Seven Decades in America – The 80’s Part 4

Seven Decades In America – Imagine What Life Might Have Been

Of the Seven Decades I’ve spent in America, the 1980’s were the most difficult.

I wanted to die when the doctor told me they were sending me to Sister Kinney Pain Center to “learn how to live like this.”

They were words of defeat. I stopped using my seat belt, figuring if another truck hit me, it would solve all my problems. Roger could remarry and find someone who could make him happy again.

Could a traumatic brain injury define my life from this day forward? Was I supposed to abandon all hope and settle for a life where I could accomplish nothing, including taking care of my boys and making my husband happy?

With all the rehab, I could still only control my brain for about three hours each day. When I became tired, my brain shut down and stopped controlling my left leg and left arm. Sometimes I went for a week without being able to use my arm at all.

What was worse was that I could be walking along and suddenly fall to the ground because my mind refused to control my left leg any longer.

The only thing that saved me was finding a gift my grandfather had given me when I was a child.

Reclaiming Hope

I’ll never forget the day I found Grandpa Burton’s gift of the “I Can.” That was the day I’d reached a point of total desperation. It was the day I hobbled out into the backyard and screamed at God. Desperation and loss permeated every corner of my soul. Simple tasks were no longer possible. I couldn’t take care of my children or myself.

Before the end of that day, I fell to my knees and prayed as I’d never prayed before. The next morning when I woke up, I was angry. I’d gone through every phase of loss except anger in the years after the wreck.

It was time to fight back like a Ninja Warrior. No longer would I accept the hopeless direction of doctors who insisted on treating me as un-fixable. For those who continued to offer no hope of recovery, I fired them and found someone else to manage my care.

In other words, I looked for specialists who were willing to accept my determination and help me live beyond the injuries. I based my recovery on a solid foundation of hope.

Modern Technology

My journey to wellness and hope started with my general practitioner.

He listened while I expounded on my new plan to control my recovery. No longer would I allow doctors to decide why my life had ended. It would all begin with him. If he chose to continue to give up on me, I’d find another doctor. I fired more than a few in the coming years.

Everything has a solution. It may not be perfect, but I’ve found I can always improve on yesterday.

My doctor looked at me for a long time before he finally spoke. “What do you miss most since the wreck?”

No one had asked me that before.

Admittedly, I didn’t expect the words that came out of my mouth: “I miss the smell of homemade bread. My kids never ate bread or buns from the store until the wreck. I’d always made everything from scratch like my grandma and mom always did. Because my shoulders and arms hurt so badly, I can’t knead the dough. The kids think store-bought bread is horrible.”

A Breakthrough

“Let’s fix that immediately,” he said. “My wife and I went to Dayton’s this weekend, and they have a new machine that can not only knead the dough, but it bakes the bread.”

I left that appointment and went directly to Dayton’s Department Store in Bloomington. The boy’s whoops of joy when they came home from school that day and smelled the bread baking was the greatest boost to my self-esteem I’d had in years.

America Moved On

Music had gone out of my life, but I still hummed some of the top ten songs of the 80’s. My favorites were “The Rose” by Better Midler, “Magic” by Olivia Newton-John, and “Do That to Me One More Time” by the Captain and Tennille.

The boys fell in love with ET and the Gremlin movies. What I wouldn’t know until years after we watched “Top Gun” is that I’d have a niece who also had a brain injury after a car wreck. She committed suicide watching this movie. Our sweet girl also struggled because the doctors offered her no hope of recovery either.

The new hero in America was Indiana Jones. How I’d have loved to have the strength to do the things he did!

The boys rode their bikes everywhere, hoping to find an ET-like alien wherever they went.

Life at Home

TR envied the capabilities of the Karate Kid. The boys at school started using him as a punching bag, so we signed him up for karate lessons. I couldn’t believe how fast he advanced to his yellow belt.

Roger became a Scout leader at my insistence, and I helped him plan the meetings for the boys. He was the best dad in the neighborhood because of what he did for and with the kids. Unfortunately, most of the good times were at some point diminished by his anger.

I felt responsible for his attitude. The boys cringed when they heard the door slam when he came home from work and would disappear into their room most evenings.

Pac-Man and Simon Says

Our boys played Pac-Man on their little computer for hours each weekend. They loved the new technology and entertainment.

Roger gave me a piece of my life back when he purchased an electronic Simon Says game for me. I sat for hours each day, trying to retrain my brain around the injury. For months, I couldn’t remember a sequence of three! That simple little toy was of invaluable importance in retraining my brain around the damaged parts.

The U.S. elected Ronald Reagan as President in 1980, and we enjoyed his humor and dignity in the office. I begin to sound like my grandmother here, but I never dreamed we’d choose an actor for the office of the Presidency. Sadly, I also have to admit that in 2016 I was advocating for my husband to get Tom Selleck to run.

