TABLE OF CONTENTS
Introduction - Just Trying to Matter - 9
1. My Life Has Come to This - The Anti-Bucket List - 15
2. The Legacy - Somewhat Lucky - 21
3. Family Matters - The Beginning of It All - 35
4. Key Players - Fits, Conniptions, Jawings, Boxing Ears - 45
5. Free-Range Children - Polio, Pee, and Possibilities - 53
6. A Band of Brothers - The Favorite Daughter - 67
7. Education - The Edge - 79
8. Marriage–Beginning and End - The Dream Fades - 93
9. Finding My Stride - On My Own - 107
10. They Grew Up - Never Free of Your Children - 121
11. A Surprise Child - A Sorta Mom - 137
12. Saving Babies - Stronger Than They Seem - 147
13. Unanchored - You Kids Take Care of Each Other - 155
14. Grandma GoGo - Kidnapped - 171
15. The Iowa Influences––Still - The Next 30 Years - 185 _________________________
16. Chaos - Managing Teenagers––An Oxymoron - 203
17. Wonderful Nest - A Home That Rises Up to Greet You - 213
18. Philosophical Meanderings - In a Loop - 227
19. Generation Gaps - You Can Never Have Too Much Fun - 237 20. Lessons Learned - Just by Being, You Are Enough - 249 Books and Workshops by Nikki Hanna - 259
About The Author - 261
I NTRO D U CTI O N
Just Trying to Matter
I was born and raised on a farm in Iowa, a place steeped in midwestern traditions and rural values. Over time I shed rural inclinations and evolved into a fiercely independent, metropolitan career woman. After leaving rural Iowa in 1962, I embraced metropolitan living in Omaha and Chicago, ultimately transitioning into an urban Tulsa lifestyle while tiptoeing occasionally into the orbit of rural Oklahoma. Although the contrast of rural and city cultures occasionally required significant adaptation, it also produced a robust and varied life.
With my daughter’s encouragement, I decided to write this book. She said, “Do it for my kids. I want them to know where they came from and what it was like for you.” A compelling call to action, her support introduced the nudge I needed to retrace my early years, reflect on how they influenced the rest of my life, and record those recollections for future generations. I do so, though, with some reservations. Grandma GoGo is not always a good role model.
I am Out of Iowa, and in a sense, so are my grandchildren and future descendants. They may never see Iowa, but they will know it because I told my story. It is a wonderful place to grow up and a great place to be from. It is a part of me and of them.
My developmental years were colored by a zany and irreverent father and a mother whose valiant efforts at propriety were often exercises in futility because of Dad and a rambunctious band of brothers. A playful grandmother described lovingly––and I do mean lovingly––as a delightful terror and two devoted aunts also influenced and sustained me throughout the years.
• My Twenties were spent being married, having babies, and homemaking, which is what every woman in my world did in the 1960’s. I didn’t always do what everyone else did, though. I worked. At that time in Iowa, a wife and mother having a job was unconventional.
• My Thirties included divorce, earning degrees, and obtaining every credential I could. This was not what most women did in the 1970’s. And I did it while raising children and having more fun than I probably should have.
• In My Forties I broke the glass ceiling and built a career exceeding any expectations I could have imagined in the early Iowa years. I also found love––or so I thought.
• In My Fifties my career skyrocketed, and I reaped countless rewards from earlier years of sacrifice and effort. On a personal level, I became an empty nester, endured grueling heartbreak, and then blossomed.
• Today at Sixty-Something I have a vibrant, purposeful plan for my next thirty years. Although at times I feel that the older I get, the better I was, I'm more vigorous than ever. Life is good except for the people living in my attic who sneak down at night to steal slippers, hide reading glasses, and disable the TV remote.
This memoir is not a comprehensive life story, and not all dimensions and players are represented. Some experiences are beyond the scope of this book. I touch on them here in this Introduction because they set the framework for this book and hint at a future one to be published after an ex-boyfriend, outrageous friends, bad boy bosses, and a couple of cowboys have died or they knock on wood and then answer the door. Following is a summary of topics that are excluded:
Career-wise, I had quite a ride starting in the early sixties as an executive secretary, one of the few options available to women at that time. My career ended forty-some years later as a corporate executive for a multi-billion-dollar company. It was in this work environment I learned about sports. (March Madness is not a sale at Macy’s). I also discovered most men in corporate America viewed work as a game, and if something good happened to a woman, their team lost. The career stories I’ll write someday will be about pioneering, progress, plateaus, determination, loneliness, mooning (really), wonderful men, mad men, and a lot of questioning: Who died and left men in charge?
