by Roger M. Goetz
I BROKE INTO MY OWN HOME
One aspect of life in the Chicago area which we brought with us to Ames was keeping the house locked when no one was at home as well as when we were in bed sleeping. Some of our friends and neighbors thought our behavior a bit strange, for they had not lived in an environment tainted by both Chicago’s ongoing political corruption and its organized crime as typified by Al Capone (1899-1947).
Eventually our locked-house practice presented a problem. One day when I came home from Louise Crawford School, the house was locked because my mother had gone somewhere and been delayed returning home. This was a new experience for me because, as a stay-at-home mom, she had always been there when I returned from school.
I didn’t know what to do in this new situation. I was a bit scared, for I had no idea where my mother was nor how long she would be gone. And my brother wasn’t around either. So, after a few minutes of deliberation, I entered the screen porch on the back of the house and went to the den door in which were a number of small panes of glass. I broke the pane closest to the doorknob, reached inside to unlock the door, and went in. Shutting the door behind me, I felt safe.
As soon as Mom returned home, I showed her what I had done; and she wasn’t the least bit angry. Rather she apologized profusely for being unexpectedly delayed.
My father was also very understanding when he learned about the broken window pane and said not one negative word to me, probably, in part, because repairing the damage would be something he could easily do. Fixing things was, in fact, Dad’s hobby.
A few years later, when I came home from school, I was again confronted with this situation and entered the house the same way. Neither Mom nor Dad were angry with me, but they decided something should be done to avoid this in the future.
In the discussion that followed, they talked about giving me a key to house. They were concerned, however, that I might loose it. As soon as I heard that, I felt a knot of fear in my stomach. I just knew I’d wind up losing it.
My father thought about it for a day or two and came up with the perfect solution: he hung a spare key on a nail on the underside of his work table in the garage. Thereafter, whenever my brother or I came home to a locked, empty house, we simply raised the garage door (which was kept unlocked during the day), retrieved the key, and let ourselves in. And, as it turned out, this was a real blessing for the family.
About 1983, Dad bought a new hot water heater for the house and, for some reason, didn’t quite trust it. So, every evening before going to bed, he checked to make sure its gas pilot light had not gone out.
Dad died in 1985. Following his funeral, I told Mom I thought she should purchase one of those portable electronic devices with which she could summon help.
She indicated that she didn’t want to spend the money and that she really didn’t need it.
So, I suggested that she should have a phone installed on the second storey of the house in case she needed to call for help during the night.
She adamantly replied, "I don’t want my sleep disturbed by the phone ringing after I go to bed. Besides, it would probably just be some college student dialing a wrong number."
"Really?" I asked.
"Yes," she said, "it sometimes happens three times a day."
I could really sympathize with her about wrong numbers. When they changed the phone numbering system, our telephone exchange was CEdar and our number was CE2-7561. It wasn’t long before we learned the phone number of the Overland Café and Bus Depot was CE2-5761. We got wrong numbers for the bus depot–often several a day–for weeks and months!
So Mom and I compromised, then, by arranging with Memorial Lutheran Church and Student Center at Lynn and Lincoln Way that every morning at 10:00 a.m. (except Saturdays when no one was there) Mom would call the church office and let Administrative Assistant Joan E. Welch know that she was all right. And, as events were to unfold, it was fortunate that we did.
The drama that was coming happened because Mom felt compelled to continue Dad’s routine vis-a-vis the hot water heater pilot light.
In 1987, after performing this nightly task, she slipped, and fell on the basement steps. Since the front edge of each step was covered with a strip of aluminum metal, she was badly bruised.
Crawling up the stairs on her hands and knees, she collapsed on the dinette floor beneath the only phone in the house, an old rotary phone mounted on the wall above her. Unfortunately, she was in too much pain to be able to get up and call for help.
When I later talked to Mom after this whole fiasco, she told me she had prayed a lot while lying there. Then she grinned, lowered her voice, and said, "I’m just glad I didn’t have to go to the bathroom the whole time."
Now, the morning after Mom fell on the basement stairs, the man who delivered mail to my her house noticed her shades were still drawn and the blinds still closed. So when he delivered mail to the church, he commented about that to Joan Welch [in a phone conversation about this with Joan on 14 June 2010, I learned that the mailman’s first name was Dennis and that she didn’t know his last name]. She looked at the clock and saw that it was 10:10 a.m. and told the mailman that my mother hadn’t called yet.
Joan tried phoning my mother several times, but got no answer. Thus, she notified Senior Pastor Richard G. Kapfer (1936-2001) of the situation, and he drove over to my folk’s house, got the key out from under the work table, and entered to find Mom on the floor. He immediately called an ambulance to transport her to Mary Greeley Hospital.
Tests showed that she had no broken bones, so she couldn’t stay there. At the same time, Mom was too weak to go home, so Pastor Kapfer called me and told me the situation. At his advice, I directed that she be moved to Green Hills Health Care Center, which had opened about three weeks earlier.
She was established there in a single room with her own bed, dresser, chair and footstool, and many of her books to read. She loved it there and lived there the last nine years of her life.
The point of this piece of history is that because I broke a window twice to get into the home, a nail was pounded upon which to hang a key to the house, and that key was used years later to rescue my mother and probably save her life since no family lived in Ames and she would have never moved away to live near one of her sons.
Returning to our practice of locking our home in Ames from having lived in the Chicago area during the first eight years of my life, there was absolutely no question in my mind as an elementary school child in Ames that our rule of when to keep the house locked was wiser than the prevailing attitude of leaving a home unlocked even when the family vacationed out of state for weeks at a time.
I can remember with a smile how Ruth Jameson, our next door neighbor, one time gently chiding me for locking our house the way we did. Nevertheless, as a child I realized that this wonderful woman just plain didn’t have the experience of living in the Chicago area and didn’t understand where we were coming from.
Sad to say, our precautions were vindicated just under twenty years later (I was away in graduate school when my parents wrote me about what had happened). A neighbor lady on our block who had been a member of the Neighborhood Club (aka the Colonial Dames) was raped in her home by an Iowa State student who was on the wrestling team. She was perhaps old enough to be his grandmother!