Fear and Loss Continue in America Amid Joy

Music lovers lost John Lennon in the 80’s during a period when unrest still existed in the world. (Has that ever changed?)

The United States boycotted the Olympics in Moscow as scientists identified the new AIDS virus. Our dentist was so afraid of contracting AIDS from a patient that he decided to sell everything and move up north to live off the land.

Another assassination, but this one was on foreign land. They killed Anwar Sadat in Egypt. We couldn’t help but wonder what was wrong with people.  Hatred existed not just in America, but everywhere.

There was some good news for my American sisters when Sandra Day O’Connor became the first woman elected to the Supreme Court. Sally Ride also gained fame when she became the first female in space.

By this time, Mr. Tillges told me he’d decided to sell the business to someone else. My heart broke. I couldn’t make myself stay there knowing it might have been my business, except for the wreck.

A Child’s Choice

One thing I was certain of as my kids were growing up, is that I would destroy myself and my sons by judging my father. We can never allow ourselves to fall from grace through judgment. I’d prayed for God to help my father and change his heart. Through prayer and His Grace, I realized I couldn’t teach my children to hate nor could I deny a grandfather the ability to know his grandchildren.

I never left my children alone for a second with my father. We rarely saw him, but I made certain on our Christmas trip to Iowa to visit Uncle Bill and Roger’s mom that we spent an hour going to Sigourney to visit my father and his new family.

One year as we drove the country road south of I80, Billy piped up from the backseat. “Do we have to stop and see Darrell this year?”

For a moment I was stunned. “Since when did my father cease to be Grandpa and start being Darrell?” I asked.

“Well,” my young son said, “as far as I can tell, Grandpa is a name that someone has to earn. He’s never done anything to earn it.”

“Do you want to go see him, T.R.?”

“Not really. Billy’s right. I’d rather spend my time at Grandma’s and Uncle Bill’s.

And so, the side-trips to Sigourney ended.

A New Job

It took more courage than I imagined applying for a full-time job at Theradyne Corporation in Lakeville. They were the third-largest wheelchair manufacturer in the United States.

I’ll never forget the day I sat there and explained I could do the job in five hours per day that it would take others eight hours to do.

Showing a moment of extreme courage, I advocated that they’d be saving a ton of money by hiring me part-time without all the added benefits a full-time worker could receive. I got the job.

At times, it became difficult to cover up my disability. Words could still come out scrambled when I was over-tired. The other employees laughed and told me it was part of the aging process.


At the time, a huge conglomerate named Jung Products of Cincinnati owned Theradyne. I’ll never forget the day the Chairman of the Board arrived. It was six months after I started there.

He marched in the front door announcing for everyone to hear, “I want to meet the little lady who turned this company around!” Then, the office staff directed him to my desk. For the first time, the company was showing profits and excellent cash-flow.

We sat and talked privately in my little cubicle for an hour. Before the Chairman of the Board stood up, he told me if I ever left the company, Jung would sell Theradyne. A few years later, he kept his promise a few months after I gave my notice.

Another New Job

By this time, Roger quit his job and started his own company. He was a master at furniture repair and had contracts with the biggest furniture retailers and wholesalers in the area.

I’d have to say for a while, the boys and I were pleased with the change. Roger couldn’t get along with his bosses at any job. It seemed he was happier now that he answered to no one but himself. Then, an unforeseen accident changed everything again.

Roger broke his hand, and by the time it healed, his contracts were picked up by others during the recovery time.

I tried to get him to go out and find a new job, but he informed me that he’d taken care of me after the wreck and now it was my turn to take care of him.

So, I applied for a job with the National Association of Credit Management in Minneapolis.

Thankfully, I had decent insurance for my kids again. All my efforts had paid off, and I could keep up about seven hours of activity each day. The key here was that I  was able to work from home. That helped expand my ability to put in forty hours over a seven-day week.

My Boys Grew to Men in the 80’s

The world continued to hate in the 80’s.

Indira Gandhi died at the hands of an assassin in India and famine spread across Ethiopia.

We weren’t surprised when the Soviet Union boycotted the 1984 Olympic Summer Games in Los Angeles.

Billy became Bill, and T.R. became Tom during the 80’s.

My boys participated in hockey and Tom performed a stunning solo in Burnsville ice skating, dressed as Popeye.

Bill skated back and forth in the middle of the arena dressed as Wimpy, eating a huge hamburger bun as a backdrop to Tom’s performance.

My job at the National Association of Credit Management (NACM) in Minneapolis took me to Los Angeles and Warner Brothers Studio where I posed with Laurel & Hardy.

We delighted in having three foreign exchange students from the Intercambio Organization during this decade.

Juan came from Mexico, another boy named Juan came from El Salvador, and Carlos came from Guatemala.



