The rented house on Grande Avenue was in a tough neighborhood. It stood at the end of a street that had very nice homes to the East of ours and rundown homes to the West. From time to time we would hear gunshots in the neighborhood at night. There were mysterious visitors seeking a previous occupant. Our outlook was that people were basically decent, and we were still cocooned in our life together, so the outside world did not matter that much, even when it came knocking at the door.
We brought our daughter home from the hospital to that house. Our parents came to visit, we harvested black walnuts from the two trees in the driveway, and bought new furniture from a real furniture store. My sister-in-law and her family came over for dinner at least once and that August I canned 15 pints of tomatoes from my mother and father-in-laws’ garden in Ames.
We attended services at the People’s Church, which was down the street. We established routines couples do, trying to contribute to our lives and to life in society. I remember feeling a new life was beginning with our settlement on the southeast side of Cedar Rapids.
I was fortunate to have the upstairs of the house for a study. I spread out my books, typewriters and papers to work on a novel in my spare time. No novel was completed in the wake of a new job, a new home, and a newborn who depended upon us.
The past 18 months have been physically taxing and mentally exhausting. I weigh in at 212 pounds, more than ever in my life. I have been spending a majority of my time outside work laying on the couch, digesting meals, and watching television. I need to stop this now, improve my family life, and proceed on the intellectual path that has been my calling from earliest days.Journals, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, June 29, 1985.
Taking a few days vacation, I found time to retreat in my study and write in the journal. I asked, “Where is my life heading?”
This is the question to be answered in the next few days. I am not happy with it now, and I seek a change in daily life that will focus on daily events and find meaning in them. Too, I seek a meaning beyond the surface of things. I believe an individual’s actions have consequence in society and in the larger realm. Though our voice may not be heard beyond our solar system, each life on earth has consequence. We are all God’s children and this spiritual part of every life has been neglected too long, both in my life and in the life of society. Here on the pages of this journal I can begin to work out an answer to this problem.Journals, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, June 29, 1985.
I’m not sure answers were forthcoming.
Our time at Grande Avenue centered around our daughter’s new life with us. There were visits from family and friends, and a focus on our lives together. I learned how to change a diaper and earned enough money to finance the household. We weren’t there long enough to start a garden.
There are two black walnut trees by the garage… this year the crop was hearty, my father-in-law said that if the summer is particularly dry then there is a sensibility in the trees that causes them to produce a large number of nuts, as if the species were in danger, and there was a need to propagate itself.
I gathered two bushels of nuts after a wind storm blew them to the ground in mass, early in the fall. I spread them on the front porch to dry. I left many more for the squirrels to eat and hoard.Journals, Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 1985.
The walnuts dried for about a month. I then took plastic buckets of them to the basement and cracked them with a hammer. They are hard. Squirrels must have sharp teeth to eat them. After cracking I put them in a large bowl for a quick sorting, then turned them over to Jacque for the final sort of shells from nut meats. The crop produced about three pints which I put in a storage room along with the canned tomatoes.
Jacque used them to make banana bread with barley flour, wrapping each loaf in foil to set overnight. I was in the basement cleaning up from the walnut operation when she brought down one of my canning jars. We opened the storage room and a pot of narcissus had sprouted.
She was happy. And she took it into the sun room. We thought that store bought narcissus only produced one season, but no, we’ll have another season of them.Journals, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1985.
Our home became a collection of raw materials waiting to be used in singular production to create a life. Some days we were better at it than others. Some days we found unexpected flowers. Just like all of God’s children.