeville.

The commission on the farm was a whopping seven-thousand dollars. I’d never seen that much money in my entire life.

We began to plan our trip to Disney World. The boys were five and seven-years-old, a perfect age for Disney.

That was the same year we received a life-changing telephone call. Grandma was in tears. She was now living with Mom in the house in Keota. (Grandma had a cancer diagnosis now, and Mom wanted to take care of her instead of putting her in a nursing home.)

Mom’s bipolar illness had become unmanageable.

“You have to come. Your mother is out-of-control!”

The Rescue

We made the trip to Keota and found Mom was on a rather historic manic high. She’d been buying furniture and a new car. The bank had called. Her checks were bouncing all over southern Iowa.

Back then, I believed they could arrest her. I didn’t know her mental illness diagnosis would protect her from prosecution.

I sat down at the kitchen table and wrote out personal checks to cover all the bad checks she’d written. Roger was furious.

We were still able to go to Disney World, but barely.

The boys saw Disney World, Circus World, and Sea World. After a week of running, Roger and I treated ourselves to a week on the Gulf Coast with the boys.

On the way home, T.R. patted my arm and thanked me for such a wonderful trip. I’ll never forget the next sentence: “Disney and all that stuff was really neat, but if we ever come back, can we just go to the beach?” Ka-ching!

Life Changes Forever

It was March of 1978. We’d had a major snowstorm the day before.

It was in the early morning hours before school when we headed out for Apple Valley to take my car in for maintenance work. Roger thought it would be fun to take the kids to McDonald’s before school. We dropped the car off, had breakfast, and headed back to Lakeville to get the kids to school.

We had made it nearly to Aronson Park when we saw a truck come over the hill ahead. The wind had picked up, and snow was blowing across the road. The truck was driving into the brilliant morning sunrise. It was about eight o’clock.

I watched in horror as I saw the truck slowly come across the center line. Roger started pumping the brakes and tried to move the car into the high snow drift by the side of the road.

Police Chief Rademacher told us later that the driver of the construction truck admitted he couldn’t see because of the blowing snow…and yet he kept driving!

The Moment of Decision

I unlatched my seat belt and turned in my seat, grabbing the boys by the backs of their heads. I shoved their faces down into the seat cushion.

When I finally woke up and opened my eyes, I cringed as I noticed the shattered windshield in front of me.

Billy was yelling from the backseat, “Mommy, you’re just like Superman! You have a head of Steel!”

Life Becomes Impossible

I sustained neck and back injuries and a severe concussion. One week later, the doctor told me I had Meningitis of the brain lining. They guessed because of the fractured skull, one of the boys probably had a cold and the virus had entered my brain through the new opening.

It wasn’t bad enough that I could barely move, but the Meningitis did some pretty severe damage to my brain.

I could no longer control my left arm or leg. My words came out scrambled, even though I knew in my head what I wanted to say. I had no sense of smell or taste any longer.

Obviously, I couldn’t do my job. I still had two little boys, but I couldn’t even fix myself lunch. T.R. became very good at peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Is There a Future for Me?

By the time 1980 rolled around, my dream of owning Century 21, Tillges Realty dissolved. I could barely move, much less run a business.

What I remember most, were Grandma Burton’s words. I would never “go on the dole.” Instead of signing up for Social Security Disability Benefits, we refinanced the house to pay off everything we charged in the two years after the wreck. I went to bed many hungry nights, so I had enough food to feed my husband and the kids.

I finally understood the massive depressions my mother experienced. I couldn’t stop thinking how much better my children’s lives would be if I could die and cut all the medical bills for their sakes. When depression strikes, you can’t think sensibly. Those boys ARE my life! Why was it so easy to give up all hope?

What I hadn’t found yet was the gift my grandfather gave me when I was little.

Seven Decades in America

See Part 1 Here
See Part 2 Here


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