Roger M. Goetz Chapter 07

Looking Back

by Roger M. Goetz



Two lovesick teenage boys, my brother Chuck and his classmate and next door neighbor Jamie Jameson, both still in high school, caused their families a lot of emotional stress in December of 1953 and January of 1954 respectively.  And I remember the distress each caused vividly.

Turning to Mom’s diary, I find the first hint of this trouble brewing in the entry dated November 23, 1953 – Monday:

Chuck has a new girl friend.   Cheryl Webb.  As with all his girl friends he’s fallen like a ton of bricks.  She’s red headed and real cute.

Thursday is Thanksgiving and we’re having no one in.  Every time we have had the boys objected, so this year I invited no one.

Last Tues. [Nov.] 17th Dad [Professor Charles A. Goetz] went to Savanna, Illinois, to talk at the Rotary Club in the eve.  Wed. a.m. he gave a lecture at the high school there.

Dad grew up on a farm near Savanna and he graduated from the high school there.  But as to how he’d been ask to go there and what he’d spoken about I haven’t a clue.  My guess is that some cousin of his arranged for Dad to come and that he spoke on careers in science–but it’s just a guess.

I should mention that when Dad was out of town and Mom was left behind to cope with Chuck and me, she found it somewhat stressful.  That is an understatement for the next time Dad was gone.  Both Mom and Dad were really put through the wringer.

On Sunday, December 6, Dad left went on a lecture tour to colleges in Minnesota and North Dakota–driving with Dick Schneider–and was gone until December 11.  Dad did this sort of thing several times a year.

He would write the chemistry department head/chair of a number of colleges and universities and offer to come and give a free chemistry lecture on one of several topics he’d list if he could then meet with the senior chemistry majors afterwards.  Many accepted his offer; and at the meetings with the seniors, he recruited graduate students for Iowa State.

It worked well for him and Iowa State.  Unfortunately, though, such trips usually left him exhausted.

In her diary, Mom described that week Dad was gone as follows:

That was the week I had a horrible cold and should have been in bed but instead lived on aspirin and got ready for the Jr. Chem Circle Christmas party here – something I inherited from my predecessor and which I think is a colossal nuisance.  It ruins my whole Christmas.  Mrs. Spedding did the baking.  After everyone was gone I told her that was the last party.

The Junior Chemistry Circle was a sort of club of the wives of the junior chemistry professors at Iowa State, and it was Mom’s job to oversee this whether she wanted to or not, simply because her husband was the head of the Chemistry Department.

But all of this was nothing compared to the volcano about to erupt.  Mom and Dad and I were apparently the last in town to hear what had happened.  Of the three of us, I heard about it first.

I think it was Monday, December 14, 1953, during my eighth-grade year, that Mrs. Coulter, my science teacher at Welch Junior High School, asked me if it was true that my brother Chuck was engaged.  I told her he wasn’t and thought no more about it.

Then all hell broke loose on Wednesday, December 16.

Now comes Mom’s record of the calamity caused by my lovesick brother:

On Dec. 16 – Chas. and I were getting ready to go to the couples club party at [Memorial Lutheran Church]–we were host and had to leave early to set up tables and start coffee and planned to leave at 5:45.  At 5:15 Chuck calmly announced that he was engaged to Cheryl Webb.

It gets worse:

He had drawn $100.00 out of his savings and bo’t [bought] a diamond at Zale’s and had given it to Cheryl the Friday before–the 11th I believe.  (That was the nite he came in at 1:45 a.m.  Well–Dad hit the ceiling both times–the nite he came in late and nite of the drastic announcement.)  When I heard that, my legs quietly turned to rubber.  Chas. made Chuck go to Cheryl’s get the ring back and then Zale’s wouldn’t give the money back until Chas. got rather "tough" (They gave it back the next day).  We got to the church party all right but the whole evening was a nightmare.  Talked to Pastor Fields about it.  Well–things got pretty bad around here–Chuck had privileges taken away and then he ended up talking to Pastor Fields and then Dad did once more.  What a mess.  The 28th Chuck and Cheryl went to the Christmas formal at the [Memorial] Union and now we’re in the process of keeping New Year’s Eve "slowed down to a gallop."  I feel sorry for Chuck.