Our Hearts Ached for the Boy from El Salvador

The unrest in El Salvador was horrible. I cried when we put Juan on the plane back to El Salvador. He was a huge fan of the movie “A Christmas Story” (Don’t shoot your eye out!) and wrote when he returned home:

have to hurry and write tonight. The Contra’s destroyed the village next to ours last night, and it’s almost ‘Lights Out’ time. Are Napper and Donuts still on the radio? Those funny guys!

On Becoming an Author

It didn’t matter how much money I made; it was never enough to cover all the things Roger wanted to buy.

I attended a seminar, and the leader talked about biorhythms. She believed that all people run on a twelve-hour schedule where for a few hours every twelve hours, they operated at extremely efficient levels.

At the time, work frustrated me. NACM sold TRW Commercial Credit Reports and provided seminars.

Most businesses in the area relied on Dun & Bradstreet. Personally, I found it difficult to cut through D&B’s stronghold on the marketplace.

I’d preferred the TRW reports at Theradyne because of their accuracy. TRW didn’t ask businesses for their three best references and best bank. Instead, they came to vendors like myself and asked us to contribute 100% of our accounts receivable.

For the first time, I had an opportunity to see how people paid their bills beyond the three best references.

I was extremely successful using TRW and the resources I developed at Theradyne. Our cash flow successes are what brought the Chairman from Ohio.

Eventually, I decided to write a book to help others learn the tricks of the trade to make their accounts receivable turn more often.

Putting Biorhythms To Work

My period of peak performance at work came during the hours of eleven in the morning and two in the afternoon. I went home from work each night, fixed dinner, and then went to bed and set the alarm for eleven. Each evening I wrote and researched on the computer until two in the morning when I went back to bed until it was time to go to work again.

I finished the book in only three months.

My profit was approx. $53,000 from the book the first year of publication and more afterward.

Surviving on One Salary

We tried to have family council meetings and convince Roger to get a job. By this time, he was helping the neighbor lady across the street with her upholstery business. He brought home roughly $500 per month compared to the average income in ’88 & ’89 of $20,000 per year.

Not only did I need to support the four of us, but Roger’s nephew, wife, and three children moved in with us. That meant I now had nine people to feed each day.

By the Christmas holidays, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I asked Roger’s nephew to find an apartment. They’d lived with us for over eight months, and I didn’t ask them to give anything toward living expenses.

Both of them were working, and I believed they should have saved up enough for a deposit or down-payment on a home. They were very gracious in thanking us for giving them a new chance at life. We were delighted when they found a lovely home to purchase and were all moved in by Christmas.


As Christmas rolled around, I barely had enough money to buy one gift for each of my sons. Tom opened his first and sat beside his father looking at whatever it was. Bill wanted a camera and couldn’t wait to open his present. He tore it open and found the camera while his dad was still helping his brother with his gift.

“Dad,” he yelled, “Can you help me put the film in?”

I can’t repeat Roger’s words to Bill that Christmas when he was interrupted, but I can tell you the words cut Bill to his soul. He quietly took his camera back to his room, donned his coat and went over to the neighbors for the rest of the day.

Without any hesitation, I got up from the sofa and moved to lock myself in my office. There would be no turkey dinner that Christmas.

The day moved slowly, and I couldn’t stop crying. I’d worked until I dropped each day to take care of this family. It took only one angry outburst to destroy everything I’d dreamed of giving my boys that Christmas morning.

A Realization

That’s the day the marriage ended for me. The anger I’d heard from my father and my husband were no longer tolerable. I would stay until after Bill graduated from high school because I knew that’s what my son wanted. I will always love the boy I fell in love with and the father of my children, but I could no longer live surrounded by his anger.

A World of Unrest

After Seven Decades, peace still alludes us.

By 1989 we had seen the effects of the explosion at Chernobyl. Sadly, the memory of the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion forever burned in our minds.

Veterinarians diagnosed the first cases of Mad Cow Disease, and we started reading labels to see where our food was produced.

And then the Berlin Wall came tumbling down – “Mr. Kruschev, tear down this wall!”

Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister in Great Britain again, and George H.W. Bush became President of the United States.

The Iran-Iraq War ended, and the Soviets removed their troops from Afghanistan. Could the world possibly be finding peace?

We thought things would change when we watched the pro-democracy protesters march in Tiananmen Square.

For the first time in my life, I envied the work my brother had done on water resources during his career as I watched the results of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska.

Not too many years later, I would go to Alaska to see that the effects of that tragedy continue to challenge the environment.

Seven Decades in America

See Part 1 Here
See Part 2 Here
See Part 3 Here


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2 thoughts on “Seven Decades in America – The 80’s Part 4

  1. Karen Surprenant

    What a wonderful writer you are. I can hardly wait for the next part. I too lived through all those moments in history. I’m so glad you can put it in such beautiful words.

    • Thank you, so much, Karen! As a child who was a product of WWII, I think we held our parent’s hope and fear for the future. They were exciting times full of opportunity and yet a time when the war stories we heard from our parents and grandparents inspired us to be our best selves.

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