Neither Kenneth nor Marian achieved any remarkable degree of fame or notoriety, though they never sought it and likely would have been uncomfortable if it had found them. They did, however, successfully raise a family and survived the occasional crisis that arises from time to time in life. They have left behind family, friends and neighbors who will remember them with fondness and with love.
Kenneth was a slender man, about 5 feet 8 inches in height. He had black wavy hair that he combed back and parted in the middle. He did have some grey hairs in later years, but I do not remember him balding at all. He used HA Hair Arranger lotion on his hair, and he did not sport any facial hair. Kenneth was not a very outgoing person and would probably be called an introvert, hardly the type to be dealing with the public six days a week. It was his leadership style to do things himself rather than task someone else to do it. He could not be called a demonstrative person and was not one to give hugs or say, "I love you". He would occasionally give Marian a peck on the mouth, but I do not recall them hugging or holding hands. Also, I cannot remember his telling a joke or even telling a story spontaneously.
Kenneth was a cigarette smoker for much of his life, but stopped smoking about 1958 or so. He would occasionally have a beer or a glass of Mogen David wine, but I cannot recall his having a cocktail or a hard liquor beverage.
He went by 'Kenneth' or 'Ken.' Although he may have had a nickname in St. Charles, none seem to have made it to adulthood.
Kenneth's priority in life was clearly the grocery store he was managing at the time.
From time to time one of the Easter supervisors (usually Don or Lowell Easter) would come by to check on things at the Colfax store. Dad was in a habit of bringing them home for lunch with little notice, much to the chagrin of my mother. Lowell once left a dollar by his plate as a tip and my mother took much umbrage at that. Another time she was given a tall milk-glass vase for which she had no use, and it just sat in a corner unused. Finally, Kenneth would just take the visiting Don or Lowell to Mary's restaurant across the street from the grocery store.
I am sure that my mother thought her husband was being taken advantage of by the Easter brothers and was not being adequately compensated for the years of loyal service he had given to the enterprise. I cannot imagine my father ever asking for a raise, and I doubt that he did.
He was allowed two weeks vacation a year and usually took the two weeks together. Dad was not much of a traveler, and I only recall a few trips as a family of any length. One was a trip to Niagara Falls and to Marian's sister Ruth's house in Albany, New York. We also went several times to a cottage on an island at Pelican Lake, Wisconsin, owned by her sister Mildred Janasak and her husband. After son Kenneth L. left home, there was a family trip to Colorado that involved a trip through Hastings, Nebraska, and Wall Drug in South Dakota. This trip occurred prior to the opening of the interstate highway system.
For all his hard work, Kenneth was not paid very much until the move to Mason Cityand depended on profit-sharing based on quarterly store inventories. We were, however, well-fed and well-clothed. Our belongings were somewhat Spartan I suppose. My brother and I always shared a bedroom. Although we had a television in the early fifties, there was not a color television in the home until after their move to Mason City in 1965. Also, it was not until then that my mother had both an automatic washer and a dryer.
In 1988, Jane Easter Bahls had self-published Footprints of the Founder: The Story of Easter Enterprises. She was the granddaughter of the founder Albert Ellsworth Easter and used the book to document the growth of the business from the single grocery store Albert opened in Norwalk, Iowa, in 1902. The book was printed 6 years after Kenneth died, and Marian received a copy from Jane's dad Don Easter. In it he wrote:
I thought you might have interest in the enclosed history of the Easter companies.
In all the years and all the people that have worked with us, no one has surpassed Kenneth Garrett in loyalty, honesty and dedication.
I hope you are well and that you will be able to be with your family in this holiday season.
In the book Lola Fredin, one of Kenneth's employees from Mason City, recalled Kenneth as a hard-working, friendly man. She noted, "It was hard for him to sit in the office-he felt he should put on an apron and work along with the rest of us."
My dad did not attend the athletic events that his sons participated in (such as basketball games and little league games) and begrudged the scheduling problems that arose on Friday evenings when the store would be open and some athletic even was being held. His biggest praise came when saying that his sons were the best help he had at the store, and I believe he meant it.
Kenneth did not have any sports as hobbies or consuming interests. He had an old left-handed glove and he would occasionally play catch with his sons. He also had several wooden-shafted golf clubs, but I don't recall that he ever played golf. He did, however, like to work with wood and made some toys for his grandchildren, such as a rocking horse for Megan Garrett Judy (Craig's oldest daughter) and a dollhouse for Karen Garrett Wiseman (Kenneth's oldest daughter). He also made some outdoor furniture for the house in Mason City. Craig eventually kept the furniture until it rotted away.
I recall his having a workbench in the basement of the house on Locust Street in Colfax and in the houses in Mason City. He also kept an electrical meter that he used from time to time. Evan Garrett (Craig's son) still has it.
Marian was the more outgoing of the two, and I believe she was the more dominant individual in the marriage. She paid the bills, cooked the meals, bought the clothes, led the way to church, and made sure that money was found to pay for musical instruments that the boys played. She had done all that for years by walking to town until she learned to drive in 1954 after 15 years of marriage.
It is difficult to know how the deaths of her brother Edward in 1933 and her mother Elida in 1938 affected Marian. I can easily imagine how much Marian would have wished that her mother had lived to see Marian married and raising a family. I also can imagine that Marian would have liked to have had a counter-balance to her husband's mother Floye throughout the years.