Experiencing the Oklahoma cowboy culture first-hand, I learned how many bales of hay fit in my car and that when leaving a redneck it’s a good idea to run in a zigzag pattern. Loving a cowboy is like a dog chasing a race car. And you can never love him as much as his dog and his horse do. This story will be about adorable, reckless men and the allure of simultaneously existing in the diverse cultures of the business world and cowboy country. These experiences left me wondering: What the hell just happened?
Over the span of thirty-five years of being single, I experienced several romantic interludes, some of which might be described as similar to hazing. In retrospect, I have to question my judgment. A couple of dalliances left me feeling like a butterfly in a hail storm and asking: How done do you have to be before you stop the madness?
Romances often caused me to take a right turn down crazy street, and I didn’t always signal. Still, I wouldn’t have missed them for the world. The wonderfully engaging men around whom I built fantasies inspired many of life’s most exhilarating moments. This story will include love found and lost, blatant betrayal, and shocking behavior which left me thinking: You are kidding, right?
I’ve been blessed with interesting and hugely diverse friends. We’ve counseled and consoled each other through a multitude of personal crises, some self-inflicted and others the random occurrences of life happening. Advice and counsel are not always taken,
which yields richly entertaining outcomes. Nothing is more intriguing than someone making bad decisions. In troubled times, these friendships have been the answer to the question: Who do I see about this?
If these are topics for a future book, what is the focus of this one? This memoir profiles my developmental years, the family I came from and the one I created, and the process of becoming independent and finding my stride. It reveals wrenching experiences of saving babies and the challenging realities of aging.
Geographical and social shifts reflect adjustments required as I moved into Oklahoma, a world rich with contradictions. The love and loss of intensely devoted and loving parents and the meaning of my own inevitable end-of-life “encore years” are also portrayed. Occasionally, my impressions cross over into preachy, philosophical meanderings and advice, for which I apologize up front.
The early years in Iowa provided a solid foundation. Many wonderful things about my life happened because I grew up there, and I’m grateful for them. On the other hand, those beginnings left me ill- prepared for some of the paths I took. As a consequence, lessons were learned the hard way.
This has made me wiser but hard enough to roller skate on. For this reason, I’ve included at the end of this book a list of lessons learned. Perhaps they will mitigate for someone else the naiveté- induced heartache and trauma I experienced. (Everyone needs to know to stay away from people with guns looking for their anti-depressants.) Although I don’t pretend to have all the answers and acknowledge my conclusions may not resonate with everyone, I suggest they are at least worthy of thought.
People are flawed and sometimes they behave badly. Certainly I have done so––once in 1977. It’s not my intent to embarrass anyone other than myself or to even scores while telling my story. I’ve tried to be gentle with people. In some cases, I changed names and tweaked minor facts and circumstances to achieve that objective.
Although in pursuit of entertainment, I’ve been known to embellish, I’ve endeavored to stick to facts here. However, my interpretations are subjective and may differ from others. When people recall experiences, they reconstruct them. This book reflects my personal truth as I see it, which may occasionally stray from reality in spite of best intentions.
Life is a mosaic blend of things you can control and those you cannot. It requires constant adjustment.
My friend’s little boy went to kindergarten in the mornings. When he started first grade he began packing up his backpack at noon. The teacher asked, “Tommy, what are you doing?” He responded, “I’m getting ready to go home.” When she explained that in first grade students must go to school all day, the little fellow thought a minute and then said, “Well, who signed me up for this?”
Throughout my life I’ve often asked myself that question. I know it was how I felt when I unexpectedly became pregnant, and it was certainly how I felt when the contractions started. It was how
I felt each time I found myself attached to a redneck and when a foam rubber shoulder pad fell out of my blouse onto the floor in front of a date. It is how I feel today when faced with the consequences of aging. Who signed me up for this?
Life can be scary, like when your gynecologist says “Interesting,” your dentist says “Oops,” or your computer geek says “Shit.” Surprises can be fun, like when you learn your grandchild will be a boy, or a girl, or you discover El Niño makes you shop. There are surprises that are not good on any level. The baby is not okay. Then you are not okay. Nothing is okay. Nothing. Nobody signs up for that.
I signed up for capturing my life story. Telling it is a way to matter. Every person’s history is significant. How a person lives, ages, and dies matters. In my encore years, I’ve come to understand the importance of the role we older folks play by showing those following us how to age well. If we don’t do that, we put a burden on the people we care about most by painting a gloomy picture of their future. Living from a place of gratefulness for still being here inspires others. We are always leading. We can never not lead. Everything we do and are matters, And everyone’s history matters.
Discovering a passion and getting to do it is a joyful way to matter. I ultimately realized that joy, although I had to leave my roots to find it, and find it I did––Out of Iowa and into Oklahoma.