There were three things that Mother didn’t mention here in connection with this event.

First, when Zale’s Jewelers didn’t want to take the ring back, Dad had the ring appraised by Bates Jewelers, 2400 Lincoln Way.  They informed Dad that the ring was worth that much money because it was an expensive setting, although the stone itself was of poor quality.  This information was part of how he got "tough" with them, as Mom described it above.  He also made some comments about taking an advantage of a minor and suggested this kind of publicity would not be good for them.

Second, Dad found out on campus that some of the people there had heard about Chuck’s engagement before he’d told my folks.

Third, when Dad returned the money to Chuck’s savings account, he bawled them out for letting a minor make a such a withdrawal without first making sure that parental permission had been granted.  At that point, Dad had both Chuck’s and my savings accounts restricted so that only our parents could make a withdrawal.

But the stress on the family wasn’t over.  My maternal grandmother, Mathilde Heck, nee Pfund (1866-1953), died after having been bed-ridden following a stroke.  In those days, they didn’t know about helping stroke victims with physical therapy.  She died of uremic poisoning because her kidneys failed.  Mom’s account continues:

On the afternoon of Dec. 17 I got a telegram from Irma [Mom’s oldest sister] telling me that mother had died the nite before–in the late p.m.–I guess about 5:00.  She had been bedfast for almost 10 yrs. (10 next April) and knew no one for the last 6 or 7 yrs. apparently  nevertheless it was hard to take especially at Christmas time.  I guess it has to do with memories.  I was in the process of baking mother’s recipe for animal cookies when I got the telegram.  We left for Mondovi [Wisconsin] Friday a.m. on the 18th and got there at 4:30 p.m.

On the way there, going north on U. S. 69, the car started to slide on a patch of ice.  We spun in a complete circle because the driver hit the gas pedal instead of the brake by mistake.  It happened so fast, we didn’t have time to be scared until it was over.  Fortunately no one was hurt and the car was not damaged.

I’m not sure now who was driving when that happened, but I think it was Chuck and that Dad drove after that.  In any case, I’m surprised Mom didn’t mention this in her account of the trip.  Returning to her diary, we read:

Went to the funeral home in the evening.  Stayed at Phyllis’s over nite.  The funeral was Sat. the 19th at 3 p.m.  Met at the funeral home first and then to church.

Phyllis (born in 1924) was Mom’s niece .

As far as I can remember, this was the first funeral in Mom’s family that I ever attended.  I was surprised to see my mother cry during the service in the church.  I’d not seen her cry like that before and felt uncomfortable.  My cousin Carolyn Moy, two years younger than I and Phyllis’s sister, sat next to me in the pew in church.  Both Carolyn and I giggled in nervous embarrassment at the weeping of our mothers.

After the funeral, when I had a chance, I asked Mom, "Why were you crying?"

"I was crying with happiness that my mother was finally released from her body and in heaven."
I was amazed at this.  I thought she was weeping at the loss of her mother.  She wasn’t.  And I now understand that she had really lost her mother years before.

Her account continues:

After the funeral the Ladies Aid served a lunch and at 5:30 p.m. we started for home.  It was full moon and the drive through the snow covered country was truly beautiful.  Came home at 11:30 p.m.–exhausted.  Caught cold up north and felt lousy for another week.  Opened Christmas gifts Christmas Eve.  We certainly are lucky people and the best gift of all was that no one was ill.  Pastor Fields and family were here for supper on Christmas Day.
 P.S. Chuck is 17 and Cheryl 16.

She closed the account of the year on a musical note:

The last few mo. [months] Chuck has been playing piano almost daily.  Is working on Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat Major.  Roger played in the recital Dec. 7.  He’s working on Paderewski’s Minuet.

So we survived that stressful December, including the first episode of a teenage boy in love.  But the second episode was only eight days away.  But wait!  Already on the first day of the new year, Chuck was in emotional distress.