Marian did not seem to have any hobbies either, and I often wondered how she kept busy when the kids were grown and her husband was dead. Though she did embroidery from time to time, she sewed infrequently, mostly in a reparative manner. She did not read for pleasure as her sister Mildred did or listen to the radio or records, but she did watch television in the evening, especially the ten o'clock news.
When her picture was being taken, she had the habit of looking to the right. She was self conscious about a vertical skin wrinkle on her forehead. She thought by looking to the right the 'problem' was less noticeable.
Marian was a short woman and was not more than 5 feet tall and had thinning brown hair. She was not slender and tended to be a little overweight. The several years prior to her death were not kind to her physically. She shrunk in height as several vertebrae in her back collapsed and she became confined to a wheelchair. In contrast to her husband, she kept all of her teeth until her death, a fact of which she was quite proud.
In addition to her lymphoma, it became apparent that she had developed an obvious dementia while a resident at Hillcrest care facility, though I am sure that signs of dementia were to be found shortly after her move to Minnetonka had one looked closely. The last years were very difficult.
The following is an essay by Roger Rosenblatt entitled "The Disease That Takes Your Breath Away" and was written for the April 30, 2001, issue of Time magazine.
"My mother died last week 17 years too late, of Alzheimer's disease-though not technically, of course. Technically, Alzheimer's victims die of heart failure, pneumonia or perhaps a stroke, since the symptoms of the disease and a series of strokes are indistinguishable. My mother died of some respiratory thing, technically. It might be said that she died because she stopped breathing. Now, I would like to start breathing again myself, having held my breath for 17 years.
"Yet, oddly, I am wondering what to do with spring this year--oddly, because I had been thinking about my mother less and less as her condition deteriorated, and as she grew less and less herself. A mighty impressive disease, Alzheimer' s. It takes your breath away: first as it inflicts progressive shocks on the victim's system, and then, in the victim's relatives and loved ones, as it deadens feeling altogether.
"Such fascinating stages. Initially there is a kind of troubled yet sweet awareness that the clock of the patient's mind is a few seconds off. Then an encroaching recognition of loss of function becomes less recognition and greater loss. Soon words and phrases are looped, like mad lines from a post-modem play; then Tourette's-like bursts, frags, some incomprehensible, some vile; then less of that, less of everything, until the mind is concentrated down to a curious stare. Even in death, my mother's face looked worried.
"Dead now, dead for years. I ought not to think about her ... .I am thinking about not thinking about her, and feeling neither guilt nor responsibility ...
"I do not feel guilty about my mother. I did my filial duties, lovingly, for the most part. I do not feel responsible. Alzheimer's drops in from nowhere, like a mistimed curtain. You don't catch it because you went outside in winter without a hat.
"The trouble is, I don't feel anything, save the shadows of memories, and even they have to be reconstructed willfully.
"The thing about Alzheimer's is that if it lasts long enough, it takes away everything, not only by erasing the person you once knew but by erasing the you you knew too, leaving two carcasses. When the disease started getting bad, I used to tell myself that while I could make neither head nor tail of my mother's ravings, still she might have been clear as daylight to herself. When she caved in to silence, I told myself she might be harboring pleasant, unexpressed thoughts. Eventually I stopped kidding myself. What I saw of her was what I got" a blank stone in a wall eaten away by rain.
"Which is very much the way I am now. The people around Alzheimer's victims suffer from secondhand smoke, and the worst of their secondary disease is that, after long years, the one thought, the one plea that overtakes all others is: die.
"And so she did. And it is spring. And because hope breathes eternal, even if nothing else does, I am wondering if my mother is somewhere up and about, breathing again, where life is restored and the air and mind are clear."
She would not have wanted to linger as she did, I am sure. It should be remembered that she was proud of her two sons and the success they enjoyed. She also enjoyed her grandchildren immensely, while it was a little more of a chore for her husband to interact with the grandchildren. Marian very much wanted to be part of their lives and tried to attend as much of their activities as her situation allowed.
Especially during the early years of their marriage, many Sundays were spent traveling to St. Charles or Des Moines to have Sunday dinner with Kenneth's parents. I am sure that there were return visits as well. At least once they vacationed together and took a trip to California by car. I suspect that such closeness wore on my mother for many reasons, not the least of which was that none of her family lived close by. Perhaps she viewed Kenneth as being "tied to his mother's apron strings". I believe the visits grew less frequent with the birth of Ken and Craig.
Kenneth and Marian rarely went to movies and did not go to plays or concerts, except for those in which their children were involved. I think their big entertainment was to go for a Sunday drive, taking the grocery store order to the warehouse in Des Moines.
They did not have many close friends, though they were friendly with many.
Some mention should be made of their love of coffee. Whether Marian loved coffee more than Kenneth is not clear, but she would invariably ask for a cup of coffee right away while at Hillcrest. It did not matter whether it was freshly brewed or had been sitting for hours, to her it was always 'so good!' When she no longer asked for coffee, it signaled a significant change in her health. I am in the habit of leaving two cups of coffee at their graves in Mason City when I visit.
In writing this piece the names of friends may not have been included because I was not aware of them or the intersection of their lives with the lives of my parents was brief. Had my parents written their own biographies, I can imagine that their stories would have been fuller, more vibrant, and more inclusive of unmentioned friends who were important to them. I can only say that I wish I